Working With What We’ve Got

Dance Notes creativity blog for teachers 'Working With What We've Got'

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Often, when our time would be better spent working with what we’ve got, we get distracted. We think that having something new will somehow make us better. But will it?

Sensible Investment

On a recent trip to Germany, I found myself perusing a local music shop, together with a family friend. He had recently taken up the bass guitar and we spent a happy half hour trying out the store’s various models. One, in particular, caught his attention. So, on returning home, I set about researching this instrument.

Asking players I know, they agreed the bass in question would be a sensible investment for a developing bassist. The brand has a good reputation and the cheaper models benefit from following a similar manufacturing process to those that carry a much higher price tag.

Why Are You Looking?

One bassist sent me a link to an online review, so I could share this with my friend. On watching the clip, I was surprised to see that it was not a particularly favourable review. However, many people had posted beneath it, saying they had the model and thought it excellent. So, I decided to investigate further and one video caught my attention.

This piece had a typical click-inducing title: something like ‘7 basses you should avoid’. But the content was actually quite illuminating. The host of this video posed the question: why are you looking for a new instrument? And asked the viewer whether their time would be better spent in working with what they already have.

Mother of Invention

Interestingly, my friend had said at the outset he didn’t think it wise to invest much money whilst finding out whether or not the bass was the right instrument for him. He already has an affordable bass and I know from jamming with him that he has made a good start using that. Until he started looking at alternatives, he was quite happy with his situation. His focus was on learning and the enjoyment that come from it.

I think this is quite relevant to the teaching environment today. In schools, everyone is having to make compromises and sacrifices. And it could be easy to say ‘if only we had the budget, we could get this’ or ‘had we the resources, we could do that’. Yet – as the saying goes – necessity is the mother of invention.

We Each Have a Voice

To make music, we don’t necessarily need any instruments. I have personally run workshops in which children have used waste paper bins and their contents to create sounds. We can hit, scrunch, rattle, shake, stomp and all manner of other things in order to make music. Plus, of course, we each have a voice.

Similarly, we can all move – in one way or another. And we don’t necessarily need a bespoke space in which to do that. Visual art can be derived from collage, using old magazines and brochures. We can even build pin-hole cameras to make our own photographs.

Present Enjoyment

None of which is to say schools should not be better resourced. Of course they should. But we can only work with what we have – and this, in itself, can be a useful learning experience for our pupils. Over the course of their own development, each will be faced with a range of choices. And they will be subject to a lot of pressure to acquire ‘stuff’.

If we can all learn to make the most of what we have, we may not be so inclined to waste time and effort searching for something ‘better’.   Working with what we’ve got means getting on and being creative. Down the line, we may – indeed – be due an upgrade. But let’s not let that distract us from our present enjoyment of doing.

Putting Ideas First

Juggling For Beginners

Have Less and Do More

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Start a Conversation

Start a Conversation - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachers

Every creative project starts with a conversation. And every Conversation begins with a question or statement. So, what do you have to say? What do you want to know? How will you start a conversation?

It may go something like: “I’ve had an idea!” or “what do you think about…?” or “have you ever wondered…?”. And now you’re off! It really can be that simple.

Learn Something New

The difficulty comes when you try to think too far ahead. The very fact you’ve posed a question or put forward an idea demonstrates you have something specific in mind. But it also suggests you are willing to learn something new. So, don’t cloud things by trying to second-guess where the conversation will take you.

The purpose of starting a dialogue is to gain somebody else’s view on a topic. In conversation, this may feel adversarial. Especially where two people have different perspectives. But conflict will only arise if you are overly defensive of your position.

Carry The Conversation Forward

Working creatively together, this process becomes collaborative. All view points can be explored to the mutual enrichment of everyone concerned. And the presentation of a resulting artistic work means you can share discoveries made with a wider public.

In performing or displaying your artistic creation, you therefore carry the conversation forward. Firstly, you will provoke thoughts and feelings in your audience. Their responses in the moment help to fuel the performance or presentation. And they may well go away afterwards and have further discussions of the ideas or concepts raised.

Question, Challenge & Discuss

All of which is is invaluable within an educational setting. We strive to provide safe spaces in which pupils can question, challenge and discuss ideas. The supportive, collaborative environment engendered by creative pursuits provides an ideal opportunity for individuals to grow and flourish.

It’s especially beneficial to those that may be less able to participate fully within a standard classroom scenario. For them, having other ways in which to engage with given topics and concepts can be both liberating and rewarding. And they also benefit, within this context, from not being singled out. All are encouraged to freely express themselves and none has to fear getting things ‘wrong’.

A Habit Worth Developing

Whilst this, in of itself, may be daunting to some, no one should be averse to simply starting a conversation. It’s something nearly all of us do without a second’s thought. And if you don’t, it’s a habit worth developing.

In our everyday interactions, the simple act of asking a question – whether to a friend, a relative or a complete stranger – will invariably lead to some kind of dialogue. This is often dismissed as ‘small talk’. However, asking someone ‘how’s your day going?’, ‘what brings you here?’ or, simply, ‘how are you?’ can be the precursor to an unexpected and interesting exchange. Whereas we may be reluctant to make the first conversational move, it’s rare that somebody will be less than pleased we have taken the trouble.

Aired & Shared

In any given situation, you are likely to have thoughts and questions in your mind. If you allow these to be aired and shared, they may well provide the first steps towards a creative outcome. So, what do you have to say? What would you Iike to know?

How will you start a conversation?

One Thing Leads to Another

It’s Good To Talk

Do You Have Something to Say?

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Doing Less – Achieving More

Doing Less - Achieving More; Dance Notes creativity blog for teachers

Not for the first time, I find myself having to contradict what I previously wrote. But that’s fine: contradiction provides a rich source of creative possibility. Now I’d like to explore the benefits of doing less.

Do What You Can, When You Can

I know… last time I wrote ‘perhaps we could all benefit from having less and doing more.’ I still stand by that. But it does need Some qualification.

The point I was making was that we shouldn’t use not having something as an excuse for not doing something. However, what I wasn’t suggesting is that we should aim to be busy and productive all the time. Rather, we should do what we can, when we can, with what we have. And this needn’t necessitate constant struggle.

Genius Drop-Out

Oddly enough, I was reminded of that fact recently, whilst reading about the work of Albert Einstein. It would be easy to assume that Einstein spent his whole life slaving over a smoking blackboard. However, he dropped out of school in Germany, having found the environment too pressured. He then spent a year reading philosophy and casually dropping in on lectures at a local college, before taking up ‘serious’ study.

Had Einstein not given himself such mental space, it’s possible he may never have made the breakthroughs he did. It took enormous leaps of imagination to generate his world-changing theories. So, time spent nurturing that imagination was certainly not wasted.

Fully Immersed

As educators, we can provide our students with opportunities to be both ‘doing’ and have mental freedom at the same time. This, of course, is through creative activity. Whether painting, dancing, singing, writing, sculpting, etc. they can fully immerse themselves in their thoughts and ideas. At the same time, such tasks block out external ‘noise’. So the imagination has room into which it can expand.

We are all under near-constant pressure to be achieving and productive. Whereas, truth be told, little of our activity produces anything. And most actual output comes after a period of reflection or contemplation. So, any exercise that manages to combine reflective thought with tangible output has to be valued.

Just Another Chore

But we must avoid the tendency to make this just another chore; something to be ticked off a list of of achievements. Creativity should provide a space in which pupils can step outside of their normal modes of thinking. And this is a chance to develop useful life habits.

Through creative expression, we can challenge our own certainties. We can explore new possibilities. And we can develop new ideas. But they key is to immerse ourselves in the process, not rush headlong towards a proscribed goal.

Surprising and Rewarding

In education, we must set aims and objectives. That’s fine. But we must allow our students time to explore these fully. That way, they can be open to outcomes that are as surprising as they are rewarding.

Being truly productive takes time. So, sometimes, we do need to do less in order to achieve more.

Creative Impatience

Enjoy the Ride (& Value The Process)!

Take Some Time Out

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Have Less and Do More

Have Less to Do More - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachers

Sometimes, having a lot of ‘stuff’ can be more of a hindrance than a help. Perhaps we would all benefit were we to have less and do more.

An Epiphany

My son is currently studying at drama school. He was recently preparing to return and sorting out what he wanted to take. Some time ago he’d acquired a crash mat to practise his gymnastics at home. In addition, I’d offered him my old electronic drum kit (he’s a man of many parts). Now, he wanted to have these with him at his new digs.

So, my wife arranged the hire of a small van and we were getting everything ready for the move. But then I had an epiphany. Our son had been telling us how tightly scheduled his course is. And how he has been visiting a local gymnastics centre, as well as using the school’s rehearsal rooms and drum kit. Which means there would be little need for him to have everything at his home.

Mother of Invention

How often do we say to ourselves ‘if only I had x, I could do y’? But how many times is that really true? Are we really just making excuses for not simply finding a way to get on with y in the first place? Maybe we can hire or borrow whatever it is we need. Perhaps we know someone who has the skills or resources we lack.

This can provide an opportunity to connect or collaborate. It also alleviates the need to acquire ‘stuff’. We may well discover we don’t really need it after all. Or can find a way to achieve our goals with what we already have available. After all, necessity is the mother of invention.

Creative Resourcefulness

Many great creative works were produced when the artist had next to nothing at their disposal.  The key thing was they had a vision. And saw that through to fruition, however limited their means.

For those of us concerned with education, clearly having sufficient resources is important. However, creative resourcefulness is something from which every pupil can benefit. As previously discussed, the creative process is largely one of whittling down our options. So, starting with limited means may actually be of benefit.

Dance in a Field

Creative expression is a function of imagination. We can very easily stifle that mechanism through over-reliance on equipment, technology or other paraphernalia. Plus, should we do away with all that, we remove the excuse that we can’t commence our experimentation until we have […insert excuse here].

Children engage their imaginations constantly. They are keen and willing to represent their ideas through whatever means are available to them. So, they won’t mind at all if they are asked to dance in a field, draw with mud or sing in a corridor!

Go Create

We can all create. Some of us feel the urge to do so more than others. But none of us needs to be held back from doing so for the want of more stuff. I’d even argue we could all benefit from having less and doing more.

So, go create. Using whatever you have. Whenever you can. And no, my son didn’t take those things with him. And he’s happy without.

Connect… For Real

Do Something

One Thing Leads to Another

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Take Two

Take Two: Dance Notes creative blog for teachers

Yesterday, I spent some time reworking a song I’d recently recorded. Only to find I actually prefer the original version. So was that a waste of time?

The Luxury and Burden of Choice

Sometimes, you need to consider an alternative in order to appreciate the value of a piece of creative work. As previously discussed, any artistic pursuit is  largely a process of whittling down possibilities. So, how do we know when we’ve chosen the right ones?

In short, we don’t. As we’ve also explored, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. We, therefore, simultaneously have both the luxury and burden of choice. And, for our pupils, this provides an excellent learning opportunity.

Joys of Childhood

Being able to try things out with no risk or consequence is one of the joys of childhood. And perhaps one we could afford greater value. If children are encouraged to embrace that freedom, they may find it easier to make boId choices later in life.

But that’s not to say we are leading them to be reckless. And this is where our experimentation with alternatives comes in. Learning to make creative assessment through comparison is a useful life skill. One that can be applied to a great many situations.

Different Hats

If children are taught to see decision making as a playful, creative pursuit, then it need not become a chore when required under more pressing circumstances. And they may choose to apply the A-B testing technique explored whilst practicing creative arts.

Whilst ‘going wrong’ may seen frustrating at the time, it is therefore an integral and useful part of the process. Plus it can shine a light on what is good about a version we now realize we prefer. It’s the artistic equivalent of trying on different hats. Often, we only know which one we prefer once we’ve discovered those we don’t like so much.

Explore The Alternatives

In the world of audio recording, it’s common practise to capture multiple takes’. It’s also remarkable how often the first take turns out to be the one we prefer. But we can’t know this until we’ve explored the alternatives.

So go ahead. Try and try again. Take one… take two… take three… Enjoy the process and appreciate the difference.

Do Something

Please Yourself

Under Pressure

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Take Note – Part 2

You can never know when your best ideas are going to strike. But you can be fairly sure it won’t be when you’re sat at a desk waiting for inspiration.

Latest Brainwave

So, how do we harness these fleeting thoughts? A simple solution is to keep a notebook handy. And if you can’t have that with you when out and about, try to make a note of your latest brainwave as soon as you get back to it. As I am doing now.

Structuring our time, particularly within an educational setting, is important. However, we need to allow for the fact that intuition tends to behave in a chaotic, unstructured fashion. And not be fooled into assuming we’II remember everything when the time is ‘right’.

Couldn’t Possibly Forget

How often have you had a moment’s insight and believed the idea so strong you couldn’t possibly forget? Then, later – when you’ve tried to retrieve that thought – it has completely evaporated. Very frustrating. And potentially costly, in terms of the time and effort spent remembering what had been there in front of you.

It may seem inconvenient to break the moment in order to note something down. But this is far less of a disturbance than having to root around your memory reserves later, in a retrieval mission after the event.

Individual Context

It’s the mental equivalent of dealing with something right away, rather than putting it on a ‘to do’ pile. Whilst it may feel more efficient to go through tasks in one concerted effort, each has its own individual context. And that will need consideration when you come to deal with it later.

If you address ideas as they appear, their context will be self-evident. Whereas, should you put them off until later, you’ll need to rediscover the background to each as you come back to it. And run the risk of important detail being missed.

Real Learning

For these reasons, it’s a great idea to keep a notepad, ideas journal, scrapbook or ‘rough book’ handy. All of which can have a place within the classroom. They provide a way for you to keep your thoughts in order and your pupils to appreciate that their spontaneous ideas have value.

We naturally want children to retain the important information we impart through our expert teaching. But they also need to acknowledge the responses and questions these teachings provoke. Which, arguably, is where the real learning happens.

Meaningful & Rewarding

When our pupils have the opportunity to work creatively with this learning (through music, art, dance, etc.) they will then have a store of source-material on which to call. Creative pursuits are therefore both informed by – and a way of reinforcing – classroom learning. So this is a two-way street.

Those who struggle within a conventional learning environment, thereby have an alternative way to engage with their thoughts. And those that find creative expression a challenge have a way-in to this world. In either case, having kept a note of ideas that inform their work makes the process more meaningful and rewarding.

Take Note!

So, please, take note. And take notes.

Take Note

Save Everything

Unexpected Inspiration