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Blog post Part of series: BERA Conference 2023

Boundary crossings with artists, teachers and children: Integrating creative pedagogies for young people’s wellbeing

Lisa Stephenson, Senior Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University Angela Colvert, Lecturer in Education at University of Sheffield Rachel Lofthouse, Professor of Teacher Education at Leeds Beckett University

Global organisations (OECD, 2018) highlight the need for renewed focus on creativity and wellbeing in education. While Wales and Scotland have innovated their curriculum to reflect a stronger focus on creativity, policy in England drags painfully behind and is consequently failing many young people and teachers (Ball, 2018). This blog post draws from three longitudinal projects, which set out to explore the impact of knowledge transfer between artist and teachers when embedding new imaginative curriculum approaches.

  1. The ‘Story Exchange’ was a two-year Teacher Development-funded project, across seven schools in Bradford which focused on integrating drama and storytelling for cultural, socio-emotional literacy and communication across the curriculum.
  2. The ‘Immersive Learning Collective’ was a three-year teacher development programme involving 17 London schools, led by Punchdrunk Enrichment, exploring the potential of immersive theatre in educational settings.
  3. arted was a three-year ERASMUS+ funded project, involving artists and teachers from six European countries which co-produced open access guides on creative arts practices for teachers, teacher educators, parents and carers, with a focus on wellbeing. (

Professional boundary crossing

Image 1:

Image credit: Dan Brown, Empowering Voice Project

The projects each created new exploratory curriculum spaces, in which teachers and artists co-planned, co-taught and co-reflected. Boundary crossing is a useful term to conceptualise these professional experiences as we ‘entered into unfamiliar territory and faced the challenges of negotiating and combining ingredients from different contexts to achieve hybrid situations’ (Akkerman & Bakker, 2011, p. 132). For example, in image 1, artists and teachers have co-planned and are co-delivering a story experience where children are positioned as archaeologists who have discovered an ancient burial site near to the school. This covered a range of curriculum content such as history, personal, social and emotional learning, and literacy. Both teacher and artist are seen to blend their knowledge and practices collectively in new and hybrid ways.

‘Both teacher and artist are seen to blend their knowledge and practices collectively in new and hybrid ways.’

Affective spaces for imaginative possibility

Image 2:

Image credit: Paul Cohrane for Punchdrunk Enrichment

Across all projects teachers and artists experienced and experimented with creative pedagogies (ways of teaching) together, as participants, before implementing and embedding these in their practices. Artists created imaginative participatory story-based experiences for teachers as part of professional development, this can be seen in image 2. Teachers and artists reflected on a range of affective and embodied responses as they engaged in the creative experiences themselves, from uncertainty to wonder. These immersive experiences were seen as an important component of gaining confidence to approach curriculum learning differently. ‘Holding the space’ through time allocation, coaching and collaborative CPD was highly significant during this process (Stephenson & Lofthouse, 2023). Practices were changed across time through professional noticing of ‘significant moments’ as a form of action research. Creative pedagogies were characterised by:

  • Transforming imaginative spaces (such as classrooms, cupboards) within school, as seen in image 3 where a makeshift shelter has been made for a fictional runaway during a teacher workshop.
  • Using narrative inquiry, drama pedagogy and play to change classroom relationships.
  • Creating a community of practice to share expertise.
  • Taking a more flexible approach to curriculum
  • Placing the collective imagination, literacies and affective learning centrally 

Image 3:

Image credit: arted

The impact on both pupils and teachers within these projects has been transformational because teachers have changed professional practices and approaches to curriculum. Teachers consistently reflected on the ways in which children had engaged more ‘meaningfully with learning’ and many had ‘exceeded their expectations of capability in terms of social and emotional competencies’. This impacted on both pupil and teachers’ wellbeing. New research insights include a model of dispositional (values and attitudes) learning which has emerged from both pupil and teacher reflections (Stephenson, 2023) and an extended model of ‘immersive play’ as a way of facilitating new pedagogical practices (Colvert & Stephenson, 2023). Our collective research suggests that knowledge exchange between artist and teachers has a critical role to play in embedding new curriculum approaches because the many teachers lack confidence in creative pedagogies. Research at Story Makers, is now feeding into the OECD Futures of Education 2030 policy.

Lisa Stephenson, Angela Colvert and Rachel Lofthouse received the BERA Annual Conference 2023 – Creativities in Education SIG Best Presentation Award.


Akkerman, S. F., & Bakker, A. (2011). Boundary crossing and boundary objects. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 132–169.

Ball, S. J. (2018). The tragedy of state education in England: Reluctance, compromise and muddle – a system in disarray. Journal of the British Academy, 6(1), 207–238.

Colvert, A., & Stephenson, L. (2023). Playful pathways of enquiry: Navigating the immersive learning landscape with Punchdrunk Enrichment. Final report.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD]. (2018). The future of education and skills: Education 2030 position paper.

Stephenson, L. (2023). Collective creativity and wellbeing dispositions: Children’s perceptions of learning through drama. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 47, 101188.

Stephenson, L, & Lofthouse, R. (2023). A pedagogy of professional noticing and co-inquiry: Embedding drama for oracy across the primary curriculum. Impact. Journal of the Chartered College of Teaching, 18, 36–39.