Case Study: Term 3
School: Donnybrook District High School
Teacher: Neil Robertson
Year Group: 10
Creative Practitioner: Andrew Frazer
Creative Practice: Visual Artist and Arts Management
Main Curriculum Focus: Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) and Sustainability.
Cross-curricular Links: Geography - Place and interconnection. Economics and Business - Making choices/allocation and markets.
Donnybrook District High School is a small regional high school (120-130 students from year 7-10) located approx. 2.5 hours south/south-east of Perth. It is staffed by well equipped, passionate teachers who genuinely desire the best for their students. The class teacher, Neil, is a great example of this reality and it has been a pleasure to partner with him in delivering the Creative Schools program. Though the school provides a safe haven for many students, it has also previously struggled with social stigma and continues to battle against this challenge.
“What relevance does an Australian regional 'downtown' have in 2020?”
We recognised that for many of the students, Donnybrook (and it’s immediate surroundings) informs a large portion of their world view. This can be beautiful as it provides a context of connection and community, yet it can also be restrictive when imagining what is beyond. We wanted to expand the student’s world view, by introducing big thinking within a local application.
The above overarching question guided us in connecting the students to the curriculum. We wanted to connect the students to a theme where they could tangibly engage with the content. The downtown provided this opportunity as many of them know various business owners and for some, it is their place of employment. We were able to connect and engage with local business owners to unpack the social, economical and cultural impact, being regionally based, has had on their business. This also was inclusive of COVID-19, which was very insightful.
The students conducted a live interview with local Butcher Shop owner, Bryn, who had previously graduated from Donnybrook District High School a few years back. It was a great encouragement for the students to see a young man pursue his passions and create a thriving business that directly contributes to the betterment of the local community. This interview set the tone for what was possible and ignited a sense of inquiry. The students were then tasked with the challenge of selecting and contacting their own local business to hold their own independent interview. These interviews were documented and became the backbone for understanding the relevance of the downtown and the evident needs that exist within the community, beyond a commercial scope.
“It’s been a really cool way of giving the kids more independence to find things out. I would have never taken them to do interviews in town. We would have just looked at geographical survey data. Getting the personal connection makes it much more relevant for them.” - Teacher
Slowly but surely, we began to see the students find a sense of personal relevance in where we were going collectively. The discussion began to widen beyond ‘what are we doing?’ to ‘why/how are we doing what we are doing?’ We continued to explore the significance of civil responsibility, by bringing it back to the school culture and how the students have the ability to shape this through an active commitment to values, such as generosity, kindness and encouragement.
We explored the Creative Habits of Mind through a series of approaches including increased group work (collaboration), integrated technological innovation to record the interviews digitally (inquisitive) and the ability to contribute to what/why/where and how we learn (discipline). We spent plenty of time outside, introduced instrumental music as a way of reflecting and allowed the warm-up to be seen as a direct way of learning, rather than just a side thought to ‘fill time’.
We continued to welcome feedback and reflection from the students to make sure they had a tangible sense of ownership over their learning. It is tempting to just make this a token gesture, as receiving feedback means we are responsible to listen and implement what we hear. This is why the collaborative approach has been so essential, as young people can sniff out when it’s being done just to tick a box. They want authentic engagement and opportunities to learn and we have the privilege to guide them in this pursuit.
"Creativity is using the mind and body to create art out of any material, art is whatever the mind can create.” - Student
"Creative schools has been helpful because it was better than staying inside all day, so it was nice to get out and do something I normally wouldn't do." - Student
"Creativity is being innovative and finding solutions for problems and obstacles." - Student
"Creativity is the ability an individual acquires through learning and accessing their imaginative side." - Student
"Creative schools has given my students an opportunity to participate in a project aligned to the curriculum, but in an entirely different way. Spending time in their own community learning first hand the importance of the interconnections that exist at the smallest levels between local businesses and the importance of the centre of a small town in relation to those business owners. The nature of the collaboration required the exploration of a concept using imagination. This has given my students a unique perspective on a usually unrelatable topic." - Teacher
Creative Practitioner Impact
“After being at the school in 2019 it was great to enter into a new year with some familiarity and courage to go again with a fresh group of students. The challenge for me has been to let go and allow others into the learning process. The temptation for me is to just drive everything and welcome the students into an experience, but what I found is this approach heavily dilutes the personal ownership in deep learning. I had to take a breath, let go of my own insecurities and be vulnerable along with Neil and the students to discover something not yet experienced. Working collaboratively with Neil made a big difference in this regard and his invested insight allowed us to serve the students in a way that was very purposeful.” - Creative Practitioner
“In this process, our students are challenged to think differently and this naturally makes them uncomfortable. Interestingly, some of our kids who come from backgrounds of trauma were the first to engage with the process. They were able to articulate their thoughts clearly. These students are usually the most disengaged so if this process gets them talking and involved, it’s definitely worth it.” - Renee Reid (Principal)
The danger for the Creative Schools program is to become independent from the larger school and function in isolation. I was conscious of this reality and wanted to make inroads by posting various quotes and imagery throughout the school, to create discussion. It was brilliant to chat with students from other classes as they moved from class to class and with teachers during lunch breaks and while they were preparing for their own lessons. By allowing HASS to expand into various other subjects, we began to be inspired by other practices and in turn, drawing other teachers into the creative planning and application.
Though there wasn’t any direct interaction with the parents this term, this will change in term 4 as we develop the project into a public presentation and welcome families to come in person and celebrate their child’s progress.