Encouraging ‘poets’ for all professions

Posted on 4th Aug 2015 in Prep Schools Guide

Wells Cathedral School Head Elizabeth Cairncross, explains how the school helps children develop their own talents and the importance of creativity

If I said to you that Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs and Seamus Heaney are all great poets of the 21st century what would your response be?

Would you argue that Seamus Heaney is the only poet? That Stephen Hawking is a physicist and the late Steve Jobs was an entrepreneur: certainly not poets?

Yet all three created something from nothing through their creativity. Stephen Hawking started with a theory that wasn’t understood to create his ‘poem’ – A Brief History of Time. Steve Jobs created the Apple Mac computer and, yes, Seamus Heaney created a collection of poetry.

The word poem means a made thing. A poet starts with a blank page and creates something. A poet starts with nothing.

Creativity is not just about the arts. It is about being flexible, thinking out of the box and being imaginative in your approach. Creativity is at the heart of Wells Cathedral School.

Renowned educationalist Sir Ken Robinson is passionate about the importance of cultivating creativity and acknowledging multiple types of intelligence. He argues that education curricula focussed on set testing and exam results educate people out of their creativity and turn them only into good workers – not creative thinkers.

Wells Cathedral School agrees whole-heartedly. In our ever-changing world we are preparing children for jobs which do not yet exist; we must teach them skills which will help them be successful. They need to be creative thinkers.

Wells has an advantage when it comes to creativity. We are known for our specialist music faculty and we have a great number of musically-gifted children whose burning wish is to follow a career in music. 

For them creativity happens every time they play. Their schedules are complicated and filled with practice sessions, rehearsals and performances. Our teachers understand that and thus are more flexible in their teaching approach and subject structure. 

Our students who have chosen Wells for reasons other than specialist music – who make up 70% of our school – say they benefit from that creative approach. Teachers apply this creativity across the curriculum. We understand that there are multiple types of intelligence and multiple ways of learning.

Wells is renowned for its specialist maths programme where creativity drives the learning. We do not believe that fast-tracking a gifted student through maths exams is the best way to develop talent. All it does is simply get the exams out of the way. But what good is that grade if the student does not have the appropriate level of emotional intelligence?

Instead we have the flexibility – and the willingness – to broaden the curriculum for that student, to deepen their learning and expand their knowledge.

How do we apply that creative approach in maths? When a student asks ‘but what would happen if?’ or ‘why is it that?’ or ‘what went wrong, why is my answer wrong?’ instead of giving the answer we allow the student to explore and find out.

A teacher needs to be brave enough to let the students explore, not necessarily knowing where they will end up, nor directing their exploration. There must be a resolution at some point and professional, confident teachers will know when and whether to move the class on, or let the students think about something for a few days, or bring together the discussion to give a resolution. Such a creative approach builds confidence amongst the students, so that they feel free to embark on future explorations.

Of course the creative arts also thrive at Wells. Research has proven what we have always believed – that music is vital in the education of every child, regardless of whether she or he becomes a professional cellist or a biologist.

Research shows that learning music is good for you. Singing improves memory, behaviour and creates happiness. Playing an instrument makes the brain light up in ways and places which are affected by nothing else in the same way. Not only is that proven through analytical research but people feel it instinctively.

There’s a Zimbabwean proverb: “if you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk you can sing”. Music brings joy to our lives. It’s there at our darkest hours and at our most joyous moments. Creativity and laughter set humans apart from other species which inhabit the Earth.

The school motto at Wells is ‘Esto Quod Es’ – be what you are. Young people need a safe environment to explore their inner selves and their talents. They need the opportunity to test their ideas and skills, to build their confidence. 

Through a creative learning approach, whether it is in maths or music, French or physics, students have the opportunity to flex their creative learning muscles, to grow in confidence, to develop, to make mistakes and learn from them.

At Wells we encourage young people not only to communicate with each other but to also reflect and to learn from experience. That personal reflection is the very bedrock from which young people can come to know themselves and to grow into strong minded, confident adults.

No one will try to put you into a pigeon hole. You will be accepted for who are but we will want you to learn how to contribute to the good of the school community and to the world.

Music perfectly illustrates how, if you work hard on your own talents, you can contribute something to a larger community. After all, music is a team sport. It is about a group of people creating something together that is lovelier than anything they could create individually.

But before you can make that contribution you need to work hard on your own skills. There is no short cut to practice and hard work, whether it is in music or maths.

The careers and lives of our students, after they leave Wells, are as diverse and unique as the individuals. Just look at some of our Wells Cathedral School Foundation Fellows. They include entrepreneurs, a prize-winning cheese maker, a Grammy-winning sound engineer, an opera singer, artist, actors, a composer of music for video games, to name but a few - as well as doctors, lawyers, chemists, teachers and engineers.

All of them share one core characteristic. They are poets in their professions. They have made something, be it music or cheese or a thriving business, from nothing. They are all creative thinkers.

For more information about Wells Cathedral School, click here.