I have been working for a while as a Creative Agent for Creative Partnerships through the UK Centre for Carnival Arts (which will be heaving right now as today is Luton Carnival Day). You may have heard that our funding has stopped so we are making plans for our departure into pastures new. One of these plans has been to set up a network of schools who are committed to exploring creative techniques of teaching and learning whose relationships will form a legacy network that will outlive creative partnerships provision. We have called this the Creative Schools Network and you can follow us on twitter here

The reason I am writing is because we have developed a technique that seemed to have a significant impact on those who came to the last meeting. We have been playing with formats and trying to balance the need for input with plenty of opportunity for actual networking. We decided to nestle our approach in the everyday problems faced by the teachers who come from a range of subjects and settings. Our mantra from the early days was to be as useful as possible in the shortest time. We know that teachers are busy and being at our meetings means not being in the classroom – so we have to make it count.

So this is what we did. We undertook a Creativity Experiment based on the Action Research Cycle and the Osbourn Parnes Creative Problem Solving Technique. We were hosted by a local school and the session ran from 9 – 12.45. We first explored what we mean by creativity by looking at a sample of the hundreds of creativity definitions out there in order to encourage participants to recognise themselves as creative (and to divorce the deep-rooted link between artistic ability and creativity). We then led a short period of reflection to encourage participants to scan their professional landscapes to identify a problem that they wanted to give some attention to (this would be the problem finding part of the CPS model, or the reflection of the Action Research Cycle). For some the word ‘problem’ was a barrier, so asking participants to identify an area that they would like to improve on worked better. We asked them to use the ‘invitational stem’ ‘ In what ways might…’ to phrase their problem, and to identify a problem that was at once important but within their power to change. This represented both divergent (scanning) and convergent thinking (problem selection and redefinition) of the problem solving process.

We then led them into the solution finding stage of the Creative Problem Solving process through a divergent thinking exercise. Armed with their ‘problem’ we set up a speed dating cycle where they took their problem to each of 6 creative practitioners (a puppetter, audio artist, pop up book maker, dancer, sculptress and set designer) who all responded in the moment to their problem. At the end of the session each participant had had 6 conversations and been exposed to a wide range of people and possible solutions. Of course not all solutions would be immediately applicable or attractive to the participants, however many set off new ways of thinking about old problems, allowing them to break with habitual thinking. This exposure to a range of responses enabled more ‘combinatory play’ to occur and increasing, we hoped, the possibility of developing solutions. We asked them to again enter into convergent thinking by selecting one course of action and creating a hypothesis for their problem. We simply asked that they create a sentence using the words ‘if’ and ‘then’ to structure their statement which made it testable. We encouraged participants to give some thought to the practicalities of their experiment including how they would test any impact. At this stage, mindful that testing and data can strike fear into the heart of any warm blooded practitioner we reminded people that whatever told them their was a problem in the first place might well be the same thing that told them if anything changed. If this was their ‘gut’ then that was good enough for us. This represented the planning stage of the action research cycle.

The result was that teachers came together, identified a problem and a wide range of solutions and turned it into a plan of action. They built relationships with each other and with creative practitioners. This can only be good for creative practice within schools.

The workshop seemed to, well, work. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and people left feeling that the session was relevant and useful to them as individuals. All participants were invited back to report on their progress and we will simply repeat the cycle, probably with a different bank of practitioners, to keep widening the possible links and combinations between new approaches and old problems.