Making creativity count

Jem Peck | Kew Green Preparatory School | Autumn 2017
At the heart of an excellent education is creativity, argues Jem Peck of Kew Green Preparatory School. By encouraging creativity, you foster an atmosphere of expectation that is inspiring and hard to ignore.
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As a Prep School Headmaster, I firmly believe that my remit is to create an environment where children can become inquisitive problem solvers, robust and resilient collaborators, opinioned and eloquent speakers, inventors and protectors of the future, orators for their generation, self-starting entrepreneurs and champions of all that is good and fair. They need to be able to laugh freely, see the beauty in everything before them, encourage and support each other, listen carefully, consider and challenge that which they don’t yet understand. They need to feel their hearts soar on a daily basis and believe that something amazing is always around the next corner. Above all, there needs to be an environment within which the thrill of the educational journey is everything.

You may notice the list of ‘subjects’ above doesn’t conform to the expected norms of your average prep school timetable. Thank goodness! However, all the above fall within the subjects we expect to teach. I know my children need to be academically rigorously challenged every step of the way whilst being guided, supported and nurtured in equal amounts but there is one word that allows all of the above to come to fruition: creativity.

My dictionary defines creativity as: the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness. To children, every subject is creative, it is new knowledge and the understanding fires their imagination. Their synapses will trigger and as they learn more, they will automatically cross-reference their ideas, understanding and knowledge, constantly inventing new scenarios, questions and alternative answers to what they are hearing, seeing and pondering. They are being creative. A young child has an innate ability to invent games, scenarios, conversations, characters and so much more. Their imagination is unrestricted and yet, in so many schools the heavy dogmatic curriculum by which so many adhere starts to extract the creativity from our children. They merely visit it occasionally, through tantalizing snapshots in the odd art lesson. Surely the creative stream so deep in all of us should be encouraged, respected and championed at every opportunity, whatever the subject specialism of the teacher.

Education in many schools has been railroaded towards results, data, criteria, league tables, parental pressure (and the power of negative comments on social media) where the only way through is to stick to the text book, grind the children through the tests and fill them with knowledge they may regurgitate at the right moment. Don’t get me wrong, my baseline is that the quality of academic rigour and challenge in so many of our schools is already excellent or outstanding but the school that readily embraces creativity in all its forms stands out from the rest. It is achieved by a clear and united vision and shrewd recruitment of staff that adheres to all that is listed in the opening paragraph. For a creative school, it is crucial to discover that which each teacher can offer outside of their professional commitments. Interviews should aim to uncover their passion in life (aside from teaching!) and the dream they may have always had. Why shouldn’t any school allow staff to still realise some part of that – often there is an added spark from once aspiring to be a musician, actor/actress, author, journalist, artist, sculptor, surfer, footballer, graphic designer or property developer – the list is endless.

We should tap into these aspirations and allow them to grow within our schools. Surely it is a Head’s responsibility to bring the very best out in all our staff. Continuing professional development has to be about growing and mentoring the people we have employed, making their world bigger and opening avenues previously closed to them; encouraging them to reach in and pull out of themselves the person they aspire to be. A creative view of recruitment attracts creative staff – not just teachers – and I don’t just mean creative in an ‘artistic’ sense. It is about teachers who understand that whilst they will drive their charges to achieve the challenging objectives for each lesson, they also have the ability to go ‘off-piste’ with confidence and spot the alternative journey to the goal at the end. It is this creativity which is the very essence of an exciting education for children.

Levels of staff retention and turnover are often a burning question from prospective and current parents. A good school will happily develop a staff member to the point where they may need to look at an opportunity to climb the ladder in a different educational environment and, occasionally, outside of teaching. It is acceptable for staff to do exactly this – not everyone can be retained as a member of the Senior Leadership Team after all, however much we might like them to be!

Finding new blood is the opportunity to fill the gap, or occasionally the chasm, with something the school has been searching for. Or somebody might appear with a set of skills too good to miss out on. A Head of Mathematics who also happens to be a proficient gymnast, a Head of History who has been a published playwright, a school keeper who has been a DJ – or even a tap dancing chef! These all make up the interesting facets of a creative staff above and beyond the requirements of excellent teaching and learning. A school that manages its staff team as a united powerhouse – coupled with awe-inspiring talent that must be recognised, celebrated, valued and involved – will invariably encourage staff to share their creativity with the children, parents and each other.

Creative educators are passionate about the journey and how to open the eyes of our children to new and exciting worlds. They will challenge and take the children on a roller coaster ride of facts, knowledge and inspiration. In return, along their exciting journey of self-discovery, our children will succeed, yet also understand they may have to make changes in order to succeed – just like so many of us. They may have to try and re-try before their hearts truly soar and before they feel success. They will learn by their mistakes along the way and the creativity and imagination within them will keep them afloat – vibrant and searching for more.

Creativity gives children the permission to trial, adjust, refine, re-work, scrap and start again, sculpt and evaluate all that they are doing and in all their subjects. It is vital for creating the facets of character that I describe at the start. Our children’s future will be in a world where generating inventive solutions, problem solving, communicating effectively and adapting quickly are an absolute reality. I am encouraged by the growing number of parents who understand that this is exactly what their children need in order to be equipped for the future. Increasingly, the education world is adopting mindfulness, a growth mind-set, combined with a can-do attitude and the openhearted creativity that stirs in everyone. We should all recognize it and be brave enough to let it rise to the surface. It sets a positive tone in the learning environment and an atmosphere of expectation that is inspiring and hard to ignore.

Senior schools are always looking for well-educated, well-rounded resilient and robust children who are not afraid to volunteer or speak up, are comfortable to put themselves forward, who can collaborate, have an opinion and embrace opportunity. (Come to think of it, so are most universities and businesses.) They are looking for children with potential who have benefitted from a creative education, not narrow minded, tutored ghosts of their former vibrant and creative selves. Life is creative, it matters and I stand by it.

Jem Peck is Headmaster of Kew Green Preparatory School.

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2017 issue of Attain.

About The Author

Jem Peck

Jem Peck is the Headmaster of Kew Green Preparatory School, a co-educational day school for pupils aged 4 to 11 years. The school is situated in a peaceful location by the Thames, with the famous Royal Botanical Gardens next door.

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