To meet today’s challenges, schools need to nurture a curriculum that encourages resourcefulness and ingenuity, explains Ian Young
As a school our ethos is ‘Everyone Matters Everyone Helps and Everyone Succeeds’, and to achieve this at Rainford High Technology College, where I am principal, we believe creativity is key. Creativity is found in many forms that should be celebrated across our curriculum. Aside from the expected areas of music, art and performance, creativity is also enshrined in discovery, problem solving, argument and discussion. Without it, our students and communities become drilled in systems, techniques and structures, lacking the dynamism needed to create genuinely interesting and original outcomes. If we forget about creativity in our school curriculum it will not only be the traditionally creative areas that suffer but the all round academic and personal development of our young people – and that’s something we can’t afford to have happen, as a school or as a nation.
It’s not all about exams
It appals me to hear of books being read and studied because of their grammatical difficulty rather than the magnificence of the story or the message they contain. How can students appreciate Shakespeare, the importance of scientific discovery or technological advancements without a real understanding of the role creativity has played in making progress possible? This is a skill and an attitude we need to develop through our schools, and is certainly something about which we are passionate at Rainford. Clearly, exams are important, but a curriculum that ignores creativity limits both the experience and the learning development of its students. Creativity matters because it is the skill and ability that allows us to problem solve and give fluid and well thought out answers to the most challenging of questions. There is a risk that we could lose the pillars that underpin great learning if we become too focused on the process of delivering academic results. Creativity needs to shine; as educators it’s our role to instill this from an early age.
An artist in residence
One way we have been promoting creativity at Rainford is through the introduction of an artist in residence at the school. As part of a pilot scheme to improve whole school health and wellbeing we have looked at the importance of creativity as a life enhancing attitude and mindset. This particular project involves staff and students working alongside our artist in residence Mark Storor, creating their own works of art to express themselves and sharing them with members of the school community. Mark’s work is described as ‘the space between live art and theatre’ so having him on board has helped our students think more broadly about what being creative actually means and how they can use elements of performance art, installation and theatre to express themselves. As the project has developed it has been the power of creativity to allow people the chance to reflect and work in a different way that has been the most empowering aspect for all the artists involved. Much more than simply creating art for art’s sake, the experience has encouraged risk taking and inspired those involved to consider what is possible and what can be achieved by tapping into the power of creativity. Both students and staff have had to make independent decisions, be self-critical of their work and be brave in exposing their creations. From this project alone we have seen students develop their teamwork and communication skills, grow in confidence and thrive throughout the creative process. Feedback from both students and teachers has been overwhelmingly positive. Everyone involved has found the process empowering and supportive as it has drawn our community closer together. This summer, we will have a final shared exhibition of staff and students’ work to showcase the power of our community’s creativity. But due to its success, we hope to extend the project in the coming year, as we believe there is much more that can be achieved by developing our skills even further.
An investment for the future
Take one look at the stats and the benefits of promoting creativity are clear to see. The UK’s creative industries are now worth over £84 billion to the UK economy, a figure which equates to almost £10 million an hour. The UK’s music, film, TV and publishing sectors are thriving and offer a multitude of career paths for students. Even outside of the defined creative industries, all businesses value creativity as a skill and commodity. As a school we want our young people to enter the world of work and have as many aspirations for future careers as possible. As a technology college, we have been able to invest in modern technology which allows us to enhance the curriculum in creative ways. From Computer Aided Design (CAD) to embroidery machines and laser cutters, we have the resources in place for students to explore their creativity through innovative approaches. Moreover, at present we are the lead school for cultural education in St Helens and we are working with the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool and our specialist leader in cultural education to develop a meaningful view of British values in our community. This is being developed through cross curricular work between our performing arts and technology faculties.
A community commitment
We encourage all of our curriculum areas to look for creative approaches to develop our students’ learning. Whether it is inviting inspirational speakers like David Crystal to the school to speak to students on the creativity of grammar, nurturing a mastery approach in maths, or encouraging students to develop materials for cyber security in computing, we strive to have creativity as a pillar of learning throughout our curriculum to engage all our students. We are working on partnerships with schools in Europe, developing links with high quality businesses and giving our students the opportunity to develop creativity in every curriculum area. At Rainford, our vision for the future is to build on our approach to creativity to improve mental health and wellbeing for our whole community, as well as challenging ourselves to go beyond our comfort zone to deliver an excellent education for all.
5 ways to promote creativity in the classroom
1. Think of creativity as a skill
Much like communication and problem solving, creativity is less a trait and more a skill which can be taught. Thinking of creativity in this way allows you to break it down and encourage its use in the classroom through different activities.
2. Involve the community
Bringing together staff and students from across the whole school can encourage the learning of many creative skills, including imagination, collaboration and curiosity. Asking students to take part in a big project can help build confidence and lets them take ownership of their learning.
3. Let teachers be creative
Giving teachers the freedom to introduce new ways to learn can really help promote a culture of creativity. Do this by encouraging staff to share ideas and leave some flexibility for student collabor
4. Use emotional connections
Research shows that creativity can be cultivated best through the emotions of the learner. Think of the problems affecting your local community and ask students to devise a solution around this topic. Who knows, this creativity actually could lead to real change.
5. Allow space for creativity
Creative minds flourish in creative spaces. Spark students’ imagination by designing school spaces which encourage thinking, reflecting and sharing of ideas. This could be somewhere outdoors, or perhaps a dedicated area in a classroom.
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