“Thinking too much or too hard can get in the way of creativity.” (Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2001, p27). This is something that really resonates with me as I am a very creative person, however I am also a person guilty of over thinking and putting a lot of pressure on myself. It is at these moments when the head takes over that I feel the need to stop, breathe and hand the reins back over to the heart, where creative expression is waiting to burst out.
This year I decided to pursue the Expressive Arts elective and I could not be happier with my decision to do so! As someone who likes to express myself, I have really enjoyed exploring what teaching and learning through music, art, drama and dance can look like within a primary school context. It has also encouraged me to do a lot of self-reflection about who I am as a practitioner and the experiences I have had in my life which have given me such a strong connection with the arts.
I can’t remember a time in my life where the arts did not play a key role. My parents are both very creative and as a result of this I have a lot of positive childhood memories of singing, playing a variety of instruments, doing arts and crafts, going to dance classes and much more. Some of my fondest childhood memories include my mum singing songs to my sisters and I to help us fall asleep at night and my dad using his guitar to take us on a ‘Bear Hunt’ around the garden at our birthday parties.
Having the confidence to stand up and perform in front of a large number of people is not something I shy away from, rather the opposite in fact! Since singing my first solo to an audience at age six, I have been drawn to any opportunity where creative performance is a prominent feature. Not only do I enjoy the performance aspect of expressive arts but I like being able to connect with an audience.
I think that being so heavily involved in, and enthusiastic about, expressive arts is something that has had a real impact on who I am as a person and, ultimately, who I am as a teacher. During my first year placement a teacher said to me that there are sometimes days in the classroom when you need to put on your ‘smiling teacher face’. By this she meant that there will be days when you feel awful but you still have to put a smile on your face as you are the person that those children look up to. In this respect teaching can be like putting on a performance- when you are in teacher role you take on the character that those children need you to be. This is something that has really stuck with me and I always tried to put on my best ‘teacher face’.
I believe it is important to have a good balance of performing the ‘teacher role’ and being yourself. This is something that I found very difficult in our first placement as I had only just started the journey of exploring who I was as a teacher and found myself trying to be the teacher I was observing rather than drawing on her practice and bringing myself to the placement. As I am normally such a confident performer, I became overly critical of myself for not being more ‘myself’ and struggled to bring my lively personality to the experience as much as I had hoped to- a perfect example of how thinking too much can get in the way of creativity!
However, in this last year there have been two main experiences, which have really boosted my confidence and have helped me to see that people are drawn to me when I am completely myself. The first of these was my second year placement at the International School of Stuttgart. I was delighted to be in a school setting for this placement and having reflected on the year before, I went into the experience with the intention of exploring who I am as a practitioner. In IB schools there is a big focus on international mindedness and valuing each individual for who they are. This encourages staff and pupils to learn from each other’s cultures and traditions and gave me the opportunity to be completely myself.
As a result of this open, welcoming atmosphere and my own personal goal of bringing more of myself to my teaching, I really enjoyed the experience and even turned up dressed as a butterfly on my second week! The children responded very well to this and as a result I was able to use the butterfly theme as a stimulus for other lessons. Having had positive feedback from pupils and teachers when acting more myself, I was able to really enjoy the lessons I planned and delivered.
The second of these two experiences was taking part in West End Stage Summer School. This involved a week taking part in workshops in singing, dancing and acting led by West End professionals in preparation for a performance in Her Majesty’s Theatre at the end of the week. In an environment where everyone was fully committed to giving their all in the different workshops, I felt fully able to express myself and as a result I was the happiest I have ever been. This hugely positive experience made me reflect on how I could use this passion and enjoyment to inspire children in the classroom. This is where the Expressive Arts module came at a perfect time! It has shown me how I can take the two things that I am passionate about (teaching and expressive arts) and interlink them.
Craft (2002, p91) says that “imagination and creativity involve an approach in life which begins with: ‘perhaps if’ or ‘what if’”. So why don’t we take more time as teachers to ask ‘what if’? It’s time to be yourself, express yourself!
Craft, A. (2002) Creativity and Early Years Education: A Lifewide Foundation. London: Continuum
Learning and Teaching Scotland (2001) Creativity in Education. Dundee: Learning and Teaching Scotland.