A Slow School is a Creative School by Joe Harrison

When I began working in schools it was as a musician. I’d run workshops in which people with any instrument and of any ability level would come together and we’d make a piece of music. It was lots of fun. I liked it because the lack of restrictions on instrument and ability meant that the creativity was raw and democratic. A first time player contributing a simple bass drum part could be just as important to the piece of music as a professional contributing a complex flute solo.

One project endeavoured to bring some of these processes into a school’s music lessons. Over the course of a year we made some great music and developed some innovative strategies, but one thing always constricted that raw creative development: time. Whatever we did had to take place for one hour every Monday morning. Find me a musician in the world that works like that (or an architect, mathematician, dancer, or journalist for that matter)! The creative process becomes secondary to ‘classroom management’. Even if someone did find inspiration on a clarinet one lesson, they’d then have to stop and go to their next lesson, only to return one week later when you can be sure that the moment of inspiration had diminished considerably.

Later on, working with Creative Partnerships to bring creative processes into a classroom or school, I realised that all I was actually trying to do was to find or create time. If the creativity was to be the learner’s own, and not mine or the teachers, they would need time to become interested, to deliberate, to experiment, to get things wrong and try again. And not just in hourly slots every Monday morning. The same is of course true of all learning.

This was when I began to call my work Slow Education inspired by Carl Honore’s wonderful book ‘In Praise of Slow’, set up this website, and found others inspired by the concept of ‘Slow’ in education.

The creative process is at the very heart of Slow Education. Indeed it is an idea of creativity that, as with the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, goes far beyond its traditional home in ‘the arts’ to become “the process of having original ideas that have value”. A Slow School understands this process and supports its learners (pupils and staff) in it. Here are some examples:

We see this happening at Matthew Moss High School in Rochdale where the learning process is supported by a practical understanding of Carol Dweck’s work on ‘growth mindset’. Learners at Matthew Moss are therefore explicitly aware of how challenges, success and failures fit into their own personal journey of learning and developing, rather than being ranked within a merit system whereby their ‘intelligence’ and capacity become stationary; the ‘fixed mindset’. The creative process of learning at Matthew Moss does not come laden with fear, targets and false promises. Within such an environment one can be truly creative; one can learn. The learner has a mindset which supports creativity and allows time for deep learning.

At St Silas Primary School in Blackburn the creative process of learning is supported by spaces that are endlessly flexible and that cater for a wide range of processes and learning styles. Each room has different areas which can accommodate a learner who wants a private space, or a group working collaboratively on their learning (NB: as in the real world, collaboration in learning with peers, not competition). Some chose to sit on bean bags, some at tables, others lay of the floor. Materials and resources are easily accessable to all at any time. Spaces for learning continue outside the classroom; a corridor seemingly lined with storage cupboards opens out to become up to five seperate little spaces for small group work, each fully equiped. The learners have spaces that support creativity and encourage them to find the tempo giusto; the right tempo for their learning.

Finally, in explaining how creativity is at the very heart of Slow Education I would point to a constant source of inspiration, the work of W.E. Deming. The first of Deming’s ’14 Points for Management’ encourages to “Create consistancy of purpose toward improvement of… service”. All parts of the system (management, teachers, pupils, governors, LAs, government) must all pull in the same direction, towards constant improvement in learning opportunities and processes in educational institutions. Of course, improvement requires innovation, and if all are free and motivated to innovate constantly this requires an unerring commitment to creativity at all levels. What we see in Slow Schools is staff with ideas who try new approaches and share with other staff, always stopping to look at the wider picture and find new ways to improve their work. The relationships within a Slow School support learning and the improvement of learning processes at every level. The learning has value.

So we see that in the structures, processes and even the physical spaces of a Slow School, creativity is at the heart. Everything is aligned to support “the process of having original ideas that are of value” (Robinson).

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