Activating learner wellbeing, creativity and critical thinking through the creative arts
The future is unpredictable, and many young people feel that education is not equipping them to thrive in the world, calling for greater focus on relational learning, creativity and critical thinking. On 14th June 2023, we had our final arted International Conference in collaboration with the OECD Futures of Education.
“The future, by definition, is unpredictable; but by being attuned to some of the trends now sweeping across the world we can learn – and help our children learn – to adapt to, thrive in and even shape whatever the future holds. Students need support in developing not only knowledge and skills but also attitudes and values that can guide them towards ethical and responsible actions. At the same time, they need opportunities to develop their creative ingenuity to help propel humanity towards a bright future.” (OECD, 2020)
The conference took place in Leeds, North of England and brought together teachers, artist educators, school leaders, parents, policy makers and young people for a knowledge exchange in creative pedagogies for wellbeing. What was totally unique about this event was that it was co-participatory, inviting participants to engage in arts-based workshops from arted, as well as hearing from policy makers and arts-based researchers and teachers engaged in national projects. Together, we explored the ways in which creative arts pedagogies can bring learning to life in a complex and changing world.
Our keynote speaker reflected that: “The conference was ground-breaking in the role played by interprofessional engagement, theory-practice-research meetings, and the creative rebooting catalysed by open and reflective thinking space ripe for professional innovation.”
Pamela Burnard, PhD. Professor of Arts, Creativities and Educations, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge
The term ‘rewilding’ refers to rebuilding education and asks us to consider what we are bringing back in and why. Across the day, we explored the following inquiry questions as a collective:
What does a wellbeing curriculum look like?
How can creative pedagogies activate learner wellbeing?
What are the insights from current research with teachers and artists?
How might we keep refining creative pedagogies?
Over the past 3 years, our arted project has focused on bringing creative learning for wellbeing back into education because for many young people across Europe access to creative arts learning is inequitable (Wyse, and Ferrari, 2015). We have focused on bringing the arts back into education through a knowledge exchange with artists educators across 6 European countries, producing open access resources for parents, Primary and Secondary school teachers and pre-service teachers. Research from within the team has also created new understanding into the ways that creative arts promote active wellbeing, autonomy and agency, for pupils and teachers (Stephenson, 2023). Whilst policy such as UNESCO and OECD are refocusing education on the importance of creativity and critical thinking, our piloting of resources showed that currently parents, teachers and Initial Teacher Education students do not consider themselves to be creative.
This highlights the urgent need for sustained knowledge exchange and greater understanding of creative arts, wellbeing and 21st Century learning prompting the inquiry focus for our conference. Central to this final dissemination and knowledge exchange was our strategic link with the OECD Futures of Education 2030 because this policy roadmap is aiming to refocus education on wellbeing and agency. The collaboration will see the work of arted represented as part of a case study for the OECD and shared on their website in February 2024 giving further international dissemination to teachers, parents and educators and sustainability to the work. It will also create new knowledge into the ways in which the Learning Compass might be taught through creative pedagogies.
Insights and practice from arted were shared with over 80 stakeholders across our conference day, alongside another national project using drama for curriculum change, led by Story Makers. Actively engaging in this research informed, arts-based workshops, framed the critical questions for participants throughout the day. Feedback from our conference knowledge exchange overwhelming evidence that the event had galvanised a critical mass of educators, policy makers and artist educators to rewild their practices. Participants could engage in workshops from Iceland, Germany and Greece through arted - opening new international horizons and experiences!
Feedback from participants stated that 99% rated their experience as good or excellent. The in-person feedback on the day was also overwhelmingly positive with participants saying they felt like a community of practice and teachers stated that they appreciated that the event was “rooted in reality of classroom life” and was “practical and interactive.”
The event was also grounded in research emerging from work with teachers and artists and this “commitment, passion and rigour” was noted by participants,
Following keynotes from young people, arts-based researchers, policy makers and teachers on the importance of rewilding a relational curriculum participants engaged in artist/teacher workshops. Responses valued “the variety on offer and the clear commitment to rewilding the curriculum.”
“The ability to share with others in the field and to network.” “Also, to be inspired.”
“The variety of talks and workshops underpinned by sound pedagogical theory and practice.
And “meeting people with common goals.” arted's ethical principles were key in developing brave spaces to share practices across the day (Stephenson et al, 2023).
“What is the impact of the learning event on your professional development?”
Feedback from participants showed significant impact from the day, particularly in relation to:
1. Changing classroom practice and increased knowledge into the relationship between creative pedagogies and wellbeing.
“a clearer understanding of how increasingly out of line with other countries and children's wants (due to Youth Parliament speakers) and needs (21st century situation, contexts and an increasing global outlook and understanding of systems and interconnectedness) our current national curriculum and policy document Education for sustainability and climate change is. Are we really preparing our future citizens for the realities of their future?”
“I have changed my plans for teaching music and am now going to plan with a creative artist to improve the creativity of my teaching.”
“It has improved my understanding of how creative approaches are being used in schools.”
2. Engaging in new professional networks and connections, sharing practices beyond the event
“Wider research and knowledge + additional links to professionals working in this area”.
“Excited to share. Has re-engaged me. More please.”
“Makes me feel connected to like-minded colleagues doing great things.”
“I feel Inspired”.
“It was great to be a part of the community, to network, to share work.”
“I have a long reading list to work through for my own work. The event gave me good ideas for workshops of my own.”
“Networking opportunities and links made - took away some new story-telling techniques and methods into opening up discussions and creativity in a classroom setting.”
“Meeting other professionals in the field.”
3. Greater understanding of the potential impacts of creative activities on youth in terms of engagement and well-being
Participants reflected on concerns that teachers may not be equipped to balance nurturing with stimulating and challenging learning. “Do our current teachers have the capabilities, creativity, confidence and support to be able to teach in this way, or are they so constrained that nothing will change for our teachers or children? (thinking about MAT imposed curriculums and accountability, external influences on classroom life)”
Following workshops, they reflected on potential impact of creative pedagogies on pupil wellbeing as being:
“My teacher education students will experience creative pedagogies which will impact on their teaching of primary aged children in the future.”
“Massive around oracy and articulacy.” More motivated educators.”
“I think there is great potential to improve engagement”.
“More creative, more agency, more relevant, fun and engaging, developing wisdom and decision-making skills, growing confidence.”
Participants recognised “The focus on wellbeing is timely given the problems with mental health amongst young people.”
4. Impact on teacher wellbeing
One of the most surprising impacts of the day was the power of bringing stakeholders together to affect teacher wellbeing. The notion of the collective has always been a key ethical principal of the work of arted, underpinning all our practices and creative outputs for educators. It is summed up beautifully in a reflection from a participant on the day.
“The diversity and internationalist perspective which always impacts beneficially on my own theoretical thinking and professional development. But what surprised me the most was the impact it had on my own wellbeing; I didn't appreciate how much I needed it until I met old and new collaborators and submerged myself in the sessions. We used to say about international drama conferences I helped run for the NATD 'you cannot afford to NOT make time for this!'” Participant feedback
We have already established a follow up international conference and are aware that educators are engaging with the website for learning in September. Our day was captured in a short documentary and visual infographics.
Rewilding is a long term commitment, and our conference has had significant impact in bringing collectives together to continue this work. The work of arted has been instrumental to this.
Dobson, T., & Stephenson, L. (2022). A trans‐European perspective on how artists can support teachers, parents and carers to engage with young people in the creative arts. Children & Society, 36(6), 1336-1350.
Stephenson, L., 2023. Collective creativity and wellbeing dispositions: Children's perceptions of learning through drama. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 47, p.101188.
Stephenson, L., Thorkelsdóttir, R., Dunbar K.L., karameris, K., Jónsdóttir, J., 2023.Creative Pedagogy as a Practice of Resistance: Charting Artist Educators’ practices within trans-European Education Policy. JasED (final amendments submitted May 23, in press)
Wyse, D. and Ferrari, A., 2015. Creativity and education: Comparing the national curricula of the states of the European Union and the United Kingdom. British Educational Research Journal, 41(1), pp.30-47.