The art of storytelling

Thurston Hopkins died this week aged 101.  He was a photojournalist whose images captured British life and its humanity and inequalities in the 1950s.  And they say a picture paints a thousand words.

Credit: Thurston Hopkins

Credit: Thurston Hopkins

This got me to thinking about telling stories.  A crucial skill that when effectively wielded has people hanging off your every word, increasing the chances that they will act on the information, which in the think tank world desirous of influence and impact is the holy grail.

Make no mistake though, storytelling is an art.  But being an art doesn’t make it unobtainable and esoteric, instead storytelling is the reverse: crafted and considered; engaging and entrancing; a clear and compelling message to pass on to its audience.

So what is the best way of doing this?

Yesterday, a new sculpture by Gillian Wearing was unveiled in Birmingham.  This followed a competition run by Ikon Gallery to find ‘a real Birmingham family’.  The winners, now immortalised in bronze in pride of place by the Library of Birmingham, are two single mum sisters, Roma and Emma Jones (the latter with pregnancy bump) walking along with their two sons Kyan and Shaye.

This is a project that appears to have engaged the local Birmingham community, there were 372 nominations, people who liked the idea that they might represent what it means to be a family in Birmingham, now.  This sculpture then explores stories of family, meanings of identity and what it is to be typical, whilst celebrating ‘the unsung and the everyday’. There are lots of people that don’t relate to the ‘traditional’ family unit but might relate to this.  The telling of a story to challenge what we think normal is.  Clever in my book.

Credit: Andrew Fox

Credit: Andrew Fox

Stories or to put it another way, paradigms, create cultural norms. Accepted ways of thinking about things. When our friends and families tell the same ‘stories’ as us we feel comforted, reassured and bolstered that our worldview is right and just.  Trying to get people to see things from a different perspective then requires something different.

We are very comfortable publishing reports. Some people even read them. Some get read a lot. Some don’t. The World Bank bravely led the way in sharing exactly how many (or not) of their reports are downloaded, which the Washington Post depressingly but understandably extrapolated to mean ‘the solutions to all our problems may be buried in pdfs that no one reads’.

So as we continue exploring what impact the RSA should have in the world, what change we want to be a part of creating, what are the ways we should be telling these stories?

IPPR have just published a graphic novel, six pictorial stories of life and change in communities in Britain and the Open Society Foundations has also done similar telling the story of Somali communities around the world.  Artists Grennan and Sperandio also did similar in Peterborough with the Street Pastors as part of our Citizen Power Peterborough programme (see why it’s important to keep telling that story – changing perceptions of place is a slow burner).

Credit: Grennan and Sperandio

Credit: Grennan and Sperandio

The RSA also has captured peoples’ imagination with RSA Animates, a series of animations designed to bring to life stories of world changing ideas.  Sir Ken Robinson’s ‘Changing Education Paradigms’ is on over 12 million views.  Astonishing.  So more of that then please.

Is blogging the way to go?  My colleague Andres Fossas recently had some viral success with his blog ‘The Age of Awareness’ (I recommend reading it, it’s good) with 10,000 reads in around three days and 1,000 likes on Facebook.  So, it can be done.

We’ve just launched a new website for RSA Academies (do pop by) and the whole way through our thought process has been about the storytelling – what we are trying to tell and who we are trying to tell it to.  One example of this is telling stories of success which are beyond the scope of Ofsted.  Personal stories of achievement or success that inspire others or are just ‘blooming well done’ because actually all the odds are stacked against gaining that apprenticeship, overcoming that disability or getting that ‘C’.  You can read the Pupil Stories on each of the schools pages, but here’s three examples from Ipsley CE RSA Academy.

There’s also a new film telling the story of the relationship that schools have with the RSA and what it means to be an RSA Academy.  Film making is a wonderful, intricate process and we’d like to do more, but it can be expensive.  And not everyone watches videos of course, the Obama campaign proved that one.

So as we are working this out perhaps we should take a lesson from Kate Tempest, who is currently taking the music, spoken word, literary world by storm and refuses (quite rightly) to be put in a box, but instead is experimenting with her creative forces and seeing what happens.

 

RSA Fellows and RSA Academies collaborate: the Weston Beamor jewellery design project

July 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

This is a guest blog from Chris Smith, Maths, Science and Technology Lead Practitioner, STEM and IBCC Coordinator at RSA Academy in Tipton.  Chris explains how RSA Academy in Tipton have played a key role in the success of this inter-school competition. 

The winning team from Broadway School with the judges and their teachers

The winning team from Broadway School with the judges and their teachers

 

Back in January 2013 a number of RSA Fellows met at Weston Beamor in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter to look at how 3D printing is being used by Weston Beamor in the production of their jewellery products.  They wanted to find a vehicle to promote this new technology and extend its use in schools, after numerous meetings it was decided that RSA Academy in Tipton would coordinate a jewellery design competition for the RSA Family of Academies and those looking to become part of the RSA Family.

Whitley Academy, Arrow Vale RSA Academy, RSA Academy and Broadway School were invited to the launch on 21 January 2014 at the RSA Academy.  The brief was to design a lapel pin/badge suitable for the Principals of the RSA Academies to wear – therefore it had to be suitable for both men and women to wear.

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RSA TeachMeet gets the innovation juices flowing

July 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

 This is a guest blog from Mark Healy, Vice Principal, Arrow Vale RSA Academy, Redditch.

Mark devised the RSA TeachMeet.  This is what happened at the first one.

TeachMeet learning in action

TeachMeet learning in action

 

It was fantastic to see so many highly skilled and dedicated teachers from the RSA Family of Academies at the first RSA TeachMeet event held at Arrow Vale RSA Academy in Redditch.

A TeachMeet is a group of teachers and educators that have got together to share ideas.  These are ideas that they have used in the classroom and that they want to share with a wider audience.  With colleagues from Whitley Academy in Coventry and RSA Academy in Tipton negotiating motorways and traffic jams to join Arrow Vale and Ipsley Academies in Redditch, the evening was hosted by Head boy, Tom Bagley, and Head girl Carley Whittaker.

Teachers were first treated to a ‘Being a student in 2014’ presentation by three students in Year 9 (Hollie Willow, Chloe Wiley and Jake Muckle), and were told in no uncertain terms what switches them off learning, but more importantly, what inspires them to learn. The students also highlighted some of the difficulties faced by young people in 2014, particularly around social media and the internet. Read more

Power to create taken literally at the RSA Academies Arts Day

Booom, booom, booom, bom, bom, bom

Hats off and thrown wildly up in the air to all the students, their parents and teachers from RSA Family of Academies who raised the roof at the RSA yesterday with the infectious sound of pounding drums to conclude the RSA Academies Arts Day.

The loud, booming, warm, rhythmic sounds of these drums resonated throughout the RSA.  I wish you had been there to marvel at the confidence of these students and their parents who wholeheartedly (and with an understandable amount of jitter) embraced the ‘get involved’ element of the day and breathed in the energy.  They were an absolute credit to themselves and their schools.  I even surprised myself during the drama workshop, getting in a sweat chasing parents around the Great Room to catch their ‘tails’ wasn’t exactly in the brief.  But it was all gloriously creative, and in this creativity emerged discipline, listening, mindfulness, consideration, friendship, bravery, confidence, leadership and imagination. What a heady mix. Read more

RSA Academy and Sky News – A Conference with John Ryley

June 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

This is a guest blog from Laura Guest, a Year 12 student and a Senior Lead Learner at RSA Academy in Tipton.

 

Students from RSA Academy, Tipton with John Ryley from Sky News

Students from RSA Academy, Tipton with John Ryley from Sky News

On Wednesday 11th June, ten students from the RSA Academy (including myself) attended a conference in the RSA building in London. The conference was with John Ryley, the current head of Sky News, and we learnt about his vision for the future of Sky, TV Broadcasting and journalism as a profession.

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The debate on regional arts funding: data, capacity and postcode pedantry

April 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Arts and Society 

The debate about arts funding distribution across England and the unfairness of allocation decisions bubbles up from time to time.  Last week three arts professionals, Peter Stark, Christopher Gordon and David Powell independently and through self-funded means published a report ‘Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital’ with the intention of bursting the bubble on the debate so that radical change might happen once and for all. Read more

Vulnerability is not a weakness

March 12, 2014 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Arts and Society, Education Matters 

In her brilliant TED talk ‘Listening to shame’ Brené Brown claims that ‘vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change’.  While we might think of vulnerability and weakness synonymously, Brené argues against this myth stating that vulnerability is all about pure courage, emotional risk, exposure and uncertainty.

I heard Grayson Perry, Turner Prize winning artist and ‘transvestite potter’ talking at the Women of the World festival where he also talked a lot about vulnerability.  His lecture Men!  Sit down for your rights proposed a Bill of Rights for Men, which included the Right to be Vulnerable, and the Right to be Uncertain.  Grayson thinks that the ‘Right to be Vulnerable’ would be a part of giving men a new model for masculinity at a time when the current constructs of manliness feel dated.

Following her own ‘vulnerability hangover’ (but let’s face it we all have them) Brené observed that in fact vulnerability is actually essential to whole hearted living and so I was uplifted to read a blog from an English teacher, ’5 things that scared me’.  An honest portrayal of a challenging week at work where the lesson learnt was ‘always do what scares you, only when out of your comfort zone will we truly learn and become our best selves’.

I think this is a really important idea.  Embracing our vulnerabilities comes down to asking ourselves to think differently and in turn this requires empathy to allow others to be open.  Being out of your comfort zone is difficult and many of us might identify with Brené’s epiphany:  that whilst being frustrated at not being able to get her work out to the world, she realised a part of her was engineering to stay small, to stay under the radar.

However if the implications of showing our vulnerability are innovation, creativity and change then we need to make it a more socially acceptable behaviour, in our working relationships, personal relationships and our friendships.

And how might you embrace vulnerability in adolescence? It strikes me that this is a time when most of us feel particularly awkward, out of place and unsure of ourselves.  Do schools have a role in addressing vulnerability head on?  Can you allow space for vulnerability?  How can you do this safely and appropriately?  Is it just about taking chances, leaps of faith?

Joe Hallgarten and Selina Nwulu with RSA Fellow Barbara Hearn are working on a project called Rethinking Adolescence.  They are starting from the idea that adolescence is an under-utilised asset, that this time is valuable and not just a phase in life to get through.  There is a perception that young people are ‘citizens in waiting’ and that adolescence is a time of ‘vulnerability of personality’ (Verhellen, 2000) because changes are so rapid.  It is a chapter when we experiment, push boundaries and start forming the kind of person that we want to be (or perhaps don’t want to be) so if we had the scope to express our vulnerability more, what might this lead to?  And not just for adolescents.  Vulnerability is often the grist for artists’ creativity so there is every reason to think that this would generate everyday innovation and change if vulnerability was allowed to flow.

As a last point I thought I’d share a personal story to illustrate the title of this blog in a small way.  I’ve started to play the ukulele.  I’ve got carried away with the idea of me playing the ukulele.  I’ve talked about it a lot.  I’m also not very good it but my basic ability to strum out a tune found me announcing to my parents one evening that I was going to give them a rendition of Maggie May.

Having verbally committed to the performance I found myself on the sofa, ukulele in hand with an expectant but somewhat uncomfortable looking audience.   I realise my enthusiasm has set the expectation bar high and I can’t remember the last time we all sat round for a jolly sing song.  The Von Trapps we are not.  In that moment a gulf of awkwardness sprang up.  There was nothing for it but to plunge in vulnerable and exposed.  Strumming then singing, tentative sound filled the room.

I still wasn’t very good but I was out there, a chorus in and committed when out of nowhere my dad started singing.  Finding something of Rod the Mod we belted out ‘Oh Maggie I couldn’t have tried anymore’ and a rather beautiful thing happened.   We looked at each other, smiled and in that brief moment something changed.   There wasn’t a vulnerability hangover in sight.

Creativity? That’s not for me.

In Adam Lent’s recent blog ‘Why is creativity the most important political concept of the 21st century’ he outlines the broadest definition of creativity as being ‘an act that is unique to an individual’s own capacities or vision’.

Why is it then that you’ll frequently hear people recoil in trepidation asserting ‘oh, but I’m not creative’?

Is it fear that they’ll be asked to draw? Or worse still, sing? Is it that someone way back told them they were no good at something and it’s stuck? Is it an excuse to get out of doing something? You’re creative, you do it. Is it an underlying lack of confidence in themselves? Is it a lack of birth right or sense of status?

Lent goes on to explain that creativity is important for four reasons:

  1. It’s good for us
  2. It’s economically more important than ever
  3. It’s the only solution to long term austerity
  4. It is under threat.

Do read his blog for more on this, am oversimplifying here to provide context, with this in mind I’d like to add two different thoughts.

Firstly, and perhaps crucially, does it matter then that people claim not to be creative? And often vociferously so.  Is it because they default to the narrow association of creativity = art?  Who are these people?  And what implications does this have for our growing mission of the ‘power to create’ and the broadest definition of creativity.

Secondly, and perhaps fundamentally, I have to throw into the concept driven mix that creativity is FUN!  Don’t we all want to be more creative?  Personally and professionally?

Creativity enables us to solve problems, to meet people, to feel more human, to relax, to use our hands, to express ourselves, to experiment, to get dirty, to learn a new skill, to be brave, to get something wrong, to have a laugh, to feel fulfilled, to innovate, to feel a sense of achievement, to take a risk, to grow inside, to allow us to think a bit bigger.

But in case you were wondering , think you are not creative? Oh yes you are. It is in us all, it is innate. Embrace it. Follow it. See where you go.

Student Leadership Conference: tips from the top

December 2, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

20. group shot outside JAS jumping_2 blog

The end of November saw RSA Academies hosting the Student Leadership Conference for Year 12 and 13 student leaders from Arrow Vale RSA Academy, Whitley Academy and RSA Academy, Tipton.

Here are some of the TOP 5 TIPS from the students and the RSA Fellows who joined in for a day of inspiration and conversation.

Marie Nixon, Chief Executive at Sunderland University’s Students Union starts us off.

1. You’re a leader all the time. You don’t have to wait for the ‘big’ job or opportunity to start being a leader. You can be a leader in your community, in your area of interest, in anything. Get on with leading and the big leadership opportunities are more likely to come your way.

2. Don’t be scared of ‘don’t know’. One person can never know everything. Surround yourself with brilliant people and together you can know all sorts – and work out the answers to what you don’t.

3. The power of the unthinkable. Don’t be afraid of ‘mad’ ideas that might seem beyond the realms of possibility. It’s a great spark for exciting conversations which help you decide on ambitions and exciting things you want to change and do.

4. The boldest measures are the safest – changing something a tiny bit usually requires exactly the same effort as changing something radically. Be bold, be brave, attempt to do what you really want to do rather than what you might get away with. It’ll take the same effort and you might as well go for what you want.

5. Telling it like it is. Feedback is super powerful and it takes a bold soul to give it. Feedback is essential to make sure you’re getting to where you want to be. When you’re giving feedback make sure you do it with accuracy and kindness and that you’re doing it for the good of the person affected or the project. It’s NEVER a chance to be mean.

 

Followed by Prince Chivaka and Cynthia Ariana, Head Boy and Head Girl at Whitley Academy in Coventry.

• Communication is key

• Develop confidence in the role

• Be very firm, but friendly and be assertive and considerate in a team

• Plan an agenda for each half term and  meet with Student Leadership Group and the Principal

• Encourage others to become leaders, be a role model

 

And Rick Hall from Ignite’s 5 Rs: the characteristics of creativity… and leadership

1. Resilience – be determined and learn from your mistakes, this is part of the process of getting towards the solution

2. Resourcefulness – working out what to do when you don’t know what to do

3. Referencing – see something is like something else and make the connection, learn from this

4. Reflection – step aside and observe, use mind mapping as a technique to help

5. Risk taking – pushing the boundaries, going outside your comfort zone

 

And lastly from Andrew Watts, Head Boy at RSA Academy in Tipton

• Plan, plan, plan – set goals, what do you want to achieve?

• It’s crucial to talk to people – what do students want from you? Expect the unexpected.

• Don’t be afraid to ask for help – you don’t have all the answers and learn from the example of others

• You have to make big decisions – consider everything, sometimes what you want isn’t best

• Be willing to get involved – you have to be in it to win it

 

Duncan Piper at the Young Leaders Consultancy has the parting shot.  He encouraged us to think about self-less leadership: how can I help you get to where you need to be?

35. workshop Becca action planning_2blog

 

The power of potential: Warwick University and RSA Academies partner up

October 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 
Students from RSA Academies with RSA Chairman Vikki Heywood

Students from RSA Academies with RSA Chairman Vikki Heywood. Credit: Pete Marples

Within the RSA Family of Academies many families of pupils do not have strong networks with employers or universities.  Recently schools have had to take on new responsibilities for careers information, advice and guidance.  It follows then that one of our priorities is to ‘connect learners to people, places and issues beyond the school gate’ – something we are working towards with a new Warwick University and RSA partnership.

DSC_0998

Students from Ipsley CE RSA Academy. Credit: Pete Marples

Last Thursday night students from the RSA Academies joined with their teachers, academics from Warwick and the RSA to celebrate the launch of this partnership.  It is aimed at increasing the student’s knowledge about what a university education involves and helping them to develop skills, knowledge and experience to gain a university place.

For the partnership to have real impact, we need to consider the perceived barriers of going to university.  Practical concerns about how students would manage, including anxiety about the financial implications; a sense that it is ‘not for people like me’; a lack of knowledge and confidence in going through the application and interview process, have all informed the planning so far.  The partnership will generate:

  • opportunities for the students to attend the ‘Experience Warwick’ summer schools
  • support with the university application process
  • advice and guidance sessions for the students and their parents about going to university
  • visits to the schools by the academic staff
  • taster days at the university
Sixth former from Arrow Vale RSA Academy

Sixth former from Arrow Vale RSA Academy.  Credit: Pete Marples

And more than this, there will be a programme of activities for the schools that is focussed on raising aspirations and increasing awareness of different university options.  There is plenty of potential for projects between different academic staff within Warwick and the schools that will bring to life some of the more esoteric sounding disciplines – theatre productions about the financial crisis that allow you to explore economics and the relationship between human behaviours – it’s about finding ways to engage and excite students with new subjects and ideas, and teaching staff and academics in return.

Head Boy at Ipsley CE RSA Academy

Head Boy at Ipsley CE RSA Academy. Credit: Pete Marples

Student focus groups carried out by RSA Education Intern Lisa Hevey showed the importance of talking about university as an option at an early age.  At Year 8 students were talking about adults who had influenced their future plans and career aspirations, so getting in early with a range of potential career possibilities is essential.  Importantly role models also have a clear impact on students.  Some students do not have older siblings at university and putting these individuals in touch with university students or adults who may inspire them could have enormous effect.

So this partnership offers potential.  And when you feel you have potential, the sky’s the limit.

 

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