Have you ever thought of approaching your school’s CPD with an arts focus? Beverley Kirk describes the reflective and creative benefits of teachers coming at their continuing professional development from a different perspective
Following a school amalgamation, I became a senior manager with the interesting title of creative arts manager. The post, in a primary school in Bury, was fairly open to interpretation but one crucial aim was to win the Artsmark, which had been a feature of the old infant school prior to the merger. So I used the framework of Artsmark to structure my role and to begin to design development opportunities for staff. Initially, I took responsibility for collecting information and it was exciting to run a staff questionnaire on the provisions in art, music, dance and drama.
I enjoyed the research and data-collecting element of that particular exercise and was impressed by how truthfully staff wrote opinions and concerns. Their input gave me on opportunity to pave the way to revise schemes of work, to book workshops by artists, not only for the children but for staff too, and to plan strategies to meet shortfalls in provision.
Since then, the power of the written questionnaire has been proved many times. I have used it from studies on action research to a consultancy to restructure a senior leadership team of a high school. At present I am considering ways of canvassing pupil voice on learning.
As a maths major, I didn’t really feel my place was in the arts world. I felt more comfortable among musicians as I could play a few tunes on a couple of instruments, but I still could not see where this role was to take me. All I had at that time was a lot of questions and a naïve interest. I had no idea that I would become so useful, not because of any arts background, but because of my knowledge of education and the primary curriculum and a passion to stimulate children’s learning.
Moving into training: working with an art gallery
In those early days I built a relationship with the Bury Art Gallery, which was newly refurbished and ready to open doors to schools with a fresh approach. At the time I was still finding my feet in the training of teachers and still very nervous. I worked with the team at the gallery and we developed a workshop training session which two of us (a gallery officer and I) rolled out together to groups of teachers from local primary schools. The sessions were a huge success; teachers felt comfortable booking school groups and the gallery was engaging with teachers at curriculum level.
We worked on risk assessments and loan materials so that the gallery could outreach to schools as well as offer a venue for dynamic educational visits. We included use of sketchbooks for self-guided visits (particularly for schools with financial constraints). As CPD for visiting schools we received positive feedback on the diversity of training; the comfort and luxury of the venue; the opportunity to review the purposes of offsite visits; the cross-curricular stimuli and the freshness of our sessions. As a training provider I ceased to be nervous as the two of us refined our partnership delivery. When the season for the training came to a close (after seven sessions), we were given evaluations that regarded the training provision very highly. For me, the bridge from timidity and uncertainty was crossed in just one term and I felt ready to take on more diverse opportunities.
Looking back, I was never approached to lead training, it was something that we decided when consulting together on how a museum/art gallery can meet the needs of schools. The decision could easily have been to back away from such an uncomfortable proposition, but we supported one another and launched into it.
Maths and music
In 2004 I had a somewhat random discussion with the local authority numeracy consultant about the links between maths and music and how these were not in any way exploited in primary schools. Very quickly we came up with a few lesson ideas that might work in teaching children a range of mathematical skills through music.
We decided to try this out in my classroom. At the time I was teaching Year 2 and some of our ideas were a little advanced for that age group. We approached the newly qualified teacher in Year 4 and he agreed to let us visit his class with a series of four workshops. We explored musical instruments, notation and sound to learn about fractions, problem solving, algebra, shape and other such concepts in both key stages. The project grew to become a major focus of a six-school working party and we currently have a project with the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM), which is funding us to explore this further. The work is developing us as a team and spreading creativity in the curriculum much wider. The NCETM website is poised to place our ideas on the national and global stages, an opportunity for all of us on the team to celebrate and share our best practice.
Some of the best CPD available is in structured courses, run at centres of excellence by seasoned professionals. I have completed the Leadership Pathways course from the NCSL and I am currently in the middle of the NPQH (National Professional Qualification for Headteachers).
Both of these courses run a mixture of methods to appeal to a range of learning styles. The online focus of both is effective for those long summer months when tests, results and children are a mere dream. Face-to-face days give powerful dialogue opportunities. School-based project work challenges participants to put the learning into context and into action. Reflection stimulates improvement, change and enhanced motivation.
On the Leadership Pathways programme a relationship is encouraged between the participant and a coach. This is a vital part to the programme and the choice of coach should be taken very seriously. I was extremely lucky in having a superb coach who herself was studying on a coaching course with the NCSL. Her role and her part in my development were crucial to the success of the course and to the advances in my leadership skills over that year. I’m now inspired to become a coach of that calibre to others, and consider that the next phase of my professional development.
On the NPQH programme, I have learned that delegation and facilitating is the way to grow other leaders and distribute leadership to those desperate to take up opportunities. At the beginning of the course I took up the challenge of creating a brand new team to look into the creative curriculum. I was aiming for a high-performing team of mixed teachers and teaching assistants. Little did I know that the team was about to become the most challenging team to manage, having amazing ideas, endless enthusiasm, undying commitment and the energy to match.
This is arguably the biggest CPD opportunity I have created for others, giving a small group of like-minded professionals a forum for discussion, planning, creative exploration and expression that might be stifled in other contexts. This is the place for ideas and innovative methods.
We started small. For one teacher it was the opportunity to take a healthy schools idea for gathering information on lunchboxes to a whole-school piece of research. For another it was engaging the parents to work with the children at home on a creative technology project to design an Easter bonnet which we then celebrated in a parade and competition in school. A third teacher wanted to promote St George’s Day through the SEAL theme ‘It’s good to be me’ and we saw the whole school transformed into a colourful and energetic display.
At the moment we are poised to begin a ‘school of enquiry’ project with Creative Partnerships, which will develop two teachers alongside two professional musicians to explore cross-curricular teaching through music.
There will be opportunities in this project to engage the whole school staff in CPD with the musicians, through some direct teaching.
The challenge for me as a leader is to connect the dialogue so that everyone is heard and actions emerge in a coherent and effective plan, all the while navigating to the school’s strategic vision. This group has the potential to drive change and to lead the school in innovative creativity.
In 2006 I was offered an interesting opportunity by the Arts Council to take part in a programme called Reflect. This is run from the Sage in Gateshead, and is a national co-mentoring programme to connect the arts sector and education at senior managerial level. The advertising particularly appealed as it supported reflective practice, which is something I have come to appreciate from my MSc and the local authority management development programme, and because I have always enjoyed keeping diaries.
The programme in itself is facilitative more than directive. It seeks to foster relationships rather than teach skills. My partnership is with the manager of learning at the Tate in Liverpool. I have learned about the workings of arts institutions from her, and she has gained a closer insight into leading in a school. It has been a mutual learning experience.
Aside from our co-mentoring, the element of reflective practice has taken a dramatic new direction for me. I have become much more engaging with others’ perceptions, particularly when I think what I am doing is right. The way I record my reflections has changed just as dramatically and I use large sketchbook logs now. Rather than writing or blogging, I draw, collage and even paint images, which I annotate to encapsulate learning. This has affected other CPD, for instance my NPQH journal now has an artistic style and this engages me to review far more frequently and with a clearer memory than I ever would have done with pages of text. In July all co-mentors will meet in Gateshead to take part in a national conference to celebrate the final gathering. I hope my sketchbooks, along with those presented by colleagues who also recorded in this way, will inspire others to make their reflections as dynamic and memorable as they possibly can.
Pursuing headship: the CPD benefits of my Master’s-level studies
The pursuit of accredited courses is, of course, essential to the aspiring headteacher. When I had the opportunity to cash in the local authority leadership development programme for part of a Master’s I couldn’t resist it. What I didn’t realise was how much more the Master’s was about to offer me in CPD.
I joined Manchester Metropolitan University’s second year Master’s students for a ‘consultancy project’. Our group of four formed a consultancy to support a high school in the restructure of their senior leadership. We had a bigger remit than simply shuffling job descriptions, as there were budget implications and the costs of what the school wanted to achieve could not possibly be funded from within. I learned more about the workings of secondary schools than I would have done if I had been teaching in the sector, and I learned that the right approach buys you enormous goodwill and respect. We were very successful in our work, but the biggest achievement for all of us, we agreed, was in gaining the trust and respect of the professionals in that school, who were a high-performing team of nationally-acclaimed school leaders.
In the final part of my MSc I have learned about data and research methods. I am delighted to have a tapestry of evidence to support the idea that we do not make decisions, judgements and plans on raw statistical data alone, but that qualitative measures (soft data) can count even more, provided they can be presented convincingly.
In contrast to the arts focus, my Master’s work has centred on standards in numeracy and literacy. It is essential to have CPD that reflects a broad impact on learning across the curriculum. I also focused on leading my key stage team in raising achievement in numeracy and literacy for the Leadership Pathways programme. It is sometimes tempting to devote myself to the work in the arts, but as a headteacher I could not be so blinkered and it is good to diversify early in a managerial career. My work in the arts could take me much further in that direction and I would not be surprised if I came upon opportunities to leave school and work in the arts sector, but my goal at this time is to reach primary headship and for that I need a specifically charted pathway. Nevertheless, leading training sessions at an art gallery, attending strategy meetings with arts institutions, finding creative opportunities to develop the curriculum and providing inspirational people with a forum for debate and action are valuable headship skills that I shall keep on refining as I develop and review my ever-changing role in the school’s leadership.
Beverley Kirk is assistant head at St Luke’s C of E Primary School in Bury