Making Time: Evaluation blog by Dr Becky Parry, an independent arts educator and the arts evaluation partner for Chol.
What is an act of care?
The answer to this question may seem simple, but Chol have been asking questions about care in the evaluation of their practice as equal playmakers in Imaginary Communities (IC). Much of the focus of this work has been on the children’s care for each other. In IC, children listen, support, encourage and take turns in ways that can be surprising. Children who regularly clash, find themselves co-creating a magical river out of scraps of fabric, immersing themselves in a fictional world where friendship is possible. These acts of care and collaboration are regular features of IC work which was developed with teachers and is being refined consistently through research and evaluation. The impact of IC activities on children is well documented in Dr Vicky Storey’s doctoral research, and continues to be a strong focus, but we are also interested in the acts of care undertaken by Headteachers.
The children’s acts of care created by the equal playmaker approach of IC are only possible because of an act of care by Headteachers (or senior leaders) who invite Chol into their schools and support them to work with their staff and wider school community. Heads have so many pressures and responsibilities and having a vision which focuses on the arts and on care and well-being in the current education climate, takes courage.
At East Bierley Primary School in Bradford, the Headteacher, Lysa Hammond, is determined to ensure children’s well-being is foremost. Lysa recognises the need to support staff so that they are able to support children. For IC to be fully embedded and impactful, teachers need to commit to taking part in whole school professional development sessions, regular planning and reflections with their IC practitioner, being present as an equal playmaker in IC sessions and being part of a wider network of practitioners who share their practice.
All of this demands commitment and enthusiasm, but this is never in short supply. What is in short supply is time. So much is currently asked of schools in the contemporary context, that time has become a very precious commodity. It was fascinating to hear teachers at East Bierley talk about the way their Head ‘made time’.
When I first heard this expression, I thought of Hermione Grainger’s time turner enabling her to attend extra lessons. I conjured an image of a fairy-tale princess spinning straw into gold (IC has that effect). The truth is simpler, but just as enchanting. At East Bierley, the Head timetables herself to teach whole classes so that the class teacher can spend time with smaller groups of children on an activity of their choice.
At the time I spoke to Lysa about this work she had been teaching sculpture, children were moulding and shaping large blocks of soap inspired by the work of Yorkshire born Barbara Hepworth. Meanwhile the teacher had been working with a small group of children on maths concepts they were finding tricky. This practice of ‘making time’ takes high levels of careful organisation and is especially challenging in a smaller school. Tackling this challenge is an important and inspiring act of care which has a powerful ripple effect.
It is an act of care because the Head has to sacrifice her own time.
It is an act of care because it highlights the need for teachers to have time (and autonomy) to work with small groups of students.
It is an act of care because it recognises the importance of small group sizes which enable individual children to have time with their teacher.
Making time for others is an act of care all of us have in our gift, but making time and giving others autonomy about how that time will be used is next level.