Using arts-inspired approaches to unpick classroom challenges

18 October 2018

Our first INSET of the year focused on reconnecting attendees with their passion for teaching in playful yet practical ways

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‘In brief, study what you most affect’. Thus spoke Tranio in The Taming of the Shrew, an appropriate quote for our first INSET of 2018-19, titled The Artist in You and held at the gorgeous Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on 6 October.

Despite the rainy day – and this being our first ever Saturday INSET – we had a full house of teachers, with everyone there to ‘study what they most affect’ (or, in other words, what they most love); the powerful impact of arts and cultural learning. The aims of the day were for teachers to refresh and reconnect with their passion for teaching in playful yet practical ways, and to use a variety of arts-inspired approaches to unpick real-time classroom challenges.

We began with a treasure hunt around our session space, with teachers discovering a series of hidden provocations designed to get them thinking more deeply about the impact and value of arts and cultural education. We moved on to a more physical activity wherein teachers expressed how they felt about a series of learning topics – curriculum, leadership, funding, etc. – by ‘sculpting’ a partner into a pose that represented their perspective. "It’s oddly accurate in terms of how I actually feel. I wonder if I carry that look around myself when at school," one teacher said of the (somewhat confused-looking) sculpture she’d created around the term ‘technology’.

The sculpting activity led onto to personal ‘mapping’. Beginning with what drew them into teaching, participants used a variety of making materials to describe their journey to the present day, noting triumphs and pitfalls that happened along the way. In keeping with the session being at the Globe, we described this as the hero’s journey - the heroes being our teachers.


Teachers were then asked to think ahead; from today, where would they like to be in their teaching in five years’ time and what do they need to do between now and then to make that happen? Even though the actual experiments were often small in scale, at all times teachers were encouraged to be playful and creative, and to think expansively.

From this came a challenge for teachers to create a small experiment to do in the coming weeks that would advance them one step closer to their five-year goal. Teachers had to summarise not only their experiment but what interested them about it. Here are some of the offerings:

  • Developing visual responses to stories/poems, because "I want to know if texts will become more meaningful & if we can encourage greater leaps of creativity & language"
  • Do more creative CPD for staff in school, because "I want to show how creative skills are transferable across all subjects"
  • Get a student to teach a clay workshop to staff, because "I want to know how responsive staff will be to being taught art by a student"

Participants were also asked about one thing they’d need to do differently in order to make their experiment happen. For instance, a teacher who was keen to become a more effective and confident fundraiser wrote that she needed to ‘set aside the time, stick to it and have the mindset that small steps lead to bigger steps.’ Another teacher whose experiment was to share their school’s Artsmark journey with parents via a coffee morning said that she needed to, "stop avoiding, start talking – PLAN!"

To each experiment, we added in an element of accountability. We’ll follow up with each and every teacher in six weeks’ time, either to hear about what happened or to nudge things forward. Teachers seemed to broadly welcome the deadline, albeit one with a light-touch. "Bring it on! It’s way too easy to get wrapped up again in the day to day and forget about how we can make our teaching better, richer," said one (clearly enthusiastic) teacher.

We finished the day with a lo-fi crowdsourcing exercise that asked teachers to write one essential question or need for their experiment onto an envelope. Everyone then perused the envelopes and added tips or perspective on post-it notes.

The energy and creativity at the end of the day – despite the rainy weather – was no less than at the beginning. The passion for teaching, and for arts and culture as an integral part of school life, was palpable, as was the sense of personal and professional responsibility to ensure this continues and expands in our schools. As the Bard once said (via Julius Caesar), ‘It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.’