I’ve started this blog as a place to collate writing, images and information all connected to my role as a specialist teacher of art and design within primary education. I hope to share ideas and practice that might support teaching and learning beyond my own setting.

 

The Long Conversation

I was invited to be a part of a Long Conversation at the recent Open Doors Vote 100 event, held at Here East in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The event, organised by the V&A, Smithsonian, UCL, London College of Fashion, Sadlers Wells and the BBC, was celebrating 100 years of women’s suffrage through performance, dance, music, workshops, poetry and talks.

The Long Conversation was a really inspiring format to talk within; I was interviewed by the speaker on stage before me for 10 minutes, and then I interviewed the speaker on stage after me for 10 minutes. A whole afternoon was filled by the ebb and flow of an interesting variety of thoughts and ideas. The person I interviewed was completing a PhD in researching the dark web, which is something I knew nothing about; it was absolutely fascinating to hear and learn about their work.

The only structure to the conversation, aside from the timings, was that the first question each speaker was asked was, “So, what one thing makes you optimistic about the future?”.

I spoke about being optimistic about the growing networks of teachers who are collaborating, both with each other and with cultural organisations, to create some really exciting learning opportunities for children. I’ve just had a fantastic year at my school, completing several ambitious art projects across the school, and it’s through communicating with other teachers, educators, and cultural organisations… building and developing a like-minded supportive network.

These networks have been gradually developed, through organising and speaking at Teachmeets; sharing best practice from the classroom with peers. Through the brilliant A New Direction AND Advocates programme, where I have worked alongside some amazing colleagues, all driven by the common cause of children’s entitlement to arts and culture in education. Through the The Poplar Partnership, a network of ten schools all in the same vicinity, supporting and working with each other in all areas of the curriculum and school development. Through Bow Arts who facilitate Poplar Partnership consortium meetings for art leads. Through THAMES, a fantastic umbrella organisation supporting the arts offer within Tower Hamlets schools. Through the Whitechapel Gallery, and the amazing Room for Art project. There are networks beyond my local area too, and Twitter is useful to connect with like-minded people virtually.

These are my networks that inspire and excite me about the work and impact of arts education in schools. I am optimistic about the future because despite the current political climate and challenges, through continued collaboration and working together our voice is collectively stronger.

 

#WomenEd Presentation

I was 10% braver today by presenting at the WomenEdLondon Conference. Here is my presentation:

‘Leading from the middle within the Arts – creating a Cultural Passport’

I first heard the phrase Cultural Passport from Professor David Woods, when he was talking about how he approaches and gets a feel for schools. From the first impressions of the foyer, to asking about a school’s DNA – their cultural passport. The phrase resonated as something I was well placed to lead within my own school, as an arts lead and cultural leader through A New Direction. And also, because it’s something I feel strongly about – every child’s entitlement to a creative and culturally rich education. And for many of the children I teach in Poplar, Tower Hamlets, school is the only opportunity for those experiences.

Coincidently, our school foyer actually has the advantage of having a huge tile mural by the artist Peggy Angus dominating it. A mural that spans two floors, which is a significant cultural reference from when the school was built as part of the Lansbury estate, for the Festival of Britain ‘Live Architecture’ exhibition. There is work by Angus throughout the school, and teaching the children the importance and history of our environment is part of our arts curriculum. From a creative cross-curricular viewpoint, working with what we have around us is both grounding and purposeful – relevant to children’s everyday experience.

Bow Arts recently commissioned a hanging sculpture by the artist Haidee Drew in a stairwell at the back of our school, adding a more contemporary piece alongside Angus. Can working alongside an art collection improve children’s well-being? Can a school grow and develop to include providing space for creative reflection? These are questions we are interested in exploring. Throughout the school, children’s work hangs alongside artist’s work creating an inclusive atmosphere of celebration and questioning.

Along with Bow Arts, we have developed relationships with other cultural organisations, and this has been a key part of our school development. We have appointed a dedicated school arts governor from Wigmore Hall, who we have had a brilliant two-year partnership with – hearing opera being sung echoing around school was definitely one of the highlights of last week.

We take full advantage of London’s Cultural Capital, knowing how fortunate we are to have so many leading galleries, museums, innovative exhibitions, architecture, design, theatre around us. Find those opportunities, make friends with like-minded people, build supportive networks and collaborate.

Embarking on the Artsmark journey can also help guide and provide focus, it encourages you to reflect on your cultural offer so far and structure how you are going to build upon what you already have.

Having creative professionals come in to school inspires children; not only to become an artist, actor or musician, but to learn about the wide range of careers a creative education can lead to. A recent project our yr6 children completed with the Whitechapel Gallery and architects, Matt + Fiona, enabled our children to meet, and learn from, not only architects, but a photographer, film maker, gallery curators and technicians too.

The Arts Council England’s recent diversity report, shows “significant” under-representation of people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, disabled people and – in some roles – women, in the organisations it funds. Over 92% of our children are from ethnic minority backgrounds, and we actively seek opportunities to engage them creatively and encourage ambition, to inspire the next generation within the creative industries.

Arts Council chair, Sir Nick Serota, said, “Our young diverse population is a national asset – a multitude of perspectives, ideas, talent and creativity.” As leaders, this is our platform to work from.

Leading from the place where aptitude meets personal passion will also inspire both the children and the adults you work with. Be in your ELEMENT, as Sir Ken Robinson says. Lead subjects you are good at and that you love; in my case that is art and design. Share your knowledge; lead in-school CPD, engage with your teacher training providers to ensure continuity. Involve your parents and your community. Blog and tweet about the impact your leadership is having.

Most of all, embrace the opportunity and responsibility a school has of filling the first few pages of that cultural passport, setting up a child for the rest of their life.

 

What is Art?

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Year 3 child’s sketchbook page.

After the summer holidays, one of the first lessons I like to teach in the new school year is to explore the question, What is Art?

Initially children often answer, “Painting” or “Drawing”. Painting or drawing are usually mentioned before sculpture or making. Sculpture or making is usually mentioned before printing. And printing is usually mentioned before textiles or digital art. This can vary from year group to year group, and is always an interesting piece of assessment.

Once we’ve got the different media established, we move on to discuss what is painted or drawn, or made or printed? Where does the subject matter come from?

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Year 5 child’s sketchbook page.

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Year 3 child’s sketchbook page.

Then we talk about how art can make us feel. Images of both figurative and abstract art are provided as stimuli for discussion, and we notice how we all see different things and how different art works can make us feel in different ways.

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Year 2 child’s sketchbook page.

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Year 3 child’s sketchbook page.

Exploring the question, What is Art? gets the children ready for developing their critical thinking skills in art over the year ahead. Another question might be, Can Anything be Art?, which would make an interesting philosophical enquiry.