Kick-start your creativity

Jumpstart

Ever considered writing, painting, learning to tango or wanted to paint the loo flamingo pink and then thought ‘nah….I’m not that type?’ Creativity is often confused with being artistic when they’re really worlds apart. This course shines the light on creativity: What is it? Do I have it? Can I get some?  If I do, will it make me happy? What nurtures and nobbles it? We help you unleash all aspects of your creativity, blocked or otherwise, and put your dreams/thoughts/wonky beliefs/half-baked plans/wild ideas/best intentions and otherwise into action.

‘I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.’ Albert Einstein

KICKSTART is a series of workshops (two and a half hours), and short courses (10 hours) aimed to inspire, excite, motivate you…and get you DOING! Our approach to learning is creative, heartfelt and responsive to your needs. We believe learning leads to action and action leads to transformation. All our groups are small, friendly and informal. Bespoken workshops also delivered.

Workshops from £20 and courses from £55. For a full list of activities and email us for a timetable: createlearnconnect@gmail.com. W = workshop C = course.

Short course starts October. For more information or to book email Chris at createlearnconnect@gmail.com

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Creativity & Co-efficiency

A few days ago I went to see the I Cheer a Deadman’s Sweetheart exhibition’ at the De La Warr pavilion. It’s a fantastic celebration of British painting – as much about the process of painting as the paintings themselves. Flicking through the catalogue, I was interested to discover that the curators visited artists’ studios when putting the collection together, and were struck time and time again by the relationship between the artist, their work and their studios. Artist, Jacqui Hallum describes this as: ‘the embodiment of the ‘art co-efficient.’ Now, I don’t know much about maths, (enough to know it’s a number used to multiply a variable), but the point, I think, is that the relationship between an artist and their studio creates a dynamic which is pivotal to the process of creating.

Later that day, I met a colleague, who’d been facilitating a change management programme for a local authority whose staff morale had taken a nosedive following the introduction of ‘Agile Working’.  For those not familiar with the term, Agile Working, is described by fans as a creative and democratic way for employees to focus on tasks as opposed to presenteeism. Its critics, however, point to cost-cutting as its prime function. In this instance, staff  begin work each morning by unlocking their personal trays from a cupboard, searching for desk space, (rarely sitting next to the same person twice), and logging in to PCs like drones which begs a question about ways work affects our well-being.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-esteem and achievement are founded on a sense of belonging, which in turn is built on a need for safety. I can only guess how it feels to begin one’s working day in an environment which fails to acknowledge or support individual needs or differences, or consider how it impacts on one’s ability to perform. Agile implies swift, pliable, on the hoof. This seems to me to be the opposite of the ‘artist’s co-efficient’ which offers a fixed personal space, connections and relationships.

Words, I noted, in the dictionary that rhyme with co-efficient are: cost efficient, inefficient and insufficient.  A co-incidence?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Creativity & Scarcity

 For the last few weeks I’ve been trying to develop a workshop on creative training strategies.  A deadline’s looming fast. I’ve enthusiasm and ideas a plenty, yet, ironically, every time I squeeze an hour or two from the day, I feel my chest tighten, and a general numbness set in as if my brain has been filled with Polyfiller.

 

A few weeks ago listening to psychologist, Eldar Shafir, discuss ‘scarcity’ on Radio 4, I had a ‘Eureka’ moment. The scarcity Shafir discussed relates to a lack of time or money. Being short of either, he believes, takes up huge amounts of brain capacity or ‘bandwidth’, forcing the mind to work overtime to eke out the limited time or finances available, and in the process often robbing Peter to pay Paul, which is why we so often end up chasing our tails. 

 

Is it just stress? According to Shafir, it’s not only a physiological response.  His research points to a connection between low bandwidth and reduced cognitive function. Reduced bandwidth, he claims, has the same effect on you as missing a night’s sleep. In short, being time or economically poor, means your brain is less able to creatively focus on a task in the way people who have greater resources at their disposal can easily do.

 

Shafir’s theory isn’t revolutionary, but it did get me thinking about my mental block, and wondering whether when people say they aren’t creative, it may really mean they don’t have enough bandwidth to find the will or energy to begin. And if you live the kind of life where your bandwidth is permanently overloaded, the thought ‘I’m not creative’ quickly becomes hard wired into your system.

 

As an advisor to President Obama on financial capability Shafir advocated policies to help eradicate the daily bumps and grinds which occupy so much time and space in people’s lives, (badly designed childcare, lack of access to good finance etc). Whilst financial capability is a world away from the creative arena, the same approach may hold true – streamline processes and reduce obstacles. Every day is crammed with activity – things to do, passwords, mobiles, texts, emails, targets, shopping, chores, family and friends to name a few – it’s a wonder we can create anything at all.  Finding ways to free up time can increase bandwidth (Shafir recommends booking a meeting with yourself). Yet, if you do this and your FM’s still crackling rather than creating, it may help to remind yourself it’s not your ability but your frequency that’s in question. Seems that it’s no longer a question of tuning in, turning on and dropping out, but more a case of turning off, tuning out and dropping in!

 

Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir

 

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From Creatocidal to Creactive

 Why are adult learning providers so good at finding innovative ways to engage learners yet often so bad at training their staff?  Attending a recent training on innovative practice fuelled by mind numbing Powerpoint presentations, I was struck by Einstein’s definition of madness as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ Ironic, that the learning provider in question regularly wins awards for innovation when it comes to engaging learners. It’s clear from colleagues in further education and local authorities that this experience is far from unique. So what’s going on? 

It is not through a lack of expertise or even good will. Rather, the problem seems to stem from a growing focus on the bottom line to the detriment of theory and practice.  Staff development is configured in a world of book balancing and compliance. This approach sets up silo thinking, creates a trust gap between practitioners and management, and tragically makes no use of human capital.  

In his book on creative thinking Bill Lucas1 calls this type of approach as ‘creatocidal,’ as it frames conditions which inhibit development and creativity. Don’t get me wrong. Budgets matter. Bottom line issues around student numbers, costs and quality are important, but so is innovation, motivated tutors, teams which are greater than their sum of parts.

So, what is the opposite of creatocidal?  Creactive?  Is it difficult or expensive to do or does it just take trust, a leap into the unknown, a willingness to see what happens when fixed outcomes are not the only  tool in the box?  As Kaufmann2 said, if everything is hardwired, known in advance, what space is left for the new?

What if the new in this instance is motivated staff contributing experience, ideas and taking ownership for developing them? What if professional development accessed people’s innate creativity, became enjoyable, exciting, self-organised? There is a plethora of research demonstrating how this approach can lead to higher levels of motivation, involvement and productivity.

Some ideas to get started:

Enable genuine participation – Setting agendas provides opportunities for meaningful participation. Open Space Technology (OST) takes this to another dimension, but using a mediated version can get people on board and ensure a genuine buy-in.  Too often we rush to finding creative solutions to problems without knowing the experiences/expertise in the room. Asking: ‘What do we already know about…?’ can throw up surprising answers.

Ethos – Wanting to impress or give the right answer limits creative thinking. Establish an ethos of trust and ‘accepting enquiry’. Stay open minded. Some of the OST outcomes provide a good framework for this.

Inspire creatively -Use thought provoking examples to set the tone; stories, film, music, pictures. RSA Animate is brilliant for this. Work across disciplines, (mix up finance/learners with educational managers).

Open it up – Use generative thinking activities to provoke different ways to address old problems. Edward de Bono’s Creative Thinking Plan has great activities for groups.

Fun – People want to enjoy it. Build in a feel good factor.

Reflection & Application – New ideas require critical appraisal. Provide opportunities to reflect on ideas before moving to action. Also reflect on the process and learning. Encourage self-organised action plans.

The Creative Thinking Plan, Claxton G & Lucas B, (2004), BBC Books

Kaufmann, Santa Fe Institute (2005) At Home in the Universe (Oxford)

RSA Animate – http://www.thersa.org/events/rsaanimate

 

 

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Does the third sector have a future in learning?

The Third Sector provides a pivotal role in delivering learning to hard to reach groups, It offers an holistic approach, develops good partnerships to maximise diverse funding streams and delivers to a higher proportion of people with learning difficulties/disabilities, BME groups and people aged over 65.

These findings from BIS’s research into learning, will present few surprises to anyone familiar with the sector. However,  the report also highlights issues which have adversely affected the sector and been the source of complaints for years –  its over-reliance on grant funding, lack of capacity to deliver economies of scale, short-term funding and the problems these create for long term strategic management.

In a bid to address the above, the report sets out strategic objectives and priority actions to include:

  • Improving the evidence base, and demonstrating social impact.
  • Influencing funding and contracting to better resource the sector.
  • Improving quality of teaching and learning.
  • Widening partnerships/collaboration with main stream adult education.

Theoretically it’s good news, with the usual caveat, that recommendations are all very well, but they require a ‘how’ and a ‘how’ usually requires resources.  Without these, third sector learning providers remain in a double bind of, on one hand wanting to do many of the things outlines in the recommendations, yet lacking people and funds to do, and on the other,  being kept out of the game by larger providers,  like Local Authorities and FEs, who often use the sector as sub-contractors.

To be effective, the recommendations need to make changes across the adult learning landscape, to create mechanisms and structures to enable smaller organisations to contribute equally.  The recent No Stone Unturned report which supports a beefed up role for Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPS), suggests adult learning funding could be devolved to the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) for skills training.  This poses difficult questions about the role of the third sector, particularly with their concentration on learners who face multiple barriers to involvement.  Without  hard evidence of its contribution or representation at regional levels, smaller providers will find themselves cut out of future funding opportunities, without the ability to influence and advocate on behalf of the very learners the Government is so keen to reach.

 

Third Sector Engagement & Participant in the Learning & Skills Sector, Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, April 2013

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Whatever happened to Learning Champions?

Advocates for learning have always existed, acting as magnets and signposts for likeminded or wary folk. Whether talking up a new course, giving out information at the school gate or showing newbies the ropes, they have informally provided information and support, and in adult education were recognised as a brilliant way to recruit ‘hard to reach learners’.

In 2011 NIACE promoted an accredited Learning Champions programme which formalised a distinctive approach to supporting learning amongst these groups.  Over 2,000 people went through its Learning Champions scheme. Individual outputs were impressive with high numbers going on to work in schools, train to be teachers and adult education tutors. Less is known of the long term impact on organisations, though anecdotal evidence suggests few providers have managed to continuously use Champions effectively. Given the new focus of the Common Inspection Framework, (CIF) on wider social outcomes and BIS’s impending roll-out of the  Community Learning Pilots (CLTs) with ‘learner inclusion and representation’ at its heart, it seems surprising  that more isn’t being done to revive and develop the scheme. In its work with pilot CLTS, BIS costed volunteer time at £11 per hour. On this basis two Learning Champions, each providing 50 hours of support each year result in an additional income of £1,100 a year. Not only is this a fraction of the cost of a development worker, but is also creates an efficient way for providers and community to work together!   From my work with projects still using Learning Champions effectively and imaginatively three years after initial training, I believe success depending on organisations adopting the following:

  • Clarity – Give Champions a clear role. Focus on identified work for individuals and groups. Enable and support Champions to pursue and develop their own areas of interest as a group and individually.
  • Development  & Support –  Peer support, supervision, access to networks, mentoring, action learning. Provide opportunities for personal development, reflective practice & training.
  • Representation – Opportunities to act as a representative/advocate in meaningful role and enable Champions to cascade their knowledge.

To see how it works see:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSKRhrZrGus

 

 

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Making Equality & Diversity Dynamic

Making Equality & Diversity Dynamic

How can Equality & Diversity actively engage learners?

Never has equality and diversity been placed so centrally within the activities and management of adult education providers, and, never, has it become so enmeshed in administrative processes and good intention. To be effective E & D must be embedded at all levels of the curriculum, and within organisations – from governance, HR, finance to external partners, (who can provide benchmarking, health-checks, accessing expertise ) to support for staff through networks, mentoring and training. However, the best practice in E & D goes beyond this to include a political dimension which challenges the notion of equalities itself.
In this sense E & D is closely bound with political or social purpose education, which, Raybould described as: ‘Education which helps students to understand the society in which they live, and to change it in ways which seem desirable.’ 1
Here, equality, (the recognition and legal protection of rights.) is closely connected with raising critical awareness. How do marginalised and vulnerable groups acquire rights? Whether it’s universal suffrage, equal pay or recognition of civil partnerships, the process is broadly the same: people come together, gain knowledge, skills and confidence to enable them to effectively challenge power structures.
This concept is central to education, but more often than not is left to community and voluntary groups, unions and faith groups to pursue. For many organisations dependent on Skills Agency Funding (SFA), the concept of collective education which critically questions society and government has been eclipsed by the emphasis on skills acquisition, accreditation, and employment or ‘paid for’ learning for leisure. The irony being that we are equipping learners with skills to live in society where inequality is growing at a staggering rate.
An interesting piece of work recently undertaken by the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) highlights ways social purpose education is used as an approach to E &D. In a flower arranging course in Manchester where flowers had been imported from Africa, learners were encouraged to ask why? What implications did this have for African and UK farming and economies? Why grow flowers and not food? The intention is not to create radical political dissent, but to underpin skills and knowledge acquisition with a critical pedagogy which as Paulo Friere said creatively questions reality and supports transformation. In a similar vein, women attending a discussion based health course collectively discovered their low levels of depression and high levels of anxiety were not necessarily caused by individualised pathologies, but a response to structures which ill supported them – lack of childcare, poverty, bad housing.
This dynamic approach to E &D becomes a starting point to connect learners with the organisation’s ethos. It facilitates ways to learn transformatively, and in doing so, critically engages with the bigger questions which underpin inequalities. Surely, this must be the best form of Equality and Diversity any organisation can offer. So, why isn’t it done more often?

Three Questions for Learning Providers:
1. How does provision link with the wider social context?
2. How does provision facilitate active responses from learner?
3. What is the organisation’s understanding of social purpose education?

1 – S.G Raybould ‘The WEA: the next phase’

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