Wolf, S. A. (2008). The mysteries of creative partnerships. Journal of Teacher Education, 59(1), 89.
Since 2002, Creative Partnerships, based at the Arts Council of England, has been investing time, energy, and resources to bring artists and schools together. Their goal is to “animate the national curriculum and to enrich school life by making the best use of the United Kingdom’s creative wealth.” This article concentrates on the partnership between two first-grade teachers and two dramatic artists as they planned and produced an innovative workshop based on a mystery-filled children’s picture book. The researcher studied the interface between the artists and teachers as they planned and implemented the workshop. She also examined the interactions between the collaborating adults and the children as the workshop unfolded. The partnership between artists and teachers exemplified the qualities of creativity, collaboration, compromise, and critique which led to children’s increased proficiency in literacy skills including language development, critical discourse, new vocabulary, emotional dialogue, and vivid imagery.
This article develops the argument that long-term collaboration between artists and teachers lead to expanded learning opportunities for children. This is illustrated by a case study of a professional development opportunity sponsored by Creative Partnerships that brought together two teachers with artists from a theatre company. The article provides examples of discourse from professional development that demonstrate how the adults emphasized collaboration, built on and affirmed each other’s ideas and allowed freedom to include children’s interests in the planning process. Vignettes and dialogue of classroom learning are drawn upon to demonstrate children’s heightened engagement, group thinking strategies, and sophisticated use of language. More specifically, four key findings that characterize the partnership are:
- Focus on the connections between teacher learning and student learning.
- Long-term collaboration that emphasized both practicality and intellectual revitalization.
- Artists and teachers actively sharing expertise.
- Children’s improved expression of ideas in both oral language and writing.
Artists and teachers learned from and were inspired by each other and the children. Through the partnerships, artists and teachers experienced mutual support, learned to take risks, reflected on decisions, and explored alternate possibilities for the work.
Significance of the Findings:
Through years of collaborative partnership the artists learned from each other and from the children. They effectively found ways to use literature and drama to enhance children’s oral and written language. Importantly, this process also emphasized their excitement and engagement with continual professional learning. Based on these findings, we can understand that long term partnerships in the arts are beneficial to both teachers and the artists they work with, and have the potential to produce dynamic learning experiences for children.
The stated goal for this study is to “unlock the mysteries of creative partnerships.” In this effort, the study focuses on a few days of collaborative work that occurred during the third year of a larger study. It follows two teachers at Bexhill Primary School in England and the dramatic artists of County Durham’s Theatre Cap-a-Pie as they “planned for, explored, and dramatized” scenes from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. Insights were drawn from observations of planning meetings, audio-recorded classroom drama lessons, and interviews of adults and children involved. Data sources were transcribed and analyzed for patterns in both language and learning and were “member checked” with study participants.
Limitations of the Research:
The two teachers that were the focus of this study volunteered to work with the teaching artists. It is unclear whether these findings would be consistent with teachers that were less enthusiastic to partner with the theatre group. The example workshop examined is dynamic, yet provides only one picture of how collaboration might play out between the artists and teachers. Studying multiple artist-teacher pairs would help to determine if the findings in this study can be more broadly generalized.
Questions to Guide New Research:
Do teachers continue to incorporate what they learned from the artists beyond the term of the partnership and if so, what impact does it have on their students’ learning? This research pointed out that artists learned from teachers as part of this exchange. How might this knowledge continue to influence their practice?