The vital role of creativity in schools

While at school, author and illustrator Andrew Hammond was encouraged to explore and develop his creative talents.

This has led to an exciting and rewarding career as a creative director within the gaming industry, and is ultimately to thank for the realisation and rerelease of his acclaimed illustrated children’s book, Spacekid iLK: Invasion 101.

Andrew, who regularly goes into UK schools to run creativity workshops, is a tireless champion of the creative arts within the national curriculum but sometimes finds that their value is underappreciated.

In this exclusive article, he explains why teaching our children the creative arts is vital to their educational and personal development, building confidence and decision-making skills whatever their chosen career path may be.

By Andrew Hammond

Highlighting the worth of the creative subjects in schools can often prove tricky. I always knew how important they were to me, but whenever my parents asked for me to justify why I wanted to do art and drama for A-level, I found it difficult to express. In most cases the choice to do something would be validated by the outcome, but I didn’t know what jobs Art or Drama resulted in, so I struggled to defend their role.

After more than a decade of working in the creative industries and continuing to develop my own creative endeavours, I understand even better now the role the creative subjects play in schools, but I also appreciate more why the benefits of these subjects are so difficult to define.

I believe the true value of the creative subjects lies in the experience of creating, rather than the outcome. Even people who have spent their lives being creative, and have found success through their creative acts, will always say that it is the process that they value the most as opposed to the rewards that they have achieved as a result.

Unfortunately, this makes creative subjects very difficult to evaluate within the context of a school. How can we evaluate a person’s experience? Are we supposed to simply trust that creative acts are worthwhile to the individual, without the promise of a quantifiable metric at the end?
In short, I believe the answer to that question is ‘yes’. Here’s why.

The Fear of Being Creative
When my parents visited my drama teacher to question my choice to take the subject for A-level, he told them that by doing drama as a subject I would learn confidence. He was absolutely right, and I think it’s important that we don’t disregard how vital that confidence is.

Creating something new—something that hasn’t existed before—and showing that to others is scary. In contrast, with the more academic subjects at school, such as maths or science, there is a certain security that exists in the knowledge that the right answer already exists.

When you set off on your journey in the pursuit of the solution to a problem that has been discovered before, there are signposts to help you on your way and the promise of a guaranteed resolution to reassure you that you’re on a path worth travelling.

PICTURE CREDIT: ARTWORK BY ANDREW HAMMOND

However, using drama as an example, when writing a play the task is unclear. What should you write about? Knowingly or not, it begins with a decision about what you think is worth communicating. This means you don’t just have to find the right solution, you are also burdened with the responsibility of choosing the right problem.

Having chosen the problem yourself, the result may be that the solution you create is one that no one cares about. All that time you spent working on something might seem wasted and meaningless. A terrifying prospect. No one wants to feel like they have wasted their time.

However, whatever it is you have tried to create, you will always be able to look back and take away a unique set of learnings. Unique learnings that are specific to you and will help you to better realise your intentions the next time around.

Unfortunately, given the fear that can exist around the act, it is an opportunity that could be easily missed. And if all we ever teach is the value of outcomes then we risk making the exercise even scarier.

But I believe the creative experience is vital in schools so that we can gain the valuable aid that it offers in helping us to express our own intentions. That confidence that my drama teacher spoke of.

Where Does Confidence Come From?

Teaching a creative subject, such as art or drama, helps this confidence to mature in four ways. In no particular order, they are as follows.

1. BELIEF

Beliefs are the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves and the world around us.

PICTURE CREDIT: ARTWORK BY ANDREW HAMMOND

It has often been said that it is only through trying and failing many times that we will learn to succeed. To have the confidence to embark on those many attempts towards expressing ourselves as intended, we must believe that success is possible.

The best sign of what we believe is how we choose to use our time.

When we give children the time to be creative, we are telling them that we believe the process is worthwhile. We empower them to make choices based on their unique perspective and show them that we have faith in their capacity to make constructive choices.

Simply by giving them the opportunity to do these subjects we empower students’ unique decision-making abilities and show them that they should believe in their own capacity to create value for others.

2. RECOGNITION

You only need to read Those Who Can, Teach by London-based art teacher Andria Zafirakou, winner of the 2018 Global Teacher prize, to appreciate the potential of recognition to improve the life of a student. The creative subjects offer them the freedom to explore different opportunities to show what they can do, and who they are, outside of any regular guidebook.

The series of choices and skills that lead to the work produced are uniquely their own. They are not responses to multiple-choice questions that show the teacher that they can learn what is required. They are responses to their own experiences, with an infinite number of choices, that give the teacher an insight into how the student sees the world.

When our unique point of view is recognised, we feel a deep sense worth and connection to others. When writing the first book of my Spacekid iLK series of illustrated novels, Spacekid iLK: Invasion 101, I wanted to show how our connection to others can offer us the courage we need to make brave choices.

PICTURE CREDIT: ARTWORK BY ANDREW HAMMOND

On Earth, iLK feels seen, acknowledged, and valued. He finds friends and builds connections, which help to bolster his courage to make some very tough decisions.

3. PURPOSE

When I was studying drama, my teacher asked me what I wanted the audience to feel. I needed to make a choice about the intention behind the work I was about to create.

This opportunity at school felt unique as it made the audience the focus. The relationship between the work I was doing and the impact it would have on others felt more immediate and clear. The freedom to choose what that impact would be on others was empowering, and the responsibility of it was motivating.

In comparison, when the task is set for us, or the job is already laid out ahead of us, we don’t get an opportunity to question the purpose of the activity. In fact, it is communicated to us implicitly that the purpose of it is not our concern. Our task is simply to work towards the correct answer and a good grade.

When we are given the freedom to choose the purpose, however, we learn to externalise what we’ve learned from our experiences and witness it affect and help others. This has the power to fill us with a deep sense of worth that fuels both our courage and our motivation.

The more we practice choosing which problems to solve, the more we hone our ability to choose an activity that will have a strong purpose—one that we will feel connected to and which has been born out of our own unique experience.

Through the creative subjects, we train our use of empathy and educate ourselves about what our own unique contribution could be. We learn how to discover the value in our unique point of view.

Andrew Hammond is the author and illustrator of the acclaimed Spaceman iLK series of illustrated children’s books, which feature a young alien put in charge of planet Earth. The first book, Spacekid iLK: Invasion 101, was published in 2018 while a second volume, Spacekid iLK: Stranded!, is set for release next year.

4. CONFIDENCE FROM VULNERABILITY

There are many paths at school that have been laid out for us. These offer certain rewards and benefits. The creative subjects, however, don’t offer a set path. They instead offer an opportunity for children to create the path themselves, but to do so requires accepting a degree of vulnerability.

When my drama teacher told my parents that I would learn confidence, he was right. I believe that this is because it began to teach me to manage the inherent vulnerability that exists in being creative. The freedom to choose my actions and behaviours, and what purpose they serve, is at the heart of the creative subjects.

The exercise of practicing that freedom of choice, and learning to hone your intentions so that they have the desired impact on others, is a skill we will need to perform in any role if we want to add value. And the more you begin to appreciate the worth of your actions, the easier it becomes to find the courage to act them out.

It was through practicing creativity at school that I first began to learn the courage to face that freedom of choice and trust myself to create a positive outcome, even when there was no guarantee of one at the outset.

The more difficult the problem is to solve, the greater potential value of the solution, but also the scarier the path will be to get there.

If we want people who are able to tackle those big problems, then we need to start equipping them with the tools to do so early on.

As well as being an enjoyable work of humour-driven sci-fi/fantasy, Spacekid iLK: Invasion 101 by Andrew Hammond helps teach young readers aged seven to 13 the importance of having the courage to make their own choices in life.

Spacekid iLK: Invasion 101 by Andrew Hammond is available on Amazon . The second in the series, Spacekid iLK: Stranded!, is set to be released next year in paperback and eBook formats. Further information about the Spacekid iLK series can be found here . More information about Andrew Hammond can be found here .

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