The joy of teaching Art had begun to escape me in 2014, a chance conversation lead me to NSEAD Online, the Sketchbook Circle and an opportunity to attend Susan Coles’ well-being CPD at the Baltic. From this time I have not looked back.
From January 2015 I began to realise how important my love of Art was and how vital it would be in restoring my work life balance and my general well-being. My sketchbook partnerships with Elaine Humpleby and Helen Homewood throughout this year nourished my soul, revived my creativity and challenged my artistic approach. Every month I took my TEA sketchbooks into school to share with students and staff.
The joy of the circle was infectious and it dawned on me that the benefits I had experienced perhaps could be shared in my wider school community. I floated the idea of starting a staff circle, thinking five or six might join, I did not expect forty two and certainly did not expect our rugby loving Head Teacher to be one of them.
Once the circle had begun in September staff made time to chat on the corridors about their books rather than the usual moans and groans, data or Ofsted. A wide range of staff joined with an array of skills and experiences including:
The Deputy Head used textiles, an Assistant Head worked with photography and poetry, the ICT technician experimented with stained glass. We had a doodling PE teacher, jewellery-making chemistry teacher and a history teacher who made music. One of the most diverse groups has involved our jewellery-making chemist passing a silver clay bird onto an art teacher who responded with weaving, that passed on to our musicial historian who wrote a piece of music in response to the previous two items to complete the cycle our technician responded to the music through some wonderful photographs.
One of the most special events has been a sketchbook day, eight staff attended a workshop/well-being day where we “made”, chatted, shared, ate soup and generally had a revitalising day. Now members of the staff circle come to my student sketchbook club and share ideas.
The year has been fascinating for me, I had planned the circle to run like clockwork but have rapidly learned that this is impossible. Due to the demands of life and teaching some members of the circle have had to reluctantly hang up their books; however I have always been able to find replacements. We still have twenty eight members as I write. I have learned that in a busy school environment my role is as one of a plate spinner and as long as some people are doing something creative then this is an achievement.
Partly a result of my new found confidence and creativity I plucked up the courage to apply for a position of a Head of Art, I was able to talk about the TEA circle and my school circle in my interview. I was lucky enough to get the job so sadly will have to walk away from the circle at my current school. I look forward to an end of year exhibition which will celebrate the adventures of the circle and hope to round it all off with a final workshop.
I have already had several conversations about who will run the circle when I have gone (no mention of the circle folding!) Most satisfyingly I have had members of staff saying they will carry on with their own work in their books, even if they do not carry on in the circle.
This has been a great exploration of creative community, collaboration, conversation and the power of Art to unite and empower staff during difficult times.
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