A unique pedagogic methodology 

“The trick is to find a way of engaging the ‘unengaged’ with education”

Sir Ken Robinson TED talk 2013

It has taken many years to developed a unique method of engaging those individuals of all ages within our communities that feel ‘unengaged’ or disenfranchised or forgotten or misunderstood.

For any number of reasons this demographic has not been served well by education or educators, they may have mental health issues, crippling shyness, anti-social behaviour, problems at home, bullying… the list goes on, but whatever the cause, for them the current education system fails. Yes, there are some overstretched projects that tinker with the ‘problem pupils’ in school but certainly with the education system if there is a rigid approach to teaching there is little hope that these projects will make a sustainable change.

My approach works on several levels, it prevents those who may become disengaged from doing so and it also can have a profound effect on those who have already ‘lost’ education.

My philosophy is simple and successful, having been tried and tested and children as young as 4 and with those at the other end of the age spectrum, the oldest being 107.  I have worked with groups as diverse as primary school children, drug rehab, prisoners, professionals and pensioners, the basic teaching is the same. It works on the fundamental principle that humans inherently want to ‘do well’… they want to achieve, they want to feel that sensation of pride and then have someone else express that positive emotional response about their achievement too. 

Some people are afraid of pride and have been taught it’s sinful! Some are afraid to achieve, thinking that they will been seen as ‘arrogant’ or reaching above their position or ‘class’ , while some actively try to fail so that they can live within a self- fulfilling prophecy of failure.

I have developed a series of processes that take people back to a foundation of learning. I ask people to forget their negative experiences in education and trust that while in my class they will not be asked to do anything that could be beyond capabilities or would lead them to failure and humiliation.

I start with the simplest and purest form of creativity, using clay and a process of learning that goes through each stage to quite rapidly create a human face. Usually within 30 minutes people who have never sculpted or even touched a piece of clay in their lives, have created a character sculpture of a human face. This is the first very important step because the participants will feel that sense of achievement… maybe for the very first time in their lives.

That initial introduction to the process is experienced rapidly because I want the individual to work intuitively, not having the time to ‘overthink’ how they are applying the clay and to not have the time to worry or consider the shape of an eye or nose.  From that initial feeling of pride in their first sculpted head the group can talk about how they feel about the character they have created, some really love what they have made and feel very precious about it while others don’t like what has been produced although they are happy that what has been created is something recognisable.

During this first 30 minutes the group, who may have been quite anxious at the prospect of sculpting, can be seen to relax, body language is more open, there is much laughter and many positive comments. 

The first quick session can throw up some emotional responses to what has been created, it is not unusual for individuals to create faces that have the features of people who may have had a negative effect upon them. This reaction can be relieved and then challenged in the next part of the process where change can be brought to each character face. The process of change can be quite cathartic, pushing and manipulating the clay, being ‘in control’ of the clay and therefore I control of the character can be immensely personal and capacity building. Throughout this process I encourage participants to talk about what they are doing to the face and how they are feeling. 

The primary focus when using this form of creative working is upon “soft” outcomes, such as participation, acceptance, social understanding, communication, self - motivation, enhanced sense of self, ability and value. 

Using a wonderfully forgiving medium like clay and  focusing on creating a human face allows the exploration of self- identity and reflection - it works because with this methodology there are no ‘wrong answers,’ no one way of doing things, and all approaches are correct within the usual behavioural boundaries.  Often, these workshops create much more than incredibly interesting sculptures alone, the atmosphere promotes discussion, which can be of a deep and personal nature, it lends itself to quiet contemplation, problem solving as well as group supportiveness and provides a forum for conciliation and gentle education that intends to bring awareness to many prejudices - both of an individual nature and wider social issues.

 Group workshops are person centred and flexible but are grounded within a structure that encompasses age, emotion, ethnicity and cultural diversity, similarities, differences, public and private faces, disability and image awareness.   This methodology encourage people to develop their own powers of focus, coupled with relaxation and so promote and build further levels of confidence in dealing with their own personal issues, which in turn will enable social inclusion to the point of pursuing a positive life path.

These soft outcomes underpin and encourage academic attention and enthusiasm, enabling people of any age to feel included and less lonely, return to or move forward into mainstream learning programmes that otherwise they might not have felt motivated so to do.

Success for me is a participant saying “if I can do this … what else can I do”? 

Engaging individuals with something as simple as creating a piece of sculpture can grab their attention to what else is possible,  the introduction of a creative writing task based around the clay character they had created for example, doesn’t seem like a huge leap of faith. Then introducing a numeracy element to the creative thread can be seen as an obvious link, my method of doing this is to talk about the art market and how fortunes have been made because of it, I can easily find myself with a room full of people who possible NEET talking about profit and loss and cash flow forecasts and the difference between gross and net profits…. The important element to remember is that these people in the group would not have visited my workshop to discuss fiscal studies or English literature but because they are engaged and interested, that’s exactly what they find themselves discussing so for me this is the ‘Trick’ that Sir Ken Robinson was searching for in the quote at the start of this piece… The ‘trick’ to re-engaging the dis-engaged… From a simple foundation of engaged creative learning, anything can be built.