It’s been a while…
It’s been a while since my last blog.
We’re closing in on the end of term and I’m not sure what to write about. We’re midway through all our projects.
So here’s some thoughts about the beginning…
As part of our ongoing work around the value of care, we’ve invested in clinical supervision from Wellbeing in the Arts. I am not really sure what I expected from this. However, what I have received has definitely been better than what I expected. Every month we have digital supervision with a trained mental health professional. This is an opportunity to reflect on the natural challenges that present themselves in work. In our last session we ended up talking about ourselves a lot. I had always thought about how I end sessions, but never really how I begin them. As in – how do I begin them? Quite often I begin them after a sleepless night with a four-year-old and its three cups of coffee when I switch on. Since our last session I have taken to carrying headphones around with me as much as possible. I listen to music on the way to a session, I find it a nice way to relax and occasionally have sung and danced my way to a workshop.
It has also made me appreciate how we all begin sessions. Whether we are coming from a place of sleep deprivation or in the case of some of the children and young people, a day full of learning concepts and facts that makes their brains ache. How we start and create a space where we are ready to regroup matters. One of our groups is supported by a mental health charity. As such we’ve been able to invest in providing snacks, blankets, and materials to start the session by tapping into the children’s senses to bring them into the space. We’ve also given them ownership of a visual timetable to give time for the loud and time for the quiet. They have a mix of opportunities to choose drama and art throughout.
In another one of our sessions this term, I decided to set up a drawing space for two children who didn’t want to act (for valid reasons). I was given some very good advice about whether this was inclusive or not. Along with which were a list of things I could do to be more inclusive – movement breaks, signs, rules, choices etc. All very valid concepts, which stuck with me for a while. It made me question my choices. Was I choosing exclusion thinking I was flying the flag of inclusion? Was I creating in an inequitable space?
In the end, I decided to look at it with the intention that making art is a vehicle for communicating your thoughts and feelings. The interaction I had with the child about how, what, and why they would draw was more in-depth and authentic than if I had tried to make performance the goal. Now, they join in games with everyone and then they go to draw. It works beautifully. Often, when the other children have performed, they will stand up and share their drawing and get the same round of applause. Sometimes they come back to act. The other children don’t bat an eyelid – we have a shared goal of making performance happen and in it all forms of expression are valid. It has given the other children a chance to vocalise their own worries about performing- things are now being drawn, danced, mimed, and acted out. Instead of making a script, we are making a scrapbook – a blend of pictures, words, drawings and signs that help us record our work.
Another project this term has been inspired by enquiry-based learning and some work we did with an IB educator. Using a selection of artefacts and props, children were invited to think about what they know, think, and wonder about them. From this, they could ask questions, share ideas, imagine, have time to be wrong and time to be right. In the end the stories and ideas were converted into an art piece. The final line up of work presents a more imaginative and authentic timeline of 80 years than we’d have achieved simply by teaching them facts about the decades. There was some questioning from the school about our learning objectives. Over time that dissipated, when I explained the proposition, a senior teacher told me it was the way teaching used to be – when we trusted children and teachers.
This week, I was fortunate to attend training for Speech Bubbles and their new CPD programme. ‘Communication components’ was a phrase given to the methodology and practice of how to choose games in Speech Bubbles to encourage communication. I was instantly involved with it – as a mother and a practitioner. When I started going to speech therapy with my son, we were introduced to the Language Pyramid. Initially I embraced it and I still see the baseline for communication is in shared focus and joint attention. However, I had never really thought about the concept of a pyramid suggesting there was a linear route to progression. It is only as my son matures and acquires different tools for communication that I see how much of what he does can be ignored because it doesn’t fit in the pyramid. It’s tiring to argue back. When I think of work, everyone can picture a child that is loud but unable to focus. The child who has expressive language but is too quiet to share an idea. How do you fit them into a system which measures success on the ability to absorb facts to pass exams? Another reason why we might acknowledge that teaching must be exhausting, particularly when they pick up the children who have been able to have very little intervention on the NHS due to the pandemic, Covid, and public services cut to its core.
As I end my first term of Speech Bubbles, I am reminded of the power of the arts to nurture and value the whole child. We find structure within the structure of our sessions to really recognise the unique makeup of each of our groups. Some sessions are all about turn taking. Others have been about ensuring there are opportunities for verbal and non-verbal communication – all of which is inspired by the children’s own unfiltered, authentic voice.
I’m about to read A New Direction’s Arts in Schools Report – Foundations for the Future. I already can guess I’ll agree with it. It’s not just because I like making art, I often forget to consider myself as an artist to be honest. After the traumas of the pandemic and the struggles of a cost of living crisis, we need to regroup ourselves. The pressures of living in a world that is connected 24/7 affects our ability to communicate with ourselves, with others, and the wider world and it’s going to be the core tool needed to ensure we build a more equitable future.