Adaptive Practice: The key to Creative Catalyst success?

The My Creative School programme has shifted the dialogue from ‘reflective practice’ to ‘adaptive practice’. Greg Klerkx explains...

18 December 2017

We’re on our way with our Creative Catalyst projects. Planning is mostly done, calendars are synced, paperwork is signed off - all systems go! We celebrated all of this at our second all-hands CPD on 6 December, and deservedly so.

It’d be comforting to think that all that’s left is to execute what’s been planned, but both teachers and practitioners know this isn’t the case. Teaching and arts practice are different in many ways, but they have in common an essential need to be responsive; an understanding that while broad aims remain important – create an artwork, improve boys’ literacy – we need to be prepared to swerve down novel and sometimes uncharted paths to get there. This is as it should be. Our plans – however strong and exciting – are merely templates, frameworks, contexts. They must serve the needs of our young people, not the other way around.

This doesn’t mean that we should be ready to throw out what’s been done to date, but it does mean we need to be ready to revisit our assumptions, and also to keep our minds open to unexpected learning and questions arising as the work moves forward. Most of all, though, it means that our practice – as teachers and arts practitioners – needs to remain alert, nimble and ready to change if needed.

In My Creative School, we’ve shifted the dialogue from ‘reflective practice’ to ‘adaptive practice’. Yes, we need to constantly reflect on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and there are tools in the MCS Logbook to support this, including a Learning Journal and midpoint Reflective Learning prompts. Yet the idea of adaptive practice asks us to take a step beyond reflection and into action, and to consider the following questions:

  • If we feel or notice the need to change something we are doing, how might we make that happen?
  • What support do we need to tweak our discussions, our plans, and our delivery?
  • How can we partner as teachers and practitioners to observe and feed back on what’s working and what might need changing?
  • How can we make our changes meaningful enough to have a positive impact, yet not so overwhelming that they consume time, energy and resources we don’t have?

Think about change and adaptation in small steps, for example: drawing something instead of speaking about it; allowing for children to explore an issue or question on their own or in groups for another five minutes before offering solutions or directions, even if they’re uncertain or uncomfortable; giving yourself permission to not know all of the answers, or not give all of the answers.

During the course of our CPD sessions this autumn, we’ve used a number of approaches to explore, observe and comment on practice. Here are a few that might be handy moving forward as plans become action, and we become more aware of our practice and seek to ensure it’s adapting along with our projects:

  • I Like, I Notice, I Wonder – use this in your teacher/practitioner teams after a session, to tease out what worked and what might be tweaked. This structure removes judgment while retaining honesty
  • Objects – after a session, select from your classroom an object or objects that reflect for you how a session went or how you feel after the session. As always, we’d encourage you to go with instinct -something might simply appeal because it’s comforting, or uncomfortable, or spiky, smooth, or complicated. Use the objects as you discuss and debrief
  • Free writing – The principle of free writing is to allow a flow of ideas, thoughts, and feelings free of grammatical or semantic structure. Consider beginning with a phrase like, ‘That session felt…’ and writing what comes to mind for up to two minutes. Circle three words/phrases that seem most interesting or relevant and share with your teacher/practitioner as a starting point to unpick what happened and what might improve

A more direct way to consider how to adapt practice and plans is the template we used towards the end of our 6 December session, and which can be found in digital form here. It’s an easy way to look at what didn’t go as we’d anticipated, what that might mean for the project, and how you might adapt or find solutions.

A final resource to consider for your practice but also for pulling your colleagues into the ‘adaptive practice’ zone is A New Direction’s Teachers' Toolkit, which is free to download and contains a variety of activities that you could easily use in a twilight session or even thirty minutes of staff room time.

These ideas and resources are the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The My Creative School team – teachers, practitioners, A New Direction core – have a vast toolkit of ‘stuff’ we can suggest to support with reflection, adaptation, insets, and more. Don’t hesitate to drop us a line at We’re excited about what 2018 will bring for My Creative School. We hope you are, too.

Picture credit: Charlie by Lucille Clerc, French, London Based Illustrator & Print Artist.