Arts support innovation and wellbeing

Issue: Volume 99, Number 9

Posted: 11 June 2020
Reference #: 1HA8E0

Schools may have had to think differently about how they approached creative and performing arts during lockdown – however, the arts have provided a platform for enhancing students’ wellbeing at a time of uncertainty.

In the midst of the seriousness of Covid-19, the arts bring joy and playfulness into classrooms and provide a safe way for teachers and students to navigate the emotions, fears and questions children have about a changed world, says Professor Peter O’Connor from the University of Auckland.

“Research shows that creating fictional worlds has always helped people understand the real world, and the arts in these situations provides exactly that opportunity,” says Peter, who has led a project to support primary school teachers with an arts-based resource following the Covid-19 lockdown. 

Te Rito Toi(external link) provides detailed lesson plans and classroom activities designed specifically for the changed environment teachers and students now face. The resources were supplied by principals, teachers, and academics from the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education and Social Work. 

“The resources are based on years of research and practical work by University of Auckland researchers who have worked in schools after disasters in places such as Christchurch, Japan and Samoa. We recommend teachers use an arts and wellbeing approach to engage children in this changed classroom environment,” he says.

Gateway to expressing emotions

The arts offer a way to think about things that words may not be able to describe or contain and are ways for people to express their feelings.”

“People are anxious, they are unsure of the future, who to trust, how to deal with feelings of doubt.  ‘Why am I for the first time scared of the dark?’ ‘Dad says we’ve lost everything – what does that mean?’ These are the sorts of questions teachers will face.

“It’s vital children learn how to name their emotions so they can talk about them. At a very simple level, the arts are the gateway to that,” says Peter.

Peter says that teachers should look after themselves as well.

“Teachers need to know they don’t have to be superhuman, that the recovery from Covid will take a long time and the issues of poverty and rising inequality will impact schools for a long time. Caring for themselves first means they can care carefully for children.”

Wellbeing enhanced in Tauranga

At Tauranga Girls’ College, students enjoyed being able to participate in the performing arts during the lockdown as it provided a creative outlet and gave them opportunities to be creative, innovative and engage with professionals from Aotearoa and around the world, says Caroline Gill, who is the school’s digital communications lead and teacher of dance.

“The common thread that’s come through across all departments has been that our students’ wellbeing has been enhanced by participating in the arts, and that became even more evident throughout the lockdown. That aspect of connection and creativity, particularly, enables student wellbeing. 

“Our staff across drama, dance and music say that one of the most interesting aspects of remote learning was the overwhelming engagement and involvement of students’ whānau. It’s just been phenomenal. One of my students said that her mum entered a video in a work competition which showed a dance task involving counterbalances, where they were creating dance with their whānau. The work competition was for who was the most active/creative/innovative through the lockdown and they came second and won a voucher!” says Caroline.

Creative thinking

Staff from across the performing arts disciplines spent the April school holidays preparing a variety of online resources and activities for students, which required a lot of ‘outside the box’ thinking. 

“Rather than thinking about the proximity of the actor to the audience, students had to start to learn new skills around technology and videography. Traditionally in the performing arts, we wouldn’t generally do videography – we do a lot of live performance. 

“They designed a vision board showing what technologies they would apply – that means costume, music, makeup, props. Then they had to think ‘how do we now get innovative and think about what we can use at home?’. 

“The teachers guided them through thinking about how they could still consider the audience and the students went for it themselves. They thought about where they could set their drama to give it a time and a place and they instructed their mum, brother or sister how and where to film – they really got very creative with it.” says Caroline.

Covid-inspired melodrama

School drama teacher and leader of learning, Tracey-Lynne Cody wrote a melodrama script which explored the Covid lockdown situation. Students and whānau jumped into this opportunity to explore the issues as well as the Victorian theatre form of drama.

“Drama teacher Christina Cassells worked with her children at home to model and video melodrama acting styles and then encouraged students and their whānau to do the same. We had some amazing videos.” says Caroline. 

Dance inspiration

The dance curriculum was ‘collapsed’ and students were given lockdown challenges to do with their bubble buddies. They engaged in international lockdown challenges such as a global isolation challenge developed by the Martha Graham Dance Company, in which students photographed themselves re-creating evocative poses from the famous dancer in their lockdown settings.

With many dance companies, such as the Royal New Zealand Ballet live-streaming performances, students were not only able to learn and be inspired by professional dances and ballets, but also engage with dancers, choreographers and artistic directors.

“Because everybody was in lockdown, people from the Royal New Zealand Ballet and Footnote New Zealand Dance were very happy to talk to our students, so we arranged Zoom meetings and our students got the opportunity to ask questions,” says Caroline.

New perceptions

Prior to lockdown, students had been practising group dances, which they were unable to continue. But the enforced isolation gave them the opportunity to explore what group dance is – and could be. 

“The girls got thinking about the perception of group dance and whether a group dance really had to be in a physical context or whether we could actually use video technology to be able to connect and show those same key features of group dance digitally.

“We were watching a lot of online dance from all around the world and were seeing that people were using technology to engage across their homes.  We had to think about how we would do something if we filmed it in all different locations, how we could use technology to have different screens so we were all performing in unison. The innovation the students were coming up with was outstanding.” 

Impressive music resource

The music teachers at Tauranga Girls’ College developed an online resource for students during the two-week school holiday break. 

Every class had their own tailored programme they could work through. There were YouTube tutorials full of interactive links and students could all work at their own pace. Equity issues were addressed before lockdown, with equipment loaned to students.

Like their fellow performing arts students, music students were just at the point of videoing their performances. Now back at school, they are ready to perform and share with their classmates.

Eyes opened

“Hearing them come back buzzing about the way they engaged with their whānau and some of the activities they were provided, was really cool. Performing arts is about challenging ideas and norms. Having that opportunity to broadly look at what others are doing nationally and internationally and engage in those challenges has really opened their eyes to a whole other set of skills and opportunities that they can draw on,” says Caroline.

Student kōrero

Tauranga Girls’ College students talk about how the performing arts helped them cope during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Talia (Year 12) – Drama

During lockdown I was fortunate not to struggle with isolation or anxiety but did suffer from intense boredom, which was mostly remedied by the performing arts. My younger brother and I, and later my father, performed for my family often during lockdown, and these performances would be recorded and sent to close relatives that we could not meet in person. Those performances were precious to my whānau and me as we could connect with each other under the restrictions.

My grandparents are a musical duo who often play at the Citizen’s Club, parties and markets. However, due to the Covid lockdown, their business had reached a standstill. Despite this, we were able to perform to each other and keep that art we all loved alive. They very much loved our performance and gave many helpful tips to help us develop and become better. For my grandmother’s birthday the whole family contributed to sending her a modified Happy Birthday song. 

Sami (Year 12) – Dance 

The thing I liked most about doing performing arts work remotely was being able to spend time away from the computer while completing practical tasks. This gave me a sense of freedom away from desk work and also gave me something different to look forward to each day, as the remainder of my school subjects all consisted of written work. I also enjoyed being able to explore the different aspects of the subject (such as learning about a specific choreographer), and I feel that it has increased my knowledge of the processes that go into things such as choreography.

Ella (Year 11) – Music and Drama

I enjoyed being able to practise, spend more time on, and improve on particular elements in both music and drama while in lockdown. There were some really cool online competitions and Zoom lessons too, which also was a bit of fun to give a go as well!

Doing the performing arts in lockdown was really key to keeping me motivated and giving me a ‘why’. It was so fun to connect with my friends and perform scripts and was a great way to ease stress a little bit!

I entered an online competition and I dragged my mum and family into helping out with the outfits and filming (which I think they secretly enjoyed!). It was really fun and also created some interesting dinner table conversations too.

Lockdown creativity results in student-led music video

The students at Addington School in Christchurch worked hard during and post lockdown to create the Addington Lockdown Superhero music video. 

The students wrote the lyrics, sending in lines or ideas about their lockdown experiences while at home in Level 4. Then the school’s music tutors composed and recorded the backing music. After lockdown and during Levels 3 and 2, students recorded the vocals before finally adding the images to complete the music video. 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:39 pm, 11 June 2020

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