Artswork goes to Thailand | Part 1
Date Created: 12th Feb 2020
Ideas, possibilities, reflections and inspiration are all aspects of my time here in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and our work with ARThailand at Prem Tinsulanonda International School (PREM).
Artswork was invited to Thailand by Alex Soulsby (Director of ARThailand – the Artists Residency Programme) to work with him and the school, its staff and students, around the arts and creativity within and across the curriculum. Alongside me, Artswork is also represented by Anna Brown (Programme Manager Learning, Skills and Enterprise).
Drawing from case studies and school and education practice in the UK, we have been exchanging approaches with staff here at PREM school as well as working with Headteacher/Head of School, Rachel Keys, and some of her senior staff around planning for and integrating creativity, creative thinking and teaching for creativity. In addition, Anna has been working through dance and movement with both students and staff in a range of ways:
- Working with the Early Years children and staff, Anna has been undertaking a development programme around exploring the impact of using gross motor skills on the consequent development of fine motor skills;
- Working with Science staff, Anna has been looking with them at the many benefits of cross-curricular work and how dance and movement can deepen learning and knowledge acquisition and understanding in a productive manner – which can also be fun. This approach also recognises the fact that some young people need to have experiential learning opportunities to make connections. Music, Dance, Art – can all provide these if an integrated approach is devised as part of effective lesson planning.
I have been holding creative meetings for individuals/groups of staff and boarding students interested in discussing their work, its challenges and its value to them. Issues that have cropped up are very similar in some respects to the challenges we face in England – including the pressure of achieving examination results, the planning time and capacity needed to enable teachers and senior leaders to work across subject areas and/or departments and programmes for genuine inter and cross-disciplinary work, and the time needed to think about teaching for increased creativity.
Specific discussions we had included the potential to:
- Further understand that while the arts make ‘an invaluable contribution to the development of creativity in children and young people’, creativity itself goes beyond this and embraces the capacity to ‘imagine, conceive, express or make something that was not there before’; it also – importantly – embraces Creative Thinking, and Teaching for Creativity.’ (Durham Commission, 2019)
- Embed creativity across the Primary Years Programme more holistically and the potential for an enhanced role for professional development (PD) for staff across the School
- For the ARThailand Residency Programme to include in its programming the identified (PD) needs of the teaching staff and the potential for some joint planning to embed PD in the brief for the visiting practitioners
- For occasional increased cross-phase subject planning (from the Primary Years Programme, to the Middle Years Programme to the IB Diploma Programme) to enhance continuum and progression and connectivity for the students.
In talking with two of the School’s boarding community aged 17/18 years old (PREM School has 150 boarders and a total of 500 students), they described their focus on their studies in the evenings and weekends, but also their participation in sport or going to the gym. They indicated however, that they felt there could be room for the development of optional creative opportunities – even in their older age group (as these exist for the younger boarders) – to engage and develop their skills and potential career interests related to e.g. creative digital design, fashion, film and photography etc.
On Wednesday (5th February), we gave a Presentation to the whole school staff around ‘Creativity, Teaching and Learning.’ This included discussions between staff and feeding back thoughts and ideas. We emphasised that this was a very first discussion about the potential for an enhanced holistic school approach to integrating and embedding creativity, creative thinking, and the arts. We considered aspects of the following:
- How is the development of creativity and the arts linked to the vision at PREM for joyful learning, wellbeing, and the provision for students with English as an Alternative Language (EAL)
- What sort of young people PREM School wishes to develop and the qualities it feels its young people will need to succeed in the future
- We talked about what children and young people themselves say they need as well as the skills that they do need. We also considered what skills – beyond knowledge – that employers indicate they need from their workforces
- We explored what we all mean by creativity and what the current developments are from the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and its work towards a Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) around Creative Thinking in 2021. We considered the 2019 Durham Commission Report on Creativity and Education https://www.dur.ac.uk/resources/creativitycommission/DurhamReport.pdf
- We considered some materials and books available to facilitate schools wishing to embed Creative Thinking and Learning including the work of Bill Lucas https://www.winchester.ac.uk/about-us/leadership-and-governance/staff-directory/staff-profiles/lucas.php
- We also looked at the key role the arts and creativity can play in addressing mental health and wellbeing needs and their vital role in raising levels of wellbeing, in building self-esteem and sense of confidence, in raising levels of motivation and aspiration, and in facilitating expression.
Thursday evening saw Anna, Alex Soulsby (ARThailand) and I working with three groups of Children who board at the school and for whom English was an Alternative Language. We each ran workshops (Anna – Dance; me – Music; Alex – bamboo sculpture) and then shared with each other our progress in a great atmosphere of mutual support and encouragement.
The staff at the school have been both welcoming and generous in their willingness to share their approaches. This has been a joy. They are talented and committed and we have seen and heard about some extraordinary practice – not least in the STEAM Festival work around addressing Air Quality including an innovative project around the recycling of plastic waste.
Part of Alex Soulsby’s wonderful ARThailand Artists Residency Programme is also about ensuring visiting practitioners get some step-back and reflection time. The trip we made on Saturday was really insightful in this respect. We had a trip to see the remarkable Makhampon Theatre Centre in the hills near Chiang Dao – a truly inspirational community arts centre making links with local villages and hill tribes. We also visited the Toot Yung Gallery in its beautiful architect-designed buildings and stunning art work and installations.
On Sunday, Anna and I took ourselves off to the Chiang Mai City Centre. We travelled by local bus and tuk-tuk to visit the most amazing flower festival with incredible floral float creations. We visited Temples; saw Thai Dancers, and we experienced the wonders of the Sunday Walking Street Market.
In the coming few days, we are doing further joint planning on the content of the staff INSET day with Rachel the Head Teacher and Alex. The day will start for staff with a menu of one-hour wellbeing options, followed by an all-staff session around using technology for outreach engagement with students. The Artswork afternoon session – our second all-staff event – is to be a practical session considering enhanced integration of creativity, creative thinking and teaching for creativity.
There is a further planning and review session with the Senior Leadership Team later in the week which will also provide an opportunity for reflections and feedback, and to discuss potential next steps. Then on Thursday 13th February, Artswork is leading a presentation and discussion in Chiang Mai city centre around ‘Making the Case for Creativity in International Education’. Key aspects we will cover will include:
- Why the arts and creativity are as vital to education as literacy, and why they should be given equal status
- How provision for arts and creative engagement can enhance outcomes for children and young people
- What schools can do to embed creativity into their curriculum
- Who employers are looking for in the 21st century workplace and what skills do they value most.
This session is jointly hosted by ARThailand and Chiang Mai Creative City – https://www.chiangmaicitylife.com/citynow/whats-on/talks-and-conferences/making-the-case-for-creativity-in-international-education/
With all of this exciting discussion and inspiring work being done it has been a privilege to return every day to our quiet Country Retreats accommodation. It is a most amazing place – almost a nature reserve set as it is amongst rice paddy fields – with gardens created separating a small collection of lovely bedroom villas. The sound of cicadas and frogs in the evening, the wonderful sound and sight of extraordinary birds during daylight hours – plus a pet Country Retreat black pig of immense proportions – is quite remarkable! Our cycle to the truly inspirational grounds of PREM school, through rice paddy fields and banana trees passing water buffalo and seeing Openbill Storks, Pond Herons, Egrets and Bee Eaters (amongst a wider variety of other birds) is both poetic and therapeutic.
Thank you Alex and PREM School!
Words: Jane Bryant, 10 February 2020
Images: PREM School