Taking a 'helium balloon moment'

As the My Creative School projects kick off, Sarah Davies shares a technique for gaining a better perspective on aims & aspirations

11 January 2018

New Year: new phase

Whilst most of us are begrudgingly putting away the decorations and taking down the tree, our My Creative School (MCS) teacher/creative practitioner partnerships are already springing into action as the new school term begins. The 2018 Spring Term is when our Creative Catalyst Project activities will take place in 9 south London schools.

The partnerships have been planning new creative ways to support school development priorities as well as provide new opportunities for wider teaching staff to develop their creative skills. Last term they were busy floating ideas and refining their catalyst project, exploring risks and further developing the relationship between one other. Their projects promise to be unique and surprising. They all seek to create a buzz of creativity around the school, and an air of excitement for staff and pupils alike.

Rise up: find perspective

As we enter this new phase of immersion in project activity, we thought it would be a useful exercise for teachers and creative practitioners to take a moment to stand back and remind ourselves of the aspirations and aims of these projects.

At a CPD session for the whole cohort in December 2017, we developed a future scenarios activity which facilitated stepping outside the detailed specifics of the projects and rising above thing (like balloons!) to gain a better perspective on the sorts of change the partnerships are seeking to support. We called this the ‘helium balloon moment’.

The metaphor of the helium balloon felt pertinent, and indeed many artists have drawn on it as a symbol referencing the rituals and celebration of something succeeding, completing or both. It references the lifting up, rising and soaring above, journeying. It is also connected to sending messages to far away unknown people and places.

What are our future aspirations for this learning journey? What needs to be done to embed learning into practice?

We asked our teachers and practitioners to imagine themselves in one year’s time and tell the story of the potential change resulting from their catalyst project; imagining that the learning around creativity could be felt throughout the culture of the school. They then wrote their stories of change onto a balloon.

Next, they were asked to write a message from the future to someone today and tie these messages to their balloon. The messages they wrote were filled with hope. ‘Your child is a safe and successful member of the community,’ one person from the future wrote to a parent. ‘You are open to risk-taking projects and feel really good about encouraging the rest of your teaching team to try new things,’ another future person wrote to a teacher. ‘Your experiences and skills are so powerful for schools - go do more,’ someone else wrote to a creative practitioner of today. Messages to SLTs about the change in school culture included that schools felt more experimental, that teachers were confident and creative risk takers and that children were curious and engaged.

We then asked our teachers and creative practitioners to consider how they might achieve the potential for change and what the journey might be to get there. In particular, we asked them to consider how they can protect and share this learning to embed it into the practice of their school. We observed great excitement as people started to map out the next year on large sheets of paper - incorporating the balloon, the messages, and the balloon string to represent the journey into the future. Elaborate twists, turns, knots and unravelling successes featured along the way as their balloons bobbed through time and they imagined how learning was starting to embed.

How might you use the helium balloon time-travelling moment?

Why not try a similar activity with the young people you work with to encourage them to reflect on their own learning capacity, aims and the journey of how to get there. What message would these future learners give to themselves and their teachers today?

As the new year begins, take a moment to consider what would your future-self say to you, today too. Would it be a warning? A hint or tip? Or perhaps something to remember as the year unfolds…

Picture credit: 'RISE' by Fanakapan 2016