Here’s how a creative school becomes a creative city (2)

Impresa and Coletta’s Tool-Kit for Cities suggests that cities:

* Deliver an ‘appealing reality’, because ‘young people are very savvy in assessing cities’;
* Put values on display, demonstrating how the city ‘welcomes newcomers and new ideas’;
* Keep in touch with former residents, and find ways to have them ‘return to your city’;
* Create opportunities for civic involvement, deliberately seeking out the opinions of young people;
* Use internships to connect with young adults;
* Survey young adults regularly, including ‘exit interviews’;
* Celebrate young entrepreneurs and civic contributors;
* Communicate development plans to young adults;
* Promote your city: ‘place marketing works best when it is based on authentic stories that people are willing to tell about their cities’;
* Promote a young adult lifestyle, particularly ‘active nightlife’, and do not be fearful that this might ‘scare off the soccer moms’

Mapping out these criteria for creative cities against schools OfSTED reports offers some tentative support to the notion that schools, rather than places of teaching and learning actually are better described as creative cities.

According to OfSTED, Fichte Nursery School in Hull for example delivers an appealing reality as what pleases parents most about the school is that Children are expected to work hard as well as have fun in the nursery and this leads to good progress.. The teaching is good and staff have high expectations as to behaviour and the children’s response…

The school also can demonstrate that it puts its values on display, demonstrating how the city welcomes newcomers and new ideas as The nursery classes and corridors are full of attractive displays and a wide range of artifacts that children can see and handle at any time.

The school also demonstrably keeps in touch with former residents, and finds ways to have them return to the city through parents evenings, governors meetings as well as through the development of the Fichte Parents Writers Group (FPWG): a group of parents who, through a creative writing project researched the experiences of previous attendees of the school and encouraged them to share those experiences and stories through that project.

Furthermore, the school creates opportunities for civic involvement, deliberately seeking out the opinions of young people through its involvement in several local and government initiatives such as Sure Start and the building of the new Children’s Centre which aims to support parents and their children in close partnership with the school. It uses internships to connect with young adults by playing host regularly to trainee student teachers and research students. It can also be seen to survey young adults regularly (through regular parental consultative processes) and celebrates its young entrepreneurs and civic contributor’s as: the children’s work is always celebrated by displaying it very effectively across the school.

According to these criteria then, Fichte Nursery School qualifies as a creative City. The implications for this shift are manifold. Membership of school communities becomes more explicitly transitional and relationships between members more based on qualities of corporate society than the kin relationships of community.

New definitions of community consequently emerge in which whilst there are new spaces for diversity and difference to be explored also lend themselves for surprising new conflicts to emerge.

Simple causal relationships between landusers in the city of Fichte Nursery School can not easily be demonstrated; they become spaces in which minor events have major, surprising and unexpected consequences and if Eve Miteldon Kelly is right: when one entity tries to improve its fitness or position, this may result in a worsening condition for others. Each ‘improvement’ in one entity therefore may impose associated ‘costs’ on other entities, either within the same system or on other related systems. Mitleton-Kelly (2003)

This has significant for the successful (or otherwise) implementation of school improvement agendas. Complexity theory would suggest that the emergence of winners brings about the emergence of losers. When schools are engaged in competitions for pupil numbers, for positions on a league table, for higher CVA ratings, it is not as if they are running on an Olympic race track with competing athletes to see who can run 100m the fastest: in the competition that Nursery School Cities are part of, the ‘front runners’ are partially responsible for determining the state of the race track of those lagging ‘behind’.

More on this at https://drnicko.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/how-does-a-creative-school-become-a-creative-city/

How does a creative school become a creative city?

Many cities around the world present themselves as undergoing programmes of regeneration by aiming to engage the efforts of the local ‘creative communities‘ for the benefits of the city and and presenting themselves as a site of creativity and hub of contemporary culture.

In The Rise of the Creative Class Richard Florida interprets these ‘creative communities’ as a creative class: latter day, Platonic philosopher rulers, requiring ‘less creative’ members of society who struggle to cite a single classical composer or who don’t know their Michael Jackson from their Jackson Pollock, to provide services and facilities which they – the creative classes – are either too busy, preoccupied or aloof to have to contend with themselves.

Ironically, the city’s desire to democratise creativity, to become an attractive place for ‘the creatives’ and to make creativity a gregarious cultural process tends to generate a hierarchical structure of city boundaried privileged locations of loft conversions and artistic architraves amongst the archetypes.

Jamie Peck’s analysis of Florida suggests that: Florida’s street level analog of such attempts to ‘harness’ creativity comes in the form of a celebration of the buzzing, trendy neighborhood, a place where everyday innovation occurs through spontaneous interaction… a place where outsiders can quickly become insiders’…

Schools who wish to develop creativity in the classroom perhaps begin to resemble creative cities as outsiders are encouraged to visit them with the enticements of earning potential or employment, becoming in the process a veritable market place for creative practitioners.

Peck continues to identify what is required of a city to make the transformation to a creative city by referring to the development of a Tool-kit for Cities by Cortwright, for the American management consultancy, Impresa and Coletta:

Impresa and Coletta’s Tool-Kit for Cities

* Deliver an ‘appealing reality’, because ‘young people are very savvy in assessing cities’;
* Put values on display, demonstrating how the city ‘welcomes newcomers and new ideas’;
* Keep in touch with former residents, and find ways to have them ‘return to your city’;
* Create opportunities for civic involvement, deliberately seeking out the opinions of young people;
* Use internships to connect with young adults;
* Survey young adults regularly, including ‘exit interviews’;
* Celebrate young entrepreneurs and civic contributors;
* Communicate development plans to young adults;
* Promote your city: ‘place marketing works best when it is based on authentic stories that people are willing to tell about their cities’;
* Promote a young adult lifestyle, particularly ‘active nightlife’, and do not be fearful that this might ‘scare off the soccer moms’

Mapping out these criteria for creative cities against schools OfSTED reports offers some tentative support to the notion that schools, rather than places of teaching and learning actually are better described as creative cities. The pedagogical implications of seeing a school as a city are immense and will be explored in later blogs.

Helping doesn’t only not help, it also un-helps.

Differentiation in classrooms is presented as a means of ensuring children with lesser abilities engage with the curriculum, children with moderate abilities wrestle it and children with higher abilities transcend it. For the higher ability children, there is the allure of extension activities too which enable them to explore bigger existential and metaphorical challenges than whether they are a Level 4+ or 5- in literacy.

The problem is that differentiation may well have the opposite effect that it intends. By separating out ‘lower ability’ children means that everyone knows who they are – and to everyone then staring at who’s on the top table. This can lead to those ‘lower’ ability children switching off and becoming even less able than they had been previously; until of course they find themselves in a learning situation which is undifferentiated and at which they find themselves at the same starting gate as their alleged more talented peers. This is the case that many artists offer when they visit schools and work with so called ‘mixed ability’ classes.

A music friend told me of a case where he was trying to help a young girl count on the beat by cueing her in with a downward arm movement. This had quite the opposite effect in that it led to her being completely confused by the notion of coming in on the beat and switched her off from the task altogether. His attempted helping of her led to being significantly ‘unhelped’ and in differentiation parlance, she moved from medium to low ability in the wave of a hand and would have found herself sitting at the musical dunces table had such a table existed in that classroom.

The notion that helping can cause the opposite of the desired effect has its echoes in how complexity theory informs school improvement improvement agendas. Complexity theory would suggest that the emergence of school league table winners causes the emergence of school league table losers. When schools are engaged in competitions for pupil numbers, for positions on a league table, for higher CVA ratings, it is not as if they are running on an Olympic race track with competing athletes to see who can run 100m the fastest: this competition means that the ‘front runners’ are partially responsible for disrupting the state of the race track of those lagging ‘behind’. They may have started at the same starting gate (which is unlikely) – but the high achieving schools then manage to dig up the race track for those who are slightly behind them; leading to the winners winning by an even bigger margin than they demonstrated at the start of ‘the race’.

Our differentiation of lower, mid and higher ability pupils similarly is not one merely of categorising pupils competences: it also acts to cause those differences in those competences and so un-helps the very people it is trying to help.

Poetry on the Hoof: Terraced? Semi? Detached? Year 7 plan their future homes.

You gotta decide the lighting,
It’s November, remember.
You gotta agree,
Sort it out reasonably.
You gotta think it out,
You’ve gotta act quick.
Silence hush descends.

You’ll need pools of light
You’ll need water, air, space.
Somewhere to park the car
When the days close in.
Can I get a red phone box?
Can I get an allotment?
Silence hush descends.

You’re gonna see nothing
With windows like that.
You’re gonna be a resident, remember.
You’re gonna freeze to death
With walls like that.
Are we gonna pretend?
That we have to pay mortgages an’ ‘owt?
Silence hush descends.

You gotta make a choice,
Or you’re gonna get stuck.
Best to say little,
If you’re not sure.
If you don’t wanna pay for ‘owt can we live in a toilet?
We could use our imagination.
Silence hush descends.

Everyone’s gotta live somewhere
Everyone’s gotta have a place
They can call their own.
But if you’re gonna want a family.
But if you’re gonna get you a mortgage,
You gotta be quick,
You gotta be sharp,
You gotta get rid of those ghosts that moved onto your land.
Silence hush descends.

Some responses by then young people of Kingstone School, Barnsley to recent exhortations to a ‘Housing Revolution’. Readers may be interested to know about similar revolutions being plotted in education.

The rhetoric of crisis is also echoed in housing and education too here.

“Mr Torpey Nick Sir!” messing with identity. Writers in Schools Revisited

Tony, a professional animation artist has entered a classroom of a High School in Liverpool and greets a teacher who is about to introduce him to the class he is about to work with that afternoon. Tony is visiting a school which he used to attend as a teenager. After having not visited the school for over 25 years he has now been employed as visiting screen writer and animator on the NAWE Writing Together programme which has placed him in that school for what will be six half days of work with a group of year nine boys in order to get the ‘pleasure back into their writing, and to develop more ‘colour’ and expressiveness in their creative writing.’

Nick Torpey – a teacher of Tony’s when he was 11 – is still teaching at the school; and the first two words of Tony’s greeting – Mr. Torpey – are the words Tony was accustomed to using whilst being a pupil the school. A split second later, Tony realises that this formal approach is inappropriate for the enactment of the role Tony has now found himself in and adds to his greeting the less formal “Nick” – only to realise immediately afterwards that given this interchange is taking place in a classroom in full view of the on looking boys that Tony is about to work with, that this informality is too informal and that he must resort to another type of formal style which is used by many teachers in their communications with each other – the tendency to refer to each other as ‘sir’ or ‘miss’. Hence the birth of the rapid fire utterance, ‘Mr Torpey Nick Sir!”

Tony is introduced by his new colleague – Mr. Torpey Nick Sir – to the class as a freelance, professional animator who has come to share (as opposed to teach or instruct) his writing skills with the class in front of him. Tony doesn’t recall having anybody similar being introduced to him when he was at school and for this class, they too have not been introduced to this type of adult presence in the classroom by the current school managers before. It is clear from the start that the relationship that the pupils can expect to have with Tony will be of a different nature to the one they are accustomed to with the regular teachers in the school. They are encouraged to address him by his first name and discouraged from calling him either ‘Mr Ealey’ or ‘Sir’. Discouragement comes in the form of explicit, friendly guidance that using the artists first name when addressing him is acceptable, or the occasional joke with a pupil who stumbles over the construction “Tony Mr Ealey Tony Sir.”

They are led into a series of exercises by the writer which are different in terms of both style and content to their usual classroom exercises. They have been asked to describe ‘pitches’ of films and stories they have known (short descriptions which aim to capture the essence of the story of that film in as few words and as punchy a way as possible) and are soon developing pitches of their own for film stories they are encouraged to imagine. The class is marked by an atmosphere of attention and focus on Tony; contributions from the majority of the class to Tony’s questions and suggestions; a lively, informal and good humoured interaction between artist and pupils. The teacher who is present sits at the back of the class, scanning the room for any signs of distress, discomfort or potential trouble. Mr Torpey Nick Sir left the room some minutes after the class began.

Reasons to be pedagogical part 2: We’re going to make a slave ship out of pipe cleaners and mudroc

I’m watching a visiting artist, Lisa,  in a Year 6 class  with the teacher, Sally.  Lisa has started a project on Wilberforce, making a model slave ship, an African village and percussion project. She kicks off asking who Wilberforce is and what slavery is. She introduces the task of making a slave ship which she’s going to show – at the end of the week they will have an impressive piece of work which ‘we can display’.

“We’re going to make a slave ship out of pipe cleaners and mudroc” she announces.  Is there something a little inappropriate here?  Would we hear a session in which we would hear about making concentration camps and gas chambers out of ‘pipe cleaners and mudroc’?  Here’s  a Blue Peter version I made earlier….

Lisa demos  how to make a figure out of mudroc and pipe cleaners and takes questions as she goes.   Little slave figures made out of pipe cleaners.  “we don’t want arms sticking out, they should be down at the side”.  She sets up a little production line by asking them to make 2 or 3 figures each.  The class is set on a task of making about 50 – 75 different slave figures between them. “Mould the pipe cleaner, cut up mudroc, soak it, wrap it, repeat”.  I wonder whether someone will point out that they could develop the production line and have one child specialising in moulding, another in cutting, another in soaking.

As pipe cleaner figures start emerging, a few laughs are generated by children – feet are either too bog or heads too small. “He’s hop-along… what’s happened to his arms… mine’s called Gordon, mine’s Edmund… this one’s paraplegic”.  Groups work semi-independently, teacher is engaged in co-delivery of the session, moving from one table to another as Lisa does. “wrap the mudroc tightly around the skeleton otherwise it will fall off”.  Perhaps it would have been better to make people figures who had homes first and who were then enforced into slavery – using the kids enthusiasm for the figures to its advantage rather than opt for making slaves from the beginning.  The production line aspect of this approach ironically endorse the values which make the slave trade possible.  We’re not making  a character which has a personal connection to its sculptor.  There’s one black lad in the class who is joining in with all the activities; a small crowd of white mud roc figures starts being assembled;  some of which are splendid creations, others of which are not so splendid….

The project continues through the afternoon, with no time for play time which means for some kids that making slaves out of pipe cleaners is  becoming a bit of drudgery. The figures are now to be painted black, to represent the figures seen in the picture at the start of the session.  Blackened mudroc figures start to appear on table tops and are taken to the window ledge to dry; of course, they’re various in shape, size and coverage of black paint – but they are still faceless and the products of several cheerful production lines.  No shades of black, brown or tone… End of class, and Lisa moves the furniture back to where it started before I entered the classroom.  The figures are to be placed in the slave boat which is to be built tomorrow.  So what do we know about slavery after all this?

Reasons To Be Pedagogical part 1

Bristol Nursery School, midmorning. The visual artist, Maria, has been offered two days work in the school and has persuaded the management of the school to ‘go off timetable’ and to let teachers ‘follow the children’s’ desires’ during her residency there – although the regular ‘tidy times’ and lunch time remain in the timetable. Within an hour, one teachers temper frays about being left on her own in her own area. There are usually six areas each with a designated member of staff and those boundaries are melted down today – apart from the timetable, structure, the space is a lot more fluid / chaotic. Adults are ‘following what the children want to do’ – the adults have been excused from their responsibility here, and have been denied an identity almost. The walls are as noisy as ever but less imposing – all the focus is being drawn to the kids activities.

Some young wag threw a bean bag at me in the playground which reminded me of a visit to Hindley Prison some years ago and temporarily I felt a bit unsafe, a bit dodgy. A bit iffy. The staff room is chockablock with loads of stuff packed on to chairs, tables, feels vaguely disturbing, a bit like a bad dream. Even Maria is spotting the limits with one of the children who is insisting on taking more clay from the bag with a spoon:
Femi ‘More more more!’
Maria ‘ Use what you’ve got Femi! You’ll have someone’s eye out. Be careful.’

A couple of girls are wandering in and out of the bathroom, scissors in hand – this feels a tad dangerous and I’m thinking about the consequences of one of them coming out with scissors sticking out of their head. A few teachers wander around the classroom aimlessly with cameras in hand, tourists in their own land. Following the children’s desires never felt less desireable.

What could schools do for artists? 5 Easy Pieces…

Many years ago the Labout Party had the bright idea of engaging artists, celebrities and other media types to support the campaign efforts of the party. Entitled, Arts for Labour, the programme involved wheeling out celebrities and artists at key moments during the 1987 campaign. In hindsight (always a best friend, Mr. Hindsight), this may not have been a particularly effective use of many peoples time and energy – but one thing it did do was getting artists asking of the Labour Party, how about a Labour for the Arts parallel campaign? Or, What did the Labour Party ever do for the Arts?

This fell on deaf ears at the time but these days, what with schools engaging artists for their purposes in a kind of Artists for Schools campaign, one might be tempted to ask, what about Schools for Artists? Or, what did schools ever do for artists apart from pay them modest remuneration for a role which is frequently confused, disconnected and unstrategic?

Here are 5 things schools could do for artists if they had the health of the arts sector at heart:

1. Commission new plays from new, local playwrights rather than repeating yet another version of Willy Russell’s Our Day Out.
2. Install an artist in residence for a term with a brief to capture the ‘essence’ of the school which is not just flattering and designed for best possible impact in PR terms, but is critical and capable of shaking up a few well held preconceptions
3. Develop choral sinigng which doesn’t rely on the output of Howard Goodall. Engage different composers, lyricists, Musical Directors who can push the boundaries of what is acceptable choral singing in schools.
4. Engage visual artists with the science teachers and challenge their visual representations of the world with new, unorthodox visions of how, for example, the workings of the human body might be represented.
5. Appreciate that the arts gives you new knowledge of the world – not just different perceptions of existing knowledge – and build that knowledge into the curriculum.

7 gifts from artists to teachers

Whilst lots of artists in schools work naturally focuses on what the kids get out of the experience, the benefits to teachers can get overlooked and undervalued. Here’s a starter list to be going on. Thanks to Rachel Phelps for the prompt!
Artists allow teachers:
1. How to write beyond the habit of writing in bullet points and cut and pasting comments onto students report cards. How to role model creative writing to students and develop voice, style and expressivity and go beyond secretarial niceties.
2. How to read for pleasure, as opposed to reading for assessment, policy keepie-uppie, and duty. How to share, discuss and think about literature in ways which aren’t linked to syllabus assessment or exam grades.
They also:
3. Remind them that teachers are creative individuals, that teaching and learning is fundamentally a creative process and that artistry and creativity isn’t the sole preserve of artists or ‘creatives’.
4. Offer a lateral view of the world, different emphases, views of the other.
5. Catalyse discomfort and shakiness in ‘natural’ and ‘common sense’ orthodoxies and working out of their comfort zones.
6. Open up the classroom to the wider world of other cultural sites, practices, habits, languages
7. Offer different ways of thinking.
More to follow!