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  • Natasha Ladak

A Journey of Heart and Connection: Art, Education, and the festival that Inspired Me

Picture a world where art and learning intertwine, where stories become bridges connecting hearts across cultures. That's the world I stepped into through the International Story Makers Festival and the incredible Teacher Development Fund (TDF) project. As a doctoral student whose interests lie in bridging the gap between education and mental health, these experiences have been more than academic endeavours; they've been eye-opening chapters in my journey of understanding the profound role of creativity, human connection, and wellbeing in education.

The International Story Makers Festival isn't just an event; it's a celebration of stories that know no borders. I saw a new vision for education forming. It's not just about lessons and skills; it's about the connections we build, the understanding we foster. I saw a way to merge creativity with compassion, which not only inspired students with creative tools but providing them with a space where they're heard and understood. This fusion, I believe, can create an environment where growth happens in both knowledge and heart. The festival gave me insight into how stories can aid in dismantling the power dynamic entrenched within the education system, often placing the teacher above the student as the font of all knowledge. Initiatives such as the Story Markers Project and Teacher Development Fund, encourage teachers to become facilitators in a co-constructive process that places the student and teacher side by side through the learning journey. Throughout the conference and TDF project, I observed the transformative impact of integrating art-based pedagogy into the conventional curriculum. This approach creates an environment that fosters meaningful connections and a shared language for students and teachers alike, facilitating a deeper understanding of how these lessons relate to students' real-life experiences.

The International Story Makers Festival has created a wave of transformation in the realm of education, inviting practitioners to rewild the curriculum through creative arts. As I observed the enthusiastic discussions and excitement surrounding new teaching methods and innovative approaches, I found synchronicity with my own doctoral research that places the significance of human connections at its core.

Additionally, it served as a poignant reminder that, amidst the enthusiasm of creativity, we sometimes tend to overlook the straightforward yet crucial role of human connection, prompting a need for deeper consideration. Placing the person before the pedagogy or practice unveils an essential truth that can often elude us in the realm of education and creative endeavours. As educators and practitioners, we can easily become entangled in the allure of innovative pedagogy and creative methodologies, inadvertently overshadowing the profound potency of personal connection. This understanding, akin to tending to the roots before tending to the branches, emphasised the significance of nurturing personal bonds – the connections that bridge the gap between instructor and learner, person to person. This can be a tricky balancing act and requires a deep sense of reflexivity on behalf of the practitioner. Balancing the intricate interplay between cultivating authentic relationships and facilitating a pedagogical practice that facilitates a creative approach to learning. Both separate, and yet essential to nurture people and spaces that are open, safe and inviting.

It's an intriguing paradox – the very creativity that fuels our teaching can, at times, overshadow the intimate rapport that nurtures and facilitates that creativity. Drawing from my own journey as an educator and mentor, I reflect on how we can find solace in the structure of pedagogy, using it as a protective shield against vulnerability. It offers a safe and neutral space, fostering comfort for students embarking on their learning journeys. Yet, if we yearn to guide our students through an educational journey that is nurturing, nourishing and invites them to bring their whole selves, it is paramount to kindle the human connection. Genuine, authentic, and profound, this connection calls our students to engage holistically, inviting their complete selves into the intricate tapestry of learning. As educators, it's equally vital for us to step into this space, demonstrating what it means to bring our whole selves to the process of discovery. Human connection lays the groundwork for a journey that's as enriching and multifaceted as the individuals partaking in it.

My journey through the International Story Makers Festival and the TDF project has been a profound exploration of what it means to truly connect through art and education, going beyond the pages of textbooks and the walls of classrooms. This journey has once again complimented what I have experienced as a practitioner who harnesses the power of stories to shape the emotional landscapes of my classrooms. At the same time, is has accentuated the importance of genuine human connection. A component that can easily get overlooked, particularly when creating spaces that are brave and safe. Being part of this journey has affirmed my philosophical underpinning in both practice and research which accounts for the people and the relationships that are present. Thus leveraging this connection to introduce new ways of learning and being.

This experience has provided me with a deeper sense of motivation to place the ‘relationship’ at the heart of my research and understand what this means to students and how it impacts their sense of self and wellbeing. Contributing to the revolution of rewilding where creativity, genuine connections, and holistic wellbeing are harmoniously entwined, urging students to embark not only with their head but also with their heart.

Visual graphic of Story Makers Conference event by Buttercrumble

By Natasha Ladak

Therapeutic Coach at Head2HeartConnection

Graduate Teaching Assistant at Leeds Beckett University

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