Creativity and Adventure at Open Minds
Why is Creativity Important?
Creativity plays a central role in all aspects of Open Minds. The lessons that students receive and the activities they take part in have all been designed with the aim of maximising opportunities for students to explore their own creativity and empower them to find their unique voice.
We live in a world with a rapidly changing political, social and environmental landscape. An ability to understand and respond to such changes is a vital skill for the younger generation. Despite this, young people are often offered strict structures within which they are expected to make sense of the nuances and contradictions of the world around us. We hope to remove this rigid approach to education- and to life- and allow our students to take a more creative approach. This provides students with the tools necessary to engage with and take ownership of their learning.
Creativity demands collaboration and through collaboration we learn to respect, tolerate and ultimately work with others more productively. We aim to remove the regurgitation of information and encourage an atmosphere in which there is a clear understanding that we all have something to offer and we all have something to learn. These creative practices recognise that we are all unique and gives rise to the possibility of understanding the world by allowing the uniqueness of the people within it to flourish.
This naturally requires our students to take risks, be that through performing, challenging themselves to try something new or simply defending their own views. Sharing something that is entirely our own is a scary experience for many and, while we may be confident supporting the views and voices of others, it is often when tasked with supporting ourselves that we fall silent. At Marlborough College Open Minds we help our students find the confidence to do this by creating a safe space within which they can explore the value of creative risk-taking; something which we believe helps them to grow as individuals and provides them with invaluable life skills for the future.
We are not alone in this view; a recent global IBM study of over 1,500 CEOs identified “creativity as the number one leadership competency of the successful enterprise of the future” (source: https://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/31670.wss). The success of these creative leaders is attributed to their welcoming of disruptive innovation, the altering of the status quo and their comfort when faced with ambiguity; an extremely prevalent feature of the Business world today. A creative education is often misunderstood as being a purely artistic endeavour, suitable for dancers, actors or musicians. As this study demonstrates, creativity has a value far beyond the creation of art. It is fundamental to our ability to break out from conventional thinking in order to problem-solve, generate ideas and adapt to an increasingly volatile and complex world.
Creativity does not only have positive applications in the Business world. We have found that the openness, tolerance and courage required to think and learn creatively see an enormous improvement in our students’ confidence in themselves and in their abilities. Though creativity can be difficult to quantify, the friendships forged through collaboration and the individual pride at having accomplished something that required immense bravery are some of the visible effects.
Pastoral Care at Open Minds
Many Open Minds students are seasoned travellers and are well-accustomed to heading away from home for a few weeks each summer. For others, Open Minds might mark their first time in a foreign country or away from their family. Regardless of their previous experience, it is only natural for young people to feel some nervousness at the start of the course as they settle in and make new friends.
There are number of things that we do to try and make this process as comfortable as possible for all our students. Firstly, all our students are interviewed by a member of staff before the course. This gives students an opportunity to ask any questions they might have and also to make sure that there is someone that they know and recognize when they arrive at the start of the course, as well as having someone to contact in the run up to the course if they think of any other questions.
For those students who return to Open Minds each year, there is no shortage of friendly faces, as the majority of our staff have been part of the team since year one. All our teachers live on campus during the summer course and participate in all the evening and weekend activities, something which we think is fundamental to maintaining the approachable and familial atmosphere of our courses. Creating a strong sense of community among students and teachers also means that our staff are quickly able to spot any issues such as homesickness and offer the support needed.
Open Minds: What Our Students Say
In describing what Open Minds has to offer, it is often too easy to focus on specifics: when is the course? What activities are available? How many hours of teaching does it involve? These questions are, of course, essential to anyone considering attending a summer course but they tend to overlook what is, for us, the most important question:
What do our students gain from their experience?
Every element of the course - from the syllabus and extra-curricular programme, right down to the room allocation and the daily schedule – is selected by the Open Minds team to ensure that our students have the most positive experience possible while they are staying with us.
Creating the kind of positive experiences that inspire us as educators is a delicate balancing act. We strive to make sure students are nurtured and supported while also given space to develop their independence; to ensure that they are challenged intellectually and encouraged to express their opinions without forgetting to listen to and engage with others.
This requires flexibility and sensitivity as we respond to students’ changing needs and energy levels throughout the course. This may mean changing the focus of a class based on students’ interests or making time for a quiet chat with someone who is struggling with homesickness.
The incredible growth we see the confidence of our students throughout their time at Open Minds, though inspiring, can be difficult to quantify. For that reason, we thought it best to let some of our incredible former students describe the experience for themselves.
Why Summer Camps are The Perfect Time to Take Risks
If you are lucky enough to have childhood memories of taking part in outdoor adventures, it is very likely that you have experienced the rush that comes with taking a risk, pushing yourself and finding out what you are capable of. There is a transformational thrill that lies at the heart of every great adventure; one that comes from the growth in confidence and the deepening of self-knowledge that accompany the psychological and physical challenges posed by outdoor pursuits.
Outdoor adventures have long been linked to improvements in self-esteem, problem-solving and conflict resolution skills, and increased group bonding. From this list of benefits it becomes clear why participating in outdoor adventures is so vitally important for young people. However, it is not only through scaling mountains or taking to the seas that these positive outcomes can be incorporated into a curriculum.
The Link between Creativity and Adventure
Adventurous activities require us to quickly evaluate, and respond to, our surroundings and the potential risks they pose. Creativity, while often mistakenly attributed solely to artistic endeavours, is the ability to find “a novel yet appropriate solution to a problem or response to a situation”, a definition which highlights the connection between creativity and adventure and the transformative possibilities that they both contain.
Creative and adventurous pursuits both require risk-evaluation, innovation, perseverance, and originality and both give rise to the sense of euphoria that follows the successful completion of a challenging task that takes us out of our comfort zone. Like outdoor adventures, creativity also has numerous well-documented benefits; helping to mitigate mental health problems, overcome trauma, improve our sense of self-worth, and even boost our immune system.
Given the list of benefits and its applications to the world of work, it is no surprise that an ability to think creatively is championed as one of the most important skills for young people to learn by organisations such as UNESCO and the World Economic Forum.
Creativity and Adventure in Education
Participation in a summer programme provides a perfect opportunity for students to step out of their comfort zone and take some creative and adventurous risks. The unfamiliar setting, the potential language barrier, the range of new activities on offer and the opportunity to collaborate with classmates combine to create an ideal environment to reap the rewards of an education that incorporates creativity and adventure into daily life at the camp. The possibilities of this style of teaching can be found at Open Minds, with our residential summer courses for teenagers that provide an example of the lasting beneficial effects of a creative and adventurous education in action.
The student-centred courses of morning tuition is built around the study of weekly modules, leading into a collaborative class project that provides students with opportunities to debate, develop their critical-thinking skills, take part in performances, and explore a wide range of topics from fresh perspectives.
The morning classes are complemented by an activity programme which finds opportunities for creativity and adventure in the everyday. For example, the nearby rivers do not just provide a beautiful setting for an early evening walk but instead offer a chance to practice ‘riverwalking’, an activity where students help each other as they scramble, climb and swim their way down the river.
The Importance of Environment
Though there are numerous potential benefits to be gained from successfully completing a creative or adventurous challenge, it is not as simple as pulling on a harness or stepping onto a stage; studies have shown that improvements to confidence and self-esteem are only possible when challenges are undertaken within the context of a supportive and nurturing environment.
The need for risk-taking behaviour to be completed in a supportive environment is another reason why summer camps are the ideal time for young people to engage in this type of personal challenge: the self-contained environment and time spent with staff mean that experienced teachers can help students identify their limits and provide a safe setting within which teenagers can gradually set themselves greater challenges, academic or otherwise.
Open Minds consciously fosters an environment conducive to personal challenge and growth by focusing on two areas of great importance: timing and staffing.
Both the academic and activity programme are carefully designed to ensure that the students are able to grow in confidence, gradually overcoming small challenges and gaining independence while simultaneously extending the limits of their comfort zone. This can be seen in the progression of activities from a gentle Riverwalk, to a midweek trip to the climbing wall, building up to a weekend trip of high-adrenaline activities such as sea kayaking, surfing and coasteering.
Building trust is fundamental between staff and students is fundamental and at Open Minds this is achieved by implementing a team of staff who lead or participate in all the activities, as well performing residential roles in the boarding houses, and teaching morning classes. This means that staff get to know all the students quickly, allowing them to provide excellent levels of pastoral care, and creates an egalitarian relationship built on trust.