Why creative education is so essential right now

by Jun 27, 2020Creative Arts Industry, Creative Education0 comments

creative education

“…I found myself in unfamiliar territory, but the collective problem-solving and creating within these new constraints was a wonderful way to exemplify the fact that creativity is the art of playing with the unfamiliar.”

Originally published on the Musica Viva Australia website.

When COVID-19 prompted physical isolation to begin this March I immediately had to suspend face-to-face teaching of my regular Kindergarten – Year 2 music classes. I was among thousands of artists and teachers forced to adapt my practice and business. Almost anyone who has performed in front of an audience or a classroom has come across the ‘little voice’ inside one’s head representing their own harshest critic. This ‘little voice’ grew louder (as I’m sure it has for many others) when I transitioned students to group online Zoom classes in an attempt to keep creativity (and my own business) alive. Every tech failure, every disinterested look from a student, every time someone walked out of their video capture made me feel like I was failing the students and myself, even though I could see that students were able to continue to enjoy making music.

It took a remark by a parent to challenge that ‘little voice’. She wrote “You have been improving in leaps and bounds in figuring out effective ways to engage the kids from week to week. These sessions are far and away the best ones I’ve seen in terms of getting the kids out of their shells on a video platform and getting involved, and I’m so pleased the kids get this opportunity – thank you so much for all your hard work!”. Music-making’s ability to engage students with the unknown wasn’t lost on this parent. As teachers of creativity, are we oblivious to the valuable – if not essential – impact of our work, particularly during these times of uncertainty?

Creating during COVID – playing with the unfamiliar

Teaching classes online was hard – I had little control over the environment students were in, and I was unfamiliar with these new teaching tools. Whilst this can be (and was!) scary, I discovered how each challenge was uniquely suited to creative education, where students and teachers are always stepping into the unknown and our role is to help students find their own path within the limitless possibilities of creative expression.

The content of my online classes naturally seemed to allow students to find their own solutions. For example, students decided to take turns making music with their bodies to perform Going On A Bear Hunt; we created our own brand new graphic notation to perform a piece about animals; and we performed a string dance from the Torres Strait Islands by watching and mimicking each other. Whilst the online format seemed different, the teaching was really quite similar to ‘regular’ classes, where student creativity often guides the direction of a lesson. I found myself in unfamiliar territory, but the collective problem-solving and creating within these new constraints was a wonderful way to exemplify the fact that creativity is the art of playing with the unfamiliar.

The artistic process: create-reflect-improve

The comment from this parent also identified the improvement that had taken course over the lessons. Continual improvement reflects another key component of creative education, where the cycle of create-reflect-improve embodies the artistic process. Every class included opportunities for students to reflect on what they would change in each lesson (a group of six year olds even worked out ways we could adapt games in the classroom onto an online platform!) Teaching music involves listening, performing and making music in a fundamentally self-reflective way – developing the ability to ‘learn how to learn’ – and in these online classes students were able to express themselves both in the design and in the content of the lesson.

To navigate through uncertainty and new environments one must have a heightened awareness of themselves and those around them. Creative education provides the opportunity for teachers and students to collectively reflect, and face the challenges of the unexpected. Whether writing a song or learning a dance – we are practitioners of uncertainty, which mirrors the skills that the uncertainty of COVID-19 requires everyone to have. This special quality of creative education – that there is no predetermined answer – is one reason why our discipline is so essential in developing reflective and reflexive capabilities side by side with the students we nurture (and who nurture us).

Creativity and resilience

Educators often describe this quality of overcoming challenges and uncertainty as resilience. Face-to-face teaching is returning to schools in different ways around the country. Perhaps these online experiences can reaffirm how creative education is such an essential tool in cultivating resilience. Despite the ‘little voice’ that reminds us of the failures and challenges that we faced in adapting to online teaching, this work allows students to develop and witness resilience and creativity in action. We will all be better students and teachers because of these experiences. It took a comment from a parent for me to realise that beyond this time of physical isolation, there will be a deeper appreciation of creative education.

Since that comment was made I’ve been able to watch 60 of Australia’s very best musicians and teaching artists take similar steps online. As Artistic Director Education, I’ve seen 15 ensembles develop programs that support teachers and will bring interactive online performances to 20,000 Australian students through over 130 streamed concerts during the next month. It has been truly inspiring to watch how artists (and students) find different solutions to the challenges we are all facing. The potential for artists, school teachers and creative educators to enrich the wellbeing of students across the country is remarkable. The work we do is essential, particularly during these times of uncertainty and change.

To navigate through uncertainty and new environments one must have a heightened awareness of themselves and those around them. Creative education provides the opportunity for teachers and students to collectively reflect, and face the challenges of the unexpected. Whether writing a song or learning a dance – we are practitioners of uncertainty, which mirrors the skills that the uncertainty of COVID-19 requires everyone to have. This special quality of creative education – that there is no predetermined answer – is one reason why our discipline is so essential in developing reflective and reflexive capabilities side by side with the students we nurture (and who nurture us).