The Artist Practitioner Perspective
In the blog below, Rachel Gartside describes her experience as artist practitioner on both the Royal Shakespeare Company’s and the Royal Society of Arts’ Teacher Development Fund projects.
Working as an artist practitioner in school change programmes like this one is very interesting. I perceive my role in this context to be a facilitator, which needs a dialogic approach. Listening closely and in detail is very important. Every stakeholder (children, teachers, school leaders, governors, arts organisation managers) has an expert perspective in their context which is useful in facilitating change. There is no point going into the unique, messy, human system of a school with fixed ideas about how things should be.
Change is a gradual process, dependent on people, and being respectful of everybody involved is a critical success factor. Being aware of the curriculum, assessment cultures, school management systems and an understanding of the demographics of the children are all essential. In the same way that an artist is making work for a specific audience, as an artist practitioner working in this programme, being in dialogue with the context in which I am working is really important. Only then can we all plan, do and reflect together effectively.
Fundamentally, I think my role is to offer appropriate inspiration for change. That might be in the form of encouraging colleagues to take risks in the material or approaches they are working with, or thinking differently about learning outcomes, or modelling different teaching and learning relationships or making connections between this programme and other strategic initiatives that the school is involved in. Keeping the dialogue focused on learning and teaching is important. The most beautiful artistic ideas in the world won’t take root in a school if they are dependent on specialist artistic skills or consume time and resources which teachers perceive would be better spent in another area of learning. The trick is to curate the experience of your art form, so that everyone can feel the reasons why it is useful for learning.
I know it is a cliché nowadays, but I firmly believe that all artists are teachers and all teachers are artists. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to call myself both, and value both equally. I think part of my role is to ask the questions which open up that idea.