Kindergarten teacher Allan Dee wants learning to be fun and fulfilling – whichever side of the desk he’s sitting on.
Dance. Non-verbal movement. Enough paper, glue and scissors to keep your average five-year-old fully occupied for days. This busy classroom may be buzzing with activity but there is not a child in sight. Instead, with serious focus, a group of teachers are examining the impact of creativity on teaching and learning. No wonder Kindergarten teacher Allan Dee is in his element.
It’s all part of Allan’s lifelong learning journey. “That inquisitiveness is such a natural thing for humans. Right from birth, we want to understand what’s going on around us. We’re in a constant state of learning – with and through one another.
“I always need to be in the midst of my own personal project where I am learning something new, whether it be for education, relationships, fitness or cooking. If I am not engaged with some sort of new learning experience, I feel like my life has become stagnant. I’m always searching for something new to learn. It’s exciting when you are perpetually making new connections to prior knowledge and building new knowledge.”
“Lifelong learning is such a natural thing for humans. Right from the time we’re born, we want to understand what’s going on around us”
Allan says it all started with his interest in the Reggio Emilia philosophy (which puts exploration at the heart of learning). He says: “I’m passionate about creativity in early-childhood education, in following children’s interests and sparking their curiosity.” He found a presentation by educator Debi Keyte-Hartland about the importance of play particularly inspiring – and when he found out that she taught at Birmingham City University in the UK, he decided to enrol in a Master’s in Education Arts and Creativity in the Early Years.
That was two years ago. Today, as Allan completes the third (and final) year of his degree, he is more convinced than ever that creativity is essential for early years students – and that teaching creativity is grounded in effective classroom practice. “Often, we, as teachers, set things up within a very tight structure and then overload them with materials. But I’m more interested in the true sense of play, where we perhaps give them just one thing to explore, then follow the children’s interests to create opportunities where it’s very open-ended and about sparking their curiosity.
“If we’re providing children with these opportunities to be creative on their own, that’s when they’re learning how to take control over their own learning.” And that matters, he says, because “for this new generation, creativity is going to be the number one life skill”.
Balancing part-time study and a full-time job has been hard work, and some aspects, such as reading huge amounts of theory, have been tough. “I haven’t read academic papers since I graduated from McGill 20 years ago! Now I’m doing it in the evenings or at weekends and feeling that anxiety again.” He often finds comfort in his cohort, swapping concerns in the classroom and via a regularly updated WhatsApp group. “People have been through some tough times and we keep in touch, we’re there for each other.”
Following stints at international schools in Tokyo, Beijing, Istanbul and Jakarta, Allan settled in Zurich five years ago. He loves the lifestyle and the scenery, but still has a touch of wanderlust, spending school holidays anywhere from Argentina to India to the Arctic Circle – as well as commuting to Birmingham five times a year for the course. He’s not sure whether he’ll continue his formal education beyond a Master’s, but one thing’s for sure: he’ll keep following his curiosity.
Words Diane Shipley, Photography Oliver Oettli