Cultural leadership in schools - a year in review

5 September 2019

Greg Klerkx shares his reflections on our Advocates and Cultural Leadership Community teacher CPD programmes

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A New Direction’s teacher CPD programme supports London teachers to be more confident and effective advocates for the arts in education. The programme’s two strands – the 30-strong Cultural Leadership Community (CLC) and the smaller, more advanced Advocates programme – were combined in 2018-19 through a series of CPD events that began in September 2018 at LIFT Islington and finished with a day at London’s Docklands Museum in June 2019. CPD events in between were hosted at Advocate schools, which gave Advocates an opportunity both to describe their work in arts-led learning and to talk about their development as cultural leaders in their schools and communities.

Our CLC/Advocates represented an incredible range of London schools: primary, secondary and SEND; academy, independent and LEA-supported. Some schools clearly valued and supported the arts from SLT to classroom, threading the arts through every aspect of curriculum and school life; in other schools, teachers conveyed that it was more of an uphill battle to ensure that the arts were central to the education of all students. This broad perspective was enhanced by the fact that our participants represented 22 of London’s 33 boroughs, allowing for wonderful cross-borough sharing of practice, experience and ideas.

In our CPD sessions, we explored the following themes:

  • What is Cultural Leadership?
  • Curriculum Innovation through the Arts
  • Pedagogy/Practice Innovation through the Arts
  • Wellbeing and the Arts
  • Building Creative Skills for 21stCentury Competitiveness

A series of twilight ‘surgeries’, available to both CLC participants and Advocates, supported the CPD sessions by further honing essential leadership skills like action research, fundraising and public speaking and presentation. In addition, we used online communication tool Basecamp to trade ideas and opportunities and to anchor what we were learning through the CPD sessions.

Throughout the 2018-19 programme, Advocates were focused on building their confidence and skill in planning TeachMeets, with a number of notable successes across the year. Kadir Karababa planned and hosted a wonderful evening at the BFI looking at building a creative curriculum from the ground up, with six inspiring speakers and plenty of lively discussion amongst the more than 60 people who turned out. Aminah Adeyemi helped conceive and deliver her school’s first-ever Creative Futures event, which featured speakers, student performances, information stalls, and participatory activities all exploring the many possibilities for creative careers.

Beyond the events, activities and skill-building, the Cultural Leadership Community offered participants a powerful sense of connection and possibility. "I feel like I’ve made connections with people of a like mind that I’ll stay in touch with," said one CLC participant. Another said the programme had given her, "more confidence in making the case for the arts and fighting to make it be seen as important to skills and wellbeing."

As we start work with a new cohort of CLC/Advocates this October, we look forward to adding new voices and ideas to a network that is now well over 100 teachers strong: a powerful collective voice for the essential place of the arts at the centre of a balanced education for all children.

Try this

Creating an effective and powerful community is a big part of the CLC and Advocates programmes. To kick the new term off, try this simple exercise with your colleagues to start new conversations, problem solve and leverage the expertise and experience in your school:

  • On a large piece of paper, draw a circle and write inside it a sentence or two about an issue, challenge or question they would like to resolve this term/year. The more specific, the better. Make sure these are spread out across the paper and keep them anonymous
  • Once everyone has done this take some time to review what has been written
  • On post-it notes, ask teachers to stick ideas and responses to the questions raised, or simply tag their names inviting a conversation at a later date
  • Once this is completed, ask teachers to reveal which issue or challenge was theirs, and talk about the responses they have received. Try to notice similarities and overlaps and where working or discussion groups could be set up

This exercise can also be done with your students to explore a topic or PHSE themes.