How Small Steps can lead to Giant Leaps – A talk by Hannah Machin

The speech below is written by Hannah Machin, the Art & Culture Coordinator & teacher from Shortstown Primary School in Bedford. This was spoken at the Creative Learning Conference at Knebworth House. It has been minorly adapted for readability.

Hello everyone. First of all I wanted to say a big thank you for today. It is always so great to meet like minded people that value and are interested in enhancing creativity in the classroom. My name is Hannah Machin and I am a class teacher at Shortstown Primary School in Bedford. Currently, I am half way through my third year of teaching and slowly but surely getting to grips with it all! When I was invited to come along today, I was initially quite nervous; speaking in front of an audience is what I do Monday to Friday, but children are a completely different audience to yourselves! I was also pleased and proud that the journey I have led my school on has been a success to the point where I can share it with other professionals. My main aim this afternoon is to share with you my journey and show you how small steps can lead to giant leaps.

In my second year of teaching, my Head gave me the ‘Art and Culture Coordinator’ role for my school. I think this was initially because I had run an after school art club during my first year and had shown an interest in the subject. I have no qualifications in art and knew I wasn’t the best at ‘art’ myself, but I soon realised this was not necessary in the success of the job.

This first year of being the Coordinator for Art and Culture left me feeling confused, overloaded and a little frustrated. I had some ideas that I wanted to put together, but didn’t have the experience or contacts to do so. I was agreeing and signing my school up to great opportunities but didn’t really have much idea what positive impact this was having on the kids…and whether it was worth the stress for myself!

When I discussed my concerns with my Head, she quickly put me in touch with Kayte Judge and The Culture Challenge. We soon organised meetings and were able to discuss visions for the future and possible ways to achieve. Being situated in a deprived area of Bedford, I knew that implementing creativity within our school was paramount for the achievement and success in our pupil’s lifelong learning. I knew that art and culture were the glue to this achievement and was keen in working with The Culture Challenge who could support me in making my vision real. Straight away, I felt a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I knew I was going to be able to work successfully with Kayte and her team. Sometimes it can be difficult to admit that you just don’t understand what is asked from you. We see it every day with our little ones so it was nice to find someone who I didn’t have to pretend that I knew everything and knew what I needed to do.

Quickly, Shortstown became a Culture Challenge Pioneer School. This meant we had committed to working with The Culture Challenge to develop the opportunities in the arts that we provide for our children.

So… Where are we now? From being confused and overwhelmed with the expectations of my role, just this academic year alone and with the support of The Culture Challenge we have:

  • Begun our Arts Mark journey
  • Organised a whole staff training day on Arts Mark and the importance of Art and Culture
  • Achieved the Arts Award Discover Qualification for a group of pupils
  • Taken part in a whole school art project called The Big Draw Festival
  • Attended an Open Space Conference in which local cultural providers and teachers came together to discuss how we could improve the provision for Arts and Culture in Bedford
  • Organised artists to work in the school
  • Developed a successful Culture Club

And planned for Summer 2017:

  • Culture Club to achieve their Arts Award Explore Qualification
  • Year 6 to complete Arts Award Discover Qualification
  • And we are taking part in an Arts Council Funded performance artwork called ‘Lookout’

One huge success this year has been setting up Shortstown’s Culture Club. Back in July 2016, when I had my first meeting with Kayte we sat and discussed a dream; this dream was to set up a Culture Club. The Culture Club would provide disadvantaged children the opportunity to expand their cultural experiences. I was taken by the idea and wanted to make it happen! I discussed the concept with my Head who was just as positive about the club. Our Culture Club was organised for children with the Pupil Premium status. 10 children were chosen – children who would be able to commit themselves to the club and could see it through across the year. My idea was to organise a trip or workshop every term / half term for Culture Club. Leading up to the trip, the children would do some work around the trip and then would do work after the trip around the similar theme. Since September, the Culture Club have:

  • Attended a theatre performance
  • Sung live to an audience
  • Visited a museum
  • Visited an art gallery
  • Watched an orchestra perform
  • Worked with and met an artist
  • Achieved their Arts Award Discover and are working towards Explore

And in the next few months, the group will be creating art work to be sold in our local museum, and also visiting the Houses of Parliament.

In my opinion, I think that the Culture Club has been a great success for the members and it has achieved exactly what we set out to do. Here are what the members have to say about the Culture Club:

“I like culture because of all the trips we have and you get to try new things!”

Although my journey has been short, I have learnt that the success to creative learning cannot be done by one person. Developing partnerships with cultural providers is vital for offering learners a full creative and cultural education. There is no way I could have achieved what I have done in a few months without having built good relationships with creative professionals. I have also learnt that the idea of creative learning needs to be supported by your team and SLT. My Headteacher has been fantastic and has trusted me throughout the journey, making it easier for me to know I am supported.

Thank you for letting me share my journey with you today.