Time to explore the hidden depths of your own creativity

5th April 1996 at 01:00
Today is a video feedback session, and the students are clearly apprehensive. How will they come over on screen? Will seeing themselves as others see them be constructive, or just plain embarrassing?

Sandra Richards is first to appear in front of the camera. She lights a sparkler, and talks for one minute about herself. The other students are then asked to tell her about the positive elements of her presentation. They have noticed confidence, huge energy, good eye contact, originality, fun and, yes, sparkle.

The 18 people gathered round the screen at the Institute for Creativity in London - teachers, advisors, college lecturers, community educators, youth workers - are now half way through a pioneering postgraduate personal development course, which aims to help them become more effective in their work by tapping and developing their creativity.

Christine Kimberley, the session tutor, is encouraging them to get rid of any negative ideas. "Stay in touch with the tape that's playing in your head, " she says. "Now consider who put it there: was it your parents, or a teacher? Is it an appropriate one, or is it 20 or 30 years out of date?" The Creativity in Education course, run by the Open University in collaboration with the Institute for Creativity, goes into an area not usually explored by conventional INSET courses: that of teachers' own feelings, their self-esteem and self-image, and the acknowledgement of their needs as individuals. "The emotional side of teachers' work is generally undervalued," says Anna Craft, director of the OU's certificate programme. "We're looking to nourish teachers, to give them an opportunity to reflect on what they need in order to rouse their own creativity, to develop more imaginative responses in themselves and others."

At the start of the six-month course the students are thrown in at the deep end. They take part in The Mastery of Self-Expression, a two-day workshop mostly used by actors, but also finding favour in the business world - it's now compulsory, for instance, for all British Airways internal training staff.

The workshop is designed to put them "in touch with their own emotional reality", rather than allow them to suppress feelings because of fear of rejection and humiliation. According to Anna Craft, this is relevant not just to teachers' performance in the classroom, but also to their relationships with colleagues.

"Primary teachers for instance are able to recognise the emotional needs of their pupils, but find it hard to say to others what their own needs are, " she suggests. "There's a tradition of silence, which can make it hard for many teachers to dissent from a prevailing view."

The course involves the students in looking at some of the performance aspects of teaching, such as the use of the voice or self-projection. Another important element is acting method. "It's about presentation - how you come across - and, if you have a vision, how best to present it," Anna Craft says.

These emphases are a far cry from those of traditional INSET. The Teacher Training Agency's new priorities for professional development, for instance, are concerned with leadership and management, specialist subject teaching, the use of IT, and the role of heads of department and special needs co-ordinators.

The focus is on knowledge, method, technique, competences - all things that are rational and managerial. Yet there are those who believe that change and development will not be effective if the emotional dimension of teachers' work is ignored.

Writing recently in The TES ("Back to the joy of teaching", October 6, 1995), Andy Hargreaves argued: "Good teaching also involves emotional work. It is infused with desire: pleasure, passion, creativity, challenge and joy." The present course also builds on the research findings of Peter Woods, who has studied teacher creativity in primary schools.

Alongside the "experiential" work, the students have to set up and monitor a project in their own workplace involving one aspect of creativity, and read and discuss some of the literature on the subject. The final certificate counts as credit towards the OU's MA in Education.

Reactions so far seem positive. Penny Travers, who teaches bilingual children in Enfield, says: "It's very personal, but it's made me question some of my own thinking."

John Burdon, an adviser in Hertfordshire, agrees. "It's very good at getting at the roots of what you're doing," he says. "But it won't suit everybody: you've got to overcome your fears and then be receptive to this kind of process."

The OU course tutor Tom Lyons admits to initial uncertainty. "But I've been very impressed, the quality has been good," he says. "It's given people a rare opportunity to reflect on an aspect of their professional lives that they don't normallyhave time to think about. People are getting a lot from it."

The OU is organising a one-day 'Creativity in Education' conference in London on June 22. For details telephone 01908 653763.

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