Volume:1, Issue: 3

Dec. 15, 2009

An Open House for Creativity
Shipovskaya, Tamara N. [about]

DESCRIPTORS: a school holistic system; a culture of life self-determination; personality and character formation; school traditions; a creative literature program; a school theatre.

SYNOPSIS: The author is a school principal of a large public secondary school in Tula region, Russia. The article gives an overview of a school holistic system, describing its objectives, primary activities and most interesting methods and strategies. One of the highlights of the school extracurricular activities is their school theatre that unites both children and adults, and helps to develop their creativity level.

An Open House for Creativity
An abridged version

In January 2004, Secondary School No. 112 in the city of Alexin, Tula region, celebrated its sixty-fifth birthday. Regardless of its age, the school is still young, contemporary, and beautiful. We have always thought about our school’s inner culture and spirit. We have never tried to decorate the school with any external attractive posters though we managed to create a unique interior environment, and an atmosphere of sincerity and openness for both adults and children. “An ecology of the soul” –– this is the most precise characteristic of our staff pedagogical activities. Ecos, when translated from Greek, means “a house.” Our school is a large house where the efforts of everyone are directed towards developing students’ culture and creating a positive emotional climate that allows every child to make his or her choices. In our school it has become a primary systems-forming idea that helped us with selecting proper activities and communication types between adults and students and also with constructing the following model of our “school holistic system.”

The primary idea: a culture of life self-determination for students.

The primary goal of personality and character formation: a child’s utmost personal development allows his or her self-realization, based on such value orientations as motherland, culture, health, and family.

Objectives of personality and character formation:

  • Developing civic and moral-aesthetic personal traits, tracking and developing creativity potential, and forming a communication culture.
  • Strengthening of a cultural orientation of teaching and education, creating all the necessary conditions for character and personality formation at school.
  • Preserving and strengthening children’s health.
  • Developing children’s capacity for self-evaluation and behavior self-regulation, for independent activities and responsibilities.
  • Arranging for school and family connections and family education.
  • Coordinating the environment’s educational influence on children.
  • Forms and types of realization:

  • After school classes in different school subjects
  • Creative programs in Literature and Fine Arts
  • School theaters: “In the World of Fairy-tales,” Adults-Children’s Theatre, and School Variety Theatre
  • Meetings in the Literature-Music salon, readers’ conferences, concerts
  • Creative school clubs (music, arts, dancing)
  • School traditions: fall exhibitions, Mother’s Day, New Year’s Day, SCOMY Birthday, Humor Festival.
  • School traditions are the most fundamental “building blocks” out of which the whole “building” of the humanistic “school holistic system” was constructed. Maybe this is the reason that over 600 children consider their first day at school to be the most memorable day in their whole lives. After stepping inside, our students never forget our school’s unique attitudes, standards, values, and norms, which are carefully preserved and passed from one generation to another.
    The most memorable among such traditions are the following: the ceremony of first-graders’ dedication to young sailors, an incredibly funny April feast of children’s and teachers’ humor, a very touching graduates’ ritual of saying good-bye to the school banner where hardly anyone can constrain their tears. All these wonderful traditions are popular, because they are always filled and refilled with a new content. This content helps us in different ways – together with the expected result, it also helps to create a very special school climate and a warm atmosphere. In our school every student and every teacher brings along a tiny but extremely important prefix “co-”; meaning coexistence, co-creativity, co-authorization, cooperation, co-participation of children and adults. Whenever students are watching performances of our school theatre group “Phoenix,” there is always a loud applause and exclamations, “good job, guys!” This is one of the activities where teachers are singing, dancing, and performing on the stage together with the students.

    Let us ask ourselves what feelings any student has when entering a school building. I very much doubt whether everyone feels at home in his or her school. “At home” means being comfortable, cozy, protected, and safe. Children do need to have a certain minimal amount of comfort; they don’t look for any ridiculous luxury. This minimum means that a teacher does not only teach a class, but also remains an educator who is capable of creating a specific optimistic environment, which helps to develop every child in every possible way.

    One of our fundamental ideas is making the personality and character-formation part of the teaching process more pronounced and strong. To help it happen, our teachers are constantly renewing and refreshing the curriculum and teaching programs, using new strategies and technologies:

  • Methods of teaching which allow multilevel differentiated teaching
  • Producing and implementing nontraditional class formats (role playing and discussions for history classes; serious and humorous contests, story-telling and auctions for Russian classes; performances for literature)
  • Block- and module-type of studying some topics
  • Integrated classes
  • Using elements of “museum pedagogy” while teaching arts
  • Project methods while studying English
  • Problem-solving, dialogue- and creativity-oriented elementary school classes.
  • These types of classes allow us to inspire children’s collectives3 with a common desire to widen and deepen their knowledge, to develop independence, responsibility, and individuality.

    In a way, every student constitutes a whole sense of a teacher’s life. A student influences his or her teacher’s position and creativity principles; a student also inspires teachers to seek new approaches in every school activity. These new approaches are necessary to promote children’s academic and moral growth.

    Another important school tool is a creative literature program, which treats different books in a block sequence from the point of view of aesthetic categories: beautiful and ugly, ennobled and trashy, comic and tragic, on the one hand, and issues of virtue and vice, truth and lies, love and hatred, on the other. Classes are conducted in the form of concerts, plot-based performances, and meetings in the so-called literature-music salons. Serious students’ involvement in art through verbal arts, music and fine arts allows them to accept everything seriously, to put a lot of energy into the preparation process, and to receive the best possible grades. As a result, there are only excellent and good grades in these school subjects. It is clear that true art does not bear any mediocrity.

    Our school spirit is brought to life in the creative “labs” of our teachers. Those labs are small and modest – just desks, lamps, and books. But at the same time their archives are full of notes, creative programs, and presentations at teachers’ council’s meetings on a number of interesting topics such as “Capacities of a School’s Research,” “Study of Different Forms of Integrated Classes,” “Psychological and Pedagogical Students’ Support in their Teaching-Learning Process,” “Development of the Creativity of Teachers, Students, and Parents as an Indicator of their Personal Growth,” etc.

    Active forms of conducting teachers’ councils and creative groups of classroom teachers’ meetings – role-playing, seminars, and “creative fields” – have radically changed methods of discussions. We have realized that only a free discussion among colleagues may bring truth. Each person’s advice may help define goals for all as well as for a particular group.

    As an example of co-creative activities of children, teachers, and parents we should mention our school theatres which are collaborative in nature, since they comprise drama, fine arts, and elements of architecture, music, dancing, literature, and history. Together they produce a serious effect on children’s personal and character development. Our theatres are valuable not only for children, who in this way get connected with the genuine art, but also for their parents, who become involved in activities helping their children to create dresses for performances, hair > Current social life is quite complicated in a number of ways, which has radically changed the life orientations of many families who turn their attention primarily towards materialistic values. Still, our school considers cooperation with parents one of its top priorities. We try to involve families into many meaningful activities and provide them with interesting school meetings covering such topics, as “Our Nation’s Health is the Problem for the 21st Century” and “School and Families Are Just One Family.” We have also started a series of lectures on psychology and education for the parents of our students from middle grades; we have arranged a family club meeting for our school’s “Thanksgiving Day.” All forms of involving the students’ parents into school activities definitely strengthen our cooperation with families.

    Every year we try to add new traditions to the school life, for example: school parades, planting new trees and flowers in the school neighborhood, and Mother’s Day celebration. For every school event we send out invitations not only to our students’ parents but also to anyone who needs warmth and emotional comfort. Girls – members of one the school workshops – prepare souvenirs that we present to our guests, and this also adds a nice touch to every school activity.

    Fifteen years ago we arranged a School Creative Organization for Multi-Age Youth (SCOMY) that has filled the vacuum left after Pioneer and Komsomol organizations were dismissed. SCOMY has its own charter, a program of activities, and a self-governing body, which brings together the most responsible and active students who become role models for others in their day-to-day school life.

    We have special self-governing bodies, responsible for learning, cleaning, discipline, and order that coordinate activities within certain thematic periods. For example, during one school year we arranged activities along the following lines:

  • First quarter –“Everyone should work” (Celebration of the First Bell, Labor Day, Exhibition of the Fall creations).
  • Second quarter School and Family Are just One Family” (A Day for Seniors, Mother’s Day, SCOMY Birthday Party, New Year’s carnivals, “Dear City of Alexin...”).
  • Third quarter –“You Are in This World” (school parades, Courage Classes, meetings in the “literature and music” salon).
  • Fourth quarter –“Life is Given to Create the Good” (Humor Day, Memory Watch, The Student of the Year School Ceremony, and Last Bell Holiday).
  • Every schoolteacher is trying to have an impact on his or her students with the school subject and with his or her own personality. Teachers are doing everything possible to develop the creative abilities of their students, to allow their self-determination and grounding their activities in basic moral values. We can report that this type of cooperation has been quite successful. Judging by the methods suggested in the book Diagnostics and Monitoring the Process of Character Formation in Schools,4 over 50% of our tenth-graders have already fully defined their attitude to the world, to other people, and to themselves as positively stable.

    It is clear that the achievements and creations of our students do not come by themselves; they are a result of serious efforts, labor and commitment of many adults – the school principal, teachers, parents, and coaches. Each of them is probably a dreamer who believes in the ancient saying, “A student is not a vessel which we need to fill in; on the contrary, she or he is a torch to be set on fire.” But let us add too that the ability to catch fire happens only when adults are full of internal fire themselves and when they live in the atmosphere of creative freedom and thoughtfulness, perspective sharing, and building relationships with students on the basis of humanistic principles.

    1 Shipovskaya, Tamara N. [in Russian: Шиповская Тамара Николаевна], Principal, School #11, Alexin, Tula Region.

    2 In Russia, secondary schools are most common, they give education to children, ages 6-7 to 17, and they combine all 11 grades together.

    3 A collective is a group of entities that share or are motivated by at least one common issue or interest, or work together on a specific project(s) to achieve a common objective ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective).

    4 See: Stepanov, P., Grigoriev, D., and Kuleshova, I. (2003) Diagnostika i Monitoring Protsessa Vospitaniya v Shkole (Diagnostics and Monitoring the Process of Character Formation in Schools). – Moscow: Academia, 82 pages.

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