Thursday, 16 October 2014

A Story of Agency, Music, Collaboration and Love


From Ginnie Thorner, Performing Arts Teacher, St Andrews College

From:  Student
To:      Teacher
Subject:  Random Idea
Question:  May I write a musical for the year 9/10 students for 2014? 

From: Teacher
To: Student
Subject: Random idea
Reply:  Go for it. 

Above is a true story. This was the beginning of a story of agency, of music, of collaboration and of love. It is the story of what happens when students have the space and permission to act on their initiative and create something meaningful in their world. This is the power of agency in education. 

Let me introduce you to Isaac - a talented year 13 student who had an idea to create something meaningful, both to him, and to our performance and school communities. Isaac has a passion for composition and has written a full length book musical, scored and arranged for a fourteen piece orchestra. This is a huge achievement for anyone - let alone someone who is still in high school. This is a story of music that has been written not as an exercise to pass NCEA or an exam, but as a meaningful creative work.

Agency does not mean a student has an idea and then goes it alone. Great ideas from anyone need support to come to fruition. We should not underestimate how hard it is to open your creative projects to hard critique. This is essential to the creative process.
I admire Isaac’s bravery and tenacity for gathering a team together to collaborate with. 

The teacher in the email conversation above is St Andrew’s College HOD Music, Duncan Ferguson. He is an extraordinary teacher who actively supports students in many musical endeavors. Duncan worked with Isaac providing mentoring in composition, arranging and recording. He then arranged other professional connections so that Isaac might develop his music further.

Isaac absorbed all feedback. He held his own creative line when he needed to, but had the maturity and the creative understanding to know when to weave in something new or when to let something go.

Isaac invited me to help out with the story. With my background in devised theatre that honours student voice, I was excited by the project. He gathered a group of students he thought might help and together we used one of my devising processes to create the story and characters to support the music that Isaac was writing. This is a risky business as collaboration means a great deal of negotiating. Creativity requires the power of collaboration. The group of writers met every week for a term and as long as I remembered to feed them, we created for hours! The group approached the critique and decision debates with maturity. Sometimes we abandoned a great idea, sometimes a moment of brilliance would come from our laughter and essentially “playing.” 

The Role of the Teacher in Agency
As teachers, supporting this project meant extra hours - many extra hours. But this is teaching isn’t it? Supporting the success of another person who is creating something meaningful. Because of this - it doesn’t feel like work. It’s in the ‘zone’ or ‘flow’ … but more than that, I think it is the most important reason we teach – to help someone else realise their strengths. This is the love of teaching. The love of learning. The love of collaborating on something important. Something well beyond National Standards, NCEA or passing exams. Creating meaning and beauty in our world is what makes us human. 

For me, spent hours were spent writing up and editing a script, meeting the creative team to design the on-stage aspects of the show. Duncan spent hours editing and printing musical scores, meeting to discuss musical ideas, rehearsing the orchestra and cast and then creating a professional recording. These are the sorts of teacher hours that illustrate a ‘love’ of the work. I’m sure those of you reading this have stories like this – going the extra mile because you believe in the students.
This doesn’t feel like work.
This is creative.
This is a meaningful project.
This is teaching.

What did I learn? 
Regardless of working in devised theatre for *mumble*  twenty-something years I still learned new things from this project.  In fact, I learned and re-learned a lot. Sometimes I had to step back, be quiet (hard for me), or put something on hold, I had to give space to the students but still know when to push them and be a bit more demanding. I didn’t always get that right – but that is the nature of teaching. That is what it means to develop our craft as educators.  

This project reminded me that this is the learning to focus on – the learning that feels like happiness and joy, not hard slog.  As soon as teaching feels like a chore, I think that means the learning I am working in isn’t genuine or passion-based for anyone. I think that agency and collaboration reminds us of the love of teaching. That is the ‘music’ of teaching that inspires me.

Come and see our story of Agency, Music, Collaboration and Love

This musical is a must-see. I am so proud of the students’ achievements that I suggest that if you are in Christchurch you spend 2 hours with us and see this extraordinary work. Tickets can be bought here:

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing post. Isaac is clearly an incredible talent so I'll be keeping an eye for him in years to come.
    I think those of us who are parents all share this dream for our children- that the teachers in their lives will understand them, see their talents and help them to share these- being the best version of themselves that they can be. While Isaac is clearly incredibly talented, he is also very fortunate to have you in his life to help him nurture and grow those talents and meet his potential. Obviously everyone in this community is going to benefit from that.....including me! Just bought my tickets for Monday night. Can't wait!
    Thanks for sharing this, Ginnie. Break a leg!!! ;)