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Can a unifying professional identity for arts and cultural education practitioners help build trust between the arts and education?

In May 2017, the RSA began a year of work with the British Council and the Korea Arts and Culture Education Service (KACES) investigating how the UK and South Korea might learn from each other’s distinctive approaches to arts and cultural education. Delegations of policymakers, academics, education leaders and artist practitioners from the UK and Korea visited the two countries, exchanging ideas and insights into how provision might improve.  The title of the follow-up report, Trusted Practice, represents a mutual and wide-ranging concern about establishing and maintaining trust between the arts sector and education. It’s a concern that runs top to bottom through the sector – found in government policy, in the relationships between schools and artist practitioners and in the sector’s approach to understanding its own impact.

One aspect of this that delegates reflected on was the difficulty of establishing and maintaining trust between school staff and visiting artist educators (or ‘Teaching Artists’). Some (particularly in Korea) voiced concerns about schools’ wholesale mistrust of the arts, while others focused on the challenges that individual artists experience in building trust with teachers and school leaders. There was a strong indication from delegates, that, because Teaching Artists are outsiders inviting a shift in a school’s identity and practice, it is they who need to take the lead in building trust with their teacher and school leader colleagues. 

Our conversations led us towards articulating the qualities of a notional ‘Trusted Practitioner’. The rationale being that defining the terms could help Teaching Artists and teachers have a basis for their (often unspoken) expectations of one another. Our definition comprises four attributes essential to establishing trust and thereby making learning relationships more effective: 

 

FOUR CHARACTERISTICS OF THE TRUSTED PRACTITIONER 

Authenticity

  • Teaching Artists need deep knowledge and technical proficiency in their art form;
  • They should provide learning experiences that are designed to support increasing mastery and which are simultaneously genuine artistic experiences, both for learners and for the artists themselves. 

Credibility

  • Practitioners need to align themselves with schools’ priorities, curricula and language
  • They should understand how children learn
  • There is value in a clearly defined professional identity, accredited training and standards. 

Intimacy

  • Practitioners should plan activity in collaboration with schools and teachers, in order to respond to their needs and motivations
  • Practice should reach out beyond the school gates, to include parents and the wider community
  • Young people’s voices should be heard in decision-making processes. 

Benevolence

  • Practitioners should make it clear to school leaders and teacher how they contribute to good outcomes for students.  

 

In Korea, KACES’ approach to building trust has emphasised the credibility of visiting artists.  Korean Teaching Artists undertake KACES-accredited training in the form of the Arts and Culture Education Instructor Certificate and Teaching Artist-led activity is standardised. Teaching Artists also have a unified, cross-art form professional identity that has supported a more coherent, trusting community of practice and facilitated the transfer of effective practices.

In the UK, although accredited training for artists working in schools exists, getting work is not dependent on holding a qualification. There is no unifying professional identity for practitioners, which limits the opportunities for effective practice to be shared. However, perhaps as a result of the more long-standing solidarity between the arts sector and schools, we see higher levels of intimacy: project co-design, youth voice and artist-led CPD for teachers (almost unheard of in Korea). 

The report explores promising practice in both countries that demonstrate how we might build a more complete basis for trust. In the UK, to take one example of many, we could look at Tate Exchange’s principles of practice:

  • Raising the stakes – providing real world, high profile platforms for young people’s work 
  • The social – providing unstructured time and space (physical and online) for young people to engage with one another to work creatively.   
  • Responsibility to (not for) – embracing our responsibility to young people drives our commitment to quality of experience, to giving them a platform in our cultural institutions. Taking responsibility for young people inevitably means taking responsibility away from them, diminishing trust, limiting their experience and compromising the creative learning opportunity.  
  • Working together – a recognition of the two-way learning that might take place between artists and participants and between participants; where interests, habits, ideas and aesthetic are intermingled

Or with a focus on Korea: delegates visited the Sewol School in Gyonggi Province, where artists' inclusion of parents in projects that connected school to community has been key to successful integration of arts across the curriculum (developed with KACES as part of the Arts Flower Seed Schools’ project). Parents organised for children’s work to be exhibited in an impromptu art gallery in the window of a shop, as well as at various sites throughout the village. Bringing art made in school out into the community helped others to understand its value in children's education and to the spirit of the community.

Overemphasis on one or other characteristic at the expense of the others can lead to a breakdown in trust. In Korea, for example, there is an expectation that Teaching Artists' work in education should always be a sideline to their work as professional artists. It's a deliberate effort to maintain authenticity, but gets in the way of opportunities to develop stronger intimacy by integrating their work into the life of the schoolIn the UK, the legacy of Creative Partnerships and the strong sense that cultural learning is intended to develop skills and capabilities other than in the arts, means that there is limited focus on supporting increasing mastery. The lessons we draw from Korean and British experience is that all four characteristics of the trusted practitioner need to be nurtured in order to create effective, trusting relationships.

I'm interested to discuss how a unfying professional identity for arts education practitioners might be developed, what it might look like and how it might support practice. Please do contact me if you're interested, too.

For more insights from the UK/ Korea exchange, please do read our report, which you can download here.

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