Being a virtual fly on the wall.
Josephine Moate ReCreaDe blog based on the September 2021 final events of ReCreaDe.
I entered the Zoom room to hear the warm sounds of chatting voices, the cadence of happiness, pleased to meet one another. I’d arranged for three students to travel over from the University of Jyväskylä, although I wasn’t able to travel. It was so good to see faces visible to hear the familiar sounds of a classroom. Gradually the freeform chat turned to guided familiarisation.
The student participants were invited to form two circles, with the inner circle facing outwards and the outer circle facing in. The participants were asked to say hello to their partners. The inner circle was instructed that it would always move one step to the right after having had a minute to chat together – to chat about their home towns or home university, then clap and move on. Talking with hands first and then voices. Carmen capturing moments on film. Happy chat. Clap clap clap. Ok, a new topic, something you remember from the online course – whatever that is… gestures and animation. Hot drinks or cold drinks. A moment of thought, gesturing again, reaching towards others, checking one’s face, hands on hips, holding hands. As a virtual fly on the wall I can see so much physical contact in this non-virtual space! The flow of chatter is punctuated with directed moments to focus the talk although it is a challenge to get the participants attention when conversations ongoing. They seem delighted to have this moment of genuine encounter with the physical others.
The second activity – gossip. There is a rumour that there is a problem with the university here. Maybe we cannot be in this build tomorrow – why? Each person will get one idea, then you talk to someone else, what is the gossip? What is the reason? If what the other person says is more convincing than your idea, you can continue with their idea. Watching the students they take on different kinds of poses as they think aloud, hands on hips, lips, across chests. There’s whispering, it looks like conspiring!
And now a third activity - Partner A gets one card with questions, two questions are asked but the first question is answered, question three is asked, question two is answered… One has to start with asking questions. Now the participants are spread around the room – maybe thoughts are also spread around! At least now there is a concentrated air and bodies remain very still momentarily as they listen and work out how to respond to the previous question. It is so absorbing to sit and watch the students interacting, engaging with one another – can this really be the first time they have met in person? Even when my new students arrive from Jyväskylä after the night ferry and morning train, they are swept up into the flow of talk and community.
I find this fascinating, the sense of community and established relationships after the online IP. I confess, the online IP was far more engaging than I had anticipated it would be, far more absorbing than the many Zoom classes, Teams meeting and online discussions I had participated in over the previous year and a half. The online IP must have gone some way then in creating fertile ground for this fledgling community, but the look of joy on their faces and the welcome, the outstretched hand, the smiles suggest this is something that they have been waiting for.
The multiplier event continues with an invited session on Perspectives on Sweden’s system of education by assoc. prof. David Ludvigsson, an introduction to Professional learning communities in teaching practice and the potential of virtual teaching practice. Day 2 will continue with a hybrid version of the Blue Balloon Pretext and the Democratic classroom reformed for this event. Again, I am astonished by the intensity of the interaction and the invitation to participate from afar. As I have thought before, engaging in the task of Reimagining Creative Democracy with educators seeking change is a powerful experience, on and offline.
Chatting with Allan – disembodied voices in a space in Sweden, shared from Finland and England. People moving tables around, getting ready for the day’s action. Apparently faces not on screen, but can hear as well as see. Strangely voyeuristic. Allan anticipating the Blue Balloon should work well as a hybrid drama with Per and Katrin on the ground.
Intro from the Dean – excited after months of not meeting people in person, now meeting those across Europe. Also not so comfortable talking at, rather than talking with. Also somewhat uncomfortable with boastful slides put together by the Information Department – but still nicely presented. A reasonably large university (32,000 students) but considered smallish in Sweden.
The Blue Balloon
Per first encountered the short story a number of years ago, which led to the writing of his dissertation. About being a human, about education, about adult and children. From story into drama. How? draw on notion of play and movement. If we can start by agreeing, because we are moving together, some might not want to touch each other, that’s fine, so don’t. But there is also the possibility to touch, that’s fine. Decide what you want to do. Be careful as well that you don’t bump into furniture. We’re only going to take 45 minutes, something about a way of understanding that’s not just cognitive but also embodied.
Can I begin by inviting you to stand together in the space. Katrin takes over. We’ve going to take over the whole space here. If there is need for attention, then I’ll ring the bell. Allan is the story teller. Per has a role as well. And we’ll use our imagination and body to express ourselves. Allan – why are we doing this? We’re going to be reflecting on this today, not just to act it out but to investigate what is going on in this interaction. It’s intended to support interaction and reflection – what is happening here, why?
We’ll begin by doing something synchronised – when bodies move together in drama. Different from everyday movement. We’re using it to explore in a different way. Can I ask you first of all to get into small groups, maybe of about 5-6. In the group you have a very simple task. This pretext is called the blue balloon. How do you create a blue balloon in which you are all together, moving together very gently. Using your imagination how do you make that balloon. Four minutes. Go! Per and Carmen taking photographs. Students practising in groups, different forms of balloon taking shape. Trying out different ideas. Time’s up! Can we just see all the balloons moving, one group after the other. When I start the music, the group on the left start first. Just before you start, imagine again we’re going back to 1900. It takes place in amusement park, so I’m going to put on some Tivoli music. Interesting to see how music gives a rhythm to fall into time with.
Lovely! The story is about a young girl. Can someone suggest a name? … Emily is the girl at the centre of our story. Emily is very excited at the start of the story. She’s somewhere between the age of 7 and 9, how old should we make her? 8! She’s 8 years old, she’s so delighted, so excited, because tomorrow she’s going to go to the amusement park with her Uncle. He’s a bit strict, a bit like one of her teachers, but she’s so excited to be going to the amusement part.
Now if we just stop there a moment, can you find a partner and move into a space. One of you is Emily, and one of you is the Uncle. You need to decide who is who. Everyone who is Emily put your hands up. Just for a minute listen to the story again. I’m going to start it from the beginning. Music playing. Emily, aged 8, was so excited she couldn’t go to sleep because in the morning she would be going to the amusement park with her uncle. When she fell into a deep sleep, she started to dream of a blue balloon. She was so excited when she woke in the morning. She headed off with her Uncle to the grand park in Vienna, through the iron gates. Walking on, Emily couldn’t believe her eyes. Not just one, but many blue balloons on strings. Emily knew she had to have one, but her Uncle just seemed interested in walking in the park, greeting his well-to-do- friends. How could she persuade her Uncle to buy one for her?
In those days this was a huge sum of money – helium had only just been discovered by a Swede in America. So the balloons weren’t only amazing, that they were floating was also amazing. It’s your decision whether you buy it or not. Per is selling the balloons, so if Emily persuades you, go over and buy the balloon from Per. From my readings, children in the early 1900s were as cheeky and as mischievous as children today.
Did anyone manage to persuade their uncle to buy the balloon? Ok next one, can we now reverse the roles. Same scene, go.
If we think about this now, and I’m not going to give an answer to it, but in the arts we work through symbol and metaphor. I wonder what the blue balloon is a symbol of and what it is a metaphor of. I wonder what is going on here? For this one you’ll need a new partner. This time again could you decide where is the uncle and who is Emily. Ok, everyone who is Emily put your hand up. The story continues, and again, the reason we’re doing this is to begin a collective reflection about what is going on here. I use this and say this when I’m working with people of all ages – invite people into the metaphorical and symbolic in relation to the given phenomenon – the educational encounter. Listen for a while before stepping into again.
Emily eventually managed to convince her Uncle to buy a blue balloon. She couldn’t contain herself. It was marvellous, the most wonderful thing, she took off and ran around the park. It was the most thrilling thing. Her uncle was not so impressed. If she was going to have this balloon, he resolved to teach her about helium – that it was lighter than air and that large reserves had been found in America in 1895 by two Swedish chemists. Uncle, you have to get Emily to understand these facts and then perhaps the morning has been worthwhile. Emily your job is just as it says, go wild with the balloon… Thank you! Can we reverse the roles now? So same exercise, but if you were Emily now you’re the Uncle. Ok! …Thank you!
Can you all sit on the floor for a minute, if we just pause for a minute there, could I invite you with the person you’re sat next to, what is symbolically and metaphorically going on here in this drama? No right or wrong answers, but talk together. Ok, let’s hold it there. I wondered, could we just hear a few things that you were thinking? … If we can hear a few … sorry we can’t hear them all. I wonder sometimes whether education is connected with desire, how does that feature with how we work in our classroom, and what about the link with democracy, what do we desire, what are we working towards. I was reading about helium in preparation, it can’t be kept in our atmosphere by gravity, when it’s released, it’s lost to space. The aim here isn’t to teach, but to provide a space to reflect through interaction. You can read the rest of the story, Per has a copy, it’s only one page, but there’s an interesting twist.
The Uncle was exhausted chasing after Emily, eventually they both tired. And the Uncle said to Emily, would you like to give the balloon to the poor girl by the gate. Emily looked across at the poor girl and said, ‘no, I want to let it go and to disappear into the blue sky above’. The Uncle asked her again, Emily looked at the Uncle, the balloon, the sky and she let it go and watched it disappear into the sky. Can you imagine the look on the Uncle’s face?!
So the story continues, but we’ll stop there in the last minute and I hope that you enjoy reading the story. I hope that this feeds into the rest of the day and what we’re talking about when consider reimagining creative democracy in our classrooms.
Also curious looking into different time zones – an hour behind in Sweden, two hours behind in the UK… or then looking into the future from the UK and Sweden!! What a bizarre thought – but also shows the constructedness of time…
The Democratic Classroom
basic idea remains the same. What I want you to do first – continue the coffee break, take a look at the programme from the spring, actually look into your creative sketchbooks and try to remember your ideas, thoughts, during the IP.
Surprised by –
- one day in April before the June meeting
- is school tyrannical?!
Let’s re-arrange the room with tables of 4-5 students together. In this second phase – try to share ideas and to bring ideas together. This will be until lunch. Really try to share your ideas of how democracy can be developed in the classroom. More cognitive now, after lunch more creative. The idea is to draw on ideas that you’ve taken from the programme, then make a selection of the five most important points you’ve agreed on together. Use the paper and pens.
Creative second task – design a democratic classroom (?) and then evaluate the process – were you democratic during this? did you meet your own criteria for democratic engagement in education? Group and then shared reflections…
This democratic process worked because we are all open-minded and quite a homogeneous group.
This process was not democratic at the beginning because I just contributed my idea to the blank page and sat back satisfied, but someone else listened to all of our contributions and then responded to those.
Some aspects are easier than others to address, e.g. the emotional dimension. Recognising the cycles of discussion or dialogue – initial brainstorm, seeking understanding of task, sharing ideas, analysing suggestions, illustrating and reflecting on ideas…
Creation – discussion, reflecting, arguing even, requires time to address on all points and gaps between different positions are important for exploring ideas further.
Summary – importance of who goes first, recognising that this is part of the process.
Paint democratic classroom in groups with democratic music playing. How nice to see how music brings a different kind of interaction into the classroom environment with some students momentarily dancing together, walking to the beat.
Without talk, students can be encouraged to pay more attention to what others are doing – maybe it should be said that this should be a shared product? – watch what others are doing, be sensitive to how they respond to your contributions… work with contributions of others, how to make suggestions to others and to encourage them to act. It’s interesting to see how tactile some of the students are. HOW did the process go this time? Who started? 10 minute discussion.
As a hybrid fly I can only listen in on the closest to the mic, unlike the classroom.
egg – symbol beginning
butterfly – flexibility, free thinking and self-reflection
involvement and dialogue, e.g. feedback an important part of a democratic classroom, and democratic decisions
should you create classroom rules for the class or with the class? More interesting and more personal when students take part in creating rules
respect and being heard, feeling that you have a voice and can voice your opinion and that it will be taken into consideration within reason
emotion is important for a teacher to be read signs in the classroom and to be flexible. We have to be wise enough to notice them as signs of something we have to do or has to be done. Also it’s a possibility to deal with diversity in the classroom. As a factor, it always starts with good relations, so pupils must be happy during the process of learning, so it is an emotional experience
Safe space – we were also talking about the importance of an ideal environment, a safe space that is open to each other, an atmosphere where failure is accepted, building trust
Rocket painting – so hard to do the painting without talking. Rocket represents goals of success for students in the classroom, graduation cap on the side, we can hit it directly although there are challenges on the way. We began with a heart, because democracy comes from the heart and we need good dwellings to enjoy the essence of democracy in a good society and we need to share happiness with our fellows.
Our group decided to focus on authority, space, community, engagement and taking the time needed. As we have 4 minutes, we’ll just give some hints. We’ll not focus on the more cognitive, but rather on the abstract painting. In relation I would like to say it was really nice even though we had to be silent, it was good to see how we tried and managed together. During the silence, there were misunderstandings, like an arrow down to the kings. The heart represents the direction, but the blue is also needed between the teacher’s directions to increase collaboration. Talked a lot about authority.
Some of the ideas that were written on the poster are symbolised on the poster, e.g. the melting clock but we also have this universe like creation which is symbolising potential and the infinite. We also have the blue part with chaos which is contained within the class. The plant was absolutely a group work. When I heard this task, I thought this is really impossible, but then we started to work together, someone started with the plant and I began to add. We began to communicate without words and create some kind of harmony and were able to work together.
When we started our process at first identifying key concepts, the written part, we had very traditional roles in the group – leader and some people who weren’t as heard so much, compromise happened. When we started to paint some of our roles were reversed. The four corners are where we began as individuals but then we merged together in the centre symbolising democracy. This relates to one of the key questions – responsibility and authority – and whether there can be compromise between them which is very important in a democracy. We think there is the possibility, in the end we managed to work together in a peaceful and harmonious way – represented by all of our faces in the top corner, which symbolises how we were at peace with our painting. We used a lot of symbols and it can be interpreted in many ways, e.g. diversity, peace, rainbow colours, love how deep and symbolic our painting is. The cage is empty – the bird has flown.