The Long Conversation

I was invited to be a part of a Long Conversation at the recent Open Doors Vote 100 event, held at Here East in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The event, organised by the V&A, Smithsonian, UCL, London College of Fashion, Sadlers Wells and the BBC, was celebrating 100 years of women’s suffrage through performance, dance, music, workshops, poetry and talks.

The Long Conversation was a really inspiring format to talk within; I was interviewed by the speaker on stage before me for 10 minutes, and then I interviewed the speaker on stage after me for 10 minutes. A whole afternoon was filled by the ebb and flow of an interesting variety of thoughts and ideas. The person I interviewed was completing a PhD in researching the dark web, which is something I knew nothing about; it was absolutely fascinating to hear and learn about their work.

The only structure to the conversation, aside from the timings, was that the first question each speaker was asked was, “So, what one thing makes you optimistic about the future?”.

I spoke about being optimistic about the growing networks of teachers who are collaborating, both with each other and with cultural organisations, to create some really exciting learning opportunities for children. I’ve just had a fantastic year at my school, completing several ambitious art projects across the school, and it’s through communicating with other teachers, educators, and cultural organisations… building and developing a like-minded supportive network.

These networks have been gradually developed, through organising and speaking at Teachmeets; sharing best practice from the classroom with peers. Through the brilliant A New Direction AND Advocates programme, where I have worked alongside some amazing colleagues, all driven by the common cause of children’s entitlement to arts and culture in education. Through the The Poplar Partnership, a network of ten schools all in the same vicinity, supporting and working with each other in all areas of the curriculum and school development. Through Bow Arts who facilitate Poplar Partnership consortium meetings for art leads. Through THAMES, a fantastic umbrella organisation supporting the arts offer within Tower Hamlets schools. Through the Whitechapel Gallery, and the amazing Room for Art project. There are networks beyond my local area too, and Twitter is useful to connect with like-minded people virtually.

These are my networks that inspire and excite me about the work and impact of arts education in schools. I am optimistic about the future because despite the current political climate and challenges, through continued collaboration and working together our voice is collectively stronger.


What is Art?


Year 3 child’s sketchbook page.

After the summer holidays, one of the first lessons I like to teach in the new school year is to explore the question, What is Art?

Initially children often answer, “Painting” or “Drawing”. Painting or drawing are usually mentioned before sculpture or making. Sculpture or making is usually mentioned before printing. And printing is usually mentioned before textiles or digital art. This can vary from year group to year group, and is always an interesting piece of assessment.

Once we’ve got the different media established, we move on to discuss what is painted or drawn, or made or printed? Where does the subject matter come from?


Year 5 child’s sketchbook page.


Year 3 child’s sketchbook page.

Then we talk about how art can make us feel. Images of both figurative and abstract art are provided as stimuli for discussion, and we notice how we all see different things and how different art works can make us feel in different ways.


Year 2 child’s sketchbook page.


Year 3 child’s sketchbook page.

Exploring the question, What is Art? gets the children ready for developing their critical thinking skills in art over the year ahead. Another question might be, Can Anything be Art?, which would make an interesting philosophical enquiry.