The Challenge Of Being A 'Creative School'
‘Are you concerned about education? I am.’
So begins Ken Robinson’s latest book ‘Creative Schools’ about learning and teaching. It is a highly accessible read which fuses his friendly trademark wit with profoundly challenging thoughts and questions about education.
I first came across Robinson ‘s ideas in 2006 when he gave a TED talk (take a look) called Do Schools Kill Creativity? This caught my eye and I was inspired at the end of the film. It felt in line with my own thoughts and that of the school I had just joined here at Bede’s.
The essence of the talk was that we are all born with immense natural talents but by the time we’ve been through education far too many of us have lost touch with them. He described how many highly talented, brilliant people think they’re not because the thing they were good at in school wasn’t valued. This can have profound consequences for individuals but also their communities.
His talk has turned out to be the most-watched talk in the history of TED. Once in a while you read a book or hear a talk that does something to you. This was one such talk for me – and it wasn’t because the talk was earth-shattering or, indeed, that radical, but there was something in the passion and humanity of the speaker that reconnected me with something deeper in my philosophical ideas about education.
I have worked in education for 15 years and previously in health and social care, and I have been privileged to work alongside many inspiring and extraordinary teachers, scholars, students and practitioners. The learning and education I have enjoyed has continued throughout that time, and that has been part of the joy.
I remember my rigorous (if overwhelming) PGCE year at University preparing for teaching. I was embarking upon an important career change, but with an emerging feeling of deep concern for the profession I had just embarked upon.
The National Curriculum had just been revamped and Government changes were having a profound effect upon the education system and the individuals working within it, and the changes didn’t seem to consider the need to understand the individual, relational and interpersonal dimensions to teaching and learning. Maybe I was being a little too idealistic?
Even back then, a focus on testing and standardisation seemed to outweigh the need to understand the individual child’s strengths and learning – despite aspirations and Department of Education mission statements to the contrary – and this trend has continued through successive Education Secretaries to today.
The concerns that Robinson raises and writes about in Creative Schools is that while education systems around the world are being reformed, many of these reforms are being driven by political and commercial interests that misunderstand how people learn or how schools work.
He writes of the need for changes in schools that are working creatively to provide students with the kind of personalized, compassionate and community -aware education they really need.
His wish is for a move towards a more holistic approach that nurtures the diverse talents of children.
Families of children at Bede’s, does this idea sound familiar?
Robinson touches on the interesting dilemmas of testing and assessment. He raises questions about what we need to learn and what’s worth knowing, the art of teaching, the idea of natural born learners and, perhaps most thought-provoking of all, he discusses what the underlying purposes are, or could be, of education.
After all, what is education meant to be for in the first place?
In my view, the focus should be beyond a particular set of subjects or teaching methods or assessment strategies. In one of his books: ‘Out of Our Minds’, Robinson neatly encapsulates why in a paradox: as children, most of us think we are highly creative; as adults many of us think we are not. What changes as children grow up?
Robinson rethinks the concept of creativity not as something only ‘special people’ do or as ‘special activities’ that get done like art, design, music, dance or drama. Neither does he view creativity as a rare talent found in only a few individuals. He promotes a new approach to thinking of creativity and innovation for all in in education and business.
The challenge is to develop this and the author goes to great trouble to discuss what this actually means for parents and educators. I read this with obvious interest. He also writes about what this might mean for schools and for teachers; for notions of leadership and intelligent professional development.
Essentially, Robinson views creativity as the greatest gift of human intelligence that never goes away; it is abundant. I believe the challenge is for all teachers to to encourage this belief in our children, to nurture their dreams and ensure their ideas are valued as they make their way through the very necessary and practical world of exams and assessment.
One thing we know for certain is that the future is unwritten. These are exciting times for those of us working in education – teachers and pupils – and for the wellbeing of every child today and in the years to come.
We are on a long and unpredictable journey, and there is a need to be willing to continue to reflect, to transform how we think about and ‘do’ school, and to meet the challenges this brings.
With this in mind, I highly recommend Robinson’s books and TED talks. They are inspiring and energising for us as teachers and parents. They provide food for thought as we look to the future and what it might hold for our children, and I sincerely hope that you enjoy them as much as I have - and do!
My recommended reading includes ‘Creative Schools’ by Sir Ken Robinson from 2015 and books by the same author including ‘Out of Our Minds’ from 2001, ‘The Element’ and ‘Creativity – All our Futures.’ from 2000.