Welcome to the website of Susan M. Coles, Artist & Arts, Creativity & Educational Consultant.

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Let me try to explain The Sketchbook Circle. There are 25 of us signed up, and most of that number are participants on the TEA CPD programme. Previous blog on TEA

Picture a circle, all our names are at the edges like numbers on a clock. You buy or make a book. Any type of book. One rule: it has to fit through a letterbox. You use it as a sketchbook, scrapbook, notebook, journal. You can do whatever you want. At the end of a month you post it to the person to the left of you on the circle. You receive, in the post, the book from the person on the right. You then respond to whatever they have done, you might develop their drawings/designs or add new ones. (It’s what we call in art, “organic”). Someone else in this circle is doing the same thing with your book. Then, at an agreed point- book returns to original owner (but, let’s face it, nobody owns the book any more) and you then respond to the other persons response to your first “entries”. And so this develops, over several months, until we decide to stop. And, when this is done we are planning an exhibition of our work.

The idea is from Elinor Brass, who is one of out TEA participants. Elinor has been involved in this on a smaller scale and there are some fascinating images of that to enjoy at this link;
Elinor Brass

The project is running alongside the rest of the TEA programme and influences greatly what happens in the classroom. We have support for this through our very active Facebook groups. Here are a few comments from recent posts:
“Have been having fun with playing with paint, salt, and rust!” Karen Wicks
“Page 1 will be done today – a new year resolution that will not be broken!!!!” Jo Walton
“I took more boat pics today, and buoys & rope. It’s all about the colour…” Georgia Nash
“Finally getting round to sorting a starting point out. Looking at ‘Obsessions’. Starting by looking at my own obsessions: comics, old cartoons and toys. Might be interesting.” Jono Carney
“I’m having lots of fun & am enjoying dotting between pages – I must remember this in lessons.“Lauren Carr

If you want a look at a very small part of the collaborative mail art project that started us all off on our new art journey, then follow this link.
TEA drawing on the back of an envelope

Art, Craft and Design teachers need and want to develop their own practice- that’s why they became teachers of the subject. To make art and to teach art. They love it. The M.A. artist teacher scheme, set up by NSEAD twelve years ago, is an excellent example of this. And, despite cuts to funding, this is still going strong across the UK.
Artist Teacher Scheme

I completed my M.A. in Fine Art and Education course in 2009. It was a collaboration between the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and the University of Northumbria. I had never planned further study at a university and I was initially very apprehensive, but it was an inspiring step towards a different way of both thinking and doing. There is a feeling of flatness after such study though and I’ve found that my recent involvement in TEA has re-energised me and got me back into making work again. I’m also moving away from my preferred art form (photography) into more drawing and graphic work.

All the research reminds us that the best practitioners are the reflective ones, and the best practitioners will be those who experience high levels of professional development. They develop rather than stagnate. They seize opportunities rather than slip into complacency. Teachers are good in the classroom when they are good at their subject, not just in imparting knowledge and skills, but in living and breathing them.

Many art teachers are worn out and worn down by the constant “in school” demand for regular levels and evidence of progress. All imposed by data managers, who have absolutely no idea of what the subject is all about. Art, Craft and Design is not a subject where each separate piece of work can be awarded a level. It requires a very holistic approach and assessment should be over longer periods of time. You would never expect a trajectory of progress in an upward curve in such a multi disciplined subject. Plus, remember that the very principles if AFL are about written and verbal comments and not about whether that is a level 4b or 4c. Lets face it folks, the sub levels are all made up anyway.

I wonder how many of the smartly suited and IPad addicted data managers have even heard of (never mind read) “Inside the Black Box”. In fact, they are often the people who need CPD, not on charts and graphs and how to generate percentages, but on how children learn best and how to support teachers, rather than harangue them.
Inside the Black Box

I have this fantasy story of a school training day being on a ship that gets caught in a storm, and so the staff get washed up on an island. Now, I think that the data people would not last ten minutes if shipwrecked on a desert island. Once they realised they didn’t have a signal for their smart phone and couldn’t make a raft out of their clip board they would stand in the shadows and wait. Just watch the art teachers though, as they plan and build their shelters, make stylish all weather clothes, forage for food, create useful artefacts and even decorations…. and survive. They’ll also enjoy the sunsets, while the data managers would still be in the shadows gnawing on the tree bark. By the way, on a long dull Training Day (which occasionally happen) this fantasy is a great way to entertain yourself, imagining how the various departments would survive (or not).

The TEA programme is giving the teachers the courage to take more risks in the classroom, to put enjoyment and creativity first. Ironically, this will lead to ‘progress’, but of a different type to that which data managers understand. It will allow children to think, to use imagination, to be risk takers, to collaborate, to make choices and decisions, to ask questions, to discriminate, and to bloody well enjoy themselves.

And so they should…..



3426 days ago

Laughing myself silly at the idea of the shipwreck-Lord of the Flies amongst the teaching staff. I guess the Science dept would survive as well. MFL would talk to the monkeys. PE would keep fit. Maths and English…mind boggles.

Chloe Carr

3426 days ago

Great story about the shipwreck. I bet it wouldnt be women and children first. I like this Sketchbook idea though, sounds great.


3425 days ago

So how do we get them to see that data is not art friendly? I’m at the stage were we just make up the levels and anticipate really what is acceptable. Meaningless and a waste of my time but keeps the off our backs. We don’t have any art CPD anymore. I think this one sounds great. Are you planning more?

Jessica Austin-Burdett

3179 days ago

Love it! The desert island fantasy is so much fun and so is the sketchbook circle, something I think I will adapt for the classroom! Thanks for brightening my day!

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