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Meet our Head of Arts — Isabelle Charrot-Grinsdale

15 November 2019
Newly arrived this academic year, Ms Isabelle Charrot-Grinsdale joins us to lead the provision of arts education here at Huili, as she examines and refines how our pupils learn about music, drama performing arts, DT and the visual arts. Isabelle Charrot-GrinsdaleHead of Arts With a long-standing UK education background, this is Ms Charrot-Grinsdale’s first venture into teaching abroad. However, she is already taking advantage of new sources of inspiration from her colleagues, pupils and Shanghai itself. Isabelle would love to share more as below to the Huili community.   Before Huili I trained in the UK nearly 15 years ago in Leicester. Even now I vividly remember how much I enjoyed the creative challenge of being a drama teacher despite being very new to the role. From Leicester I then moved up to West Yorkshire to become Head of Drama in a large secondary school, where I stayed for a long time as it was an excellent place to hone my craft and grow as a teacher and leader. My role and responsibilities grew as well, as I took on English and media then music too, and then became part of the senior leadership team where I took a particular interest in looking at teaching and learning strategies that could help boys become more engaged in their learning and in the arts. Alongside this I examined A’ Level Drama and Theatre Studies practical and written examination work for years: I loved the opportunities this gave to visit other provisions and see young people engaged in practical performance.   Making the leap to China, and bilingual teaching Once my family and I decided that we would make the move abroad, I was quickly drawn to the Wellington group because of its well established and excellent reputation as a provider of education internationally. I was also lucky to have friends who spoke very highly of Wellington and of course there was building excitement about the new venture here at Huili School. That was another equally strong attraction for me, because I was intrigued by the prospect of teaching in a place that was determined to lead the way in innovative bilingual education provision. I saw an opportunity to learn how to teach in a bilingual context and learn from the pedagogy of Chinese colleagues. I wondered if this offered something unique - something I wouldn’t be exposed to as fully in a more traditional international teaching setup, and therefore it was something I didn’t want to pass up. I was also very keen to dive into the traditional Chinese art forms too, something I was not very familiar with before coming here. So there were extremely strong personal and professional draws for embarking on this adventure.   Huili impressions The first thing that struck me upon arrival was just how welcoming the Huili community is. My Chinese colleagues were so welcoming and patient in answering my endless questions about how the children are learning, what they are used to, their strengths and weaknesses, their artistic frames of context and so on. The pupils are also absolute sponges – they are incredibly eager to soak up new artistic ideas and challenges and love being able to explore new ideas in the arts classrooms. My early impressions of my colleagues were and remain that of a delightfully positive and flexible group of professionals. It’s wonderful to work with such talented subject specialists working across the spectrum of art forms and giving pupils the best of their expertise. I mentioned how welcoming and patient my Chinese colleagues are, but also the international staff are, without exception, so open and keen to share best practice and celebrate success stories in their approaches to education and to our arts provision here at Huili. Considering the school has been open for just over a year, it is amazing to see how quickly the staff have gelled into an openminded, supportive and receptive family in a relatively short space of time. It’s great being able to bounce ideas with my colleagues and the level of support and respectful endorsement from the school’s senior leadership team have made it even more enjoyable to work here. There have been frustrations, of course, but these have always been met with good humour and a listening ear.   Acclimatising to arts provision at Huili It is a very exciting time for exploring the arts (in both the learning and teaching senses) at Huili. It’s clear to me already that the pupils are ready and eager to take on what we can offer them. I predominantly teach Junior High pupils, and I’ve learnt that once we allow them the freedom to express themselves and explore artistic processes in ways which excite them, they latch on to this idea of creative freedom very quickly. Once trust is built, they then see the opportunities to apply their creativity in so many exciting and unique ways, and have great fun while doing it! It has been wonderful to see the excitement of realisation in their eyes as they understand that this philosophy applies to all the arts; they have begun to grasp the fact that they have plenty of new worlds to explore across the different disciplines. This is entirely supported by a level of classroom provision that I personally have never experienced in the UK. We are incredibly well supported in our budgetary allowance but also in the logistical sense of being given the support and encouragement to provide an educational experience that goes beyond the norm. Our Huili Arts Festival is a great example of this; we’ve brought over an experienced theatre company – Round Midnight – from the UK, and pupils are creating over 20 full-scale murals around the school and devising/performing a mini-musical in each day of the festival this year. To do this requires full support from staff and an invested understanding in the value of our arts provision. In short, we are given everything we need to make sure that the arts are part of our lifeblood at Huili School. It was especially pleasing to find that there was already a strong appreciation of the arts when I arrived. The 70th Anniversary celebrations of the founding of The People’s Republic of China was another tangible demonstration of this. From the amazing Peking opera workshops, traditional Chinese musical instrument performances and singing I witnessed, I could see that both traditional and modern arts are valued and respected here.   Looking ahead Equally excitingly, there is so much more to look forward to. With preparations for our school productions and events like the Winter Showcase underway, I cannot wait to see the creative processes our pupils have been exploring produce something truly wonderful for our community of parents and supporters to enjoy. Looking further ahead, the future of the arts is very bright at Huili School. As the Phase Two building nears completion, it will house our purpose-built theatre and great spaces for the teaching of creative and performing arts. Personally, I’m incredibly excited to see these facilities finished so we can get stuck into teaching the students in them. It is fundamentally important to me to make sure that every Huili pupil understands that we provide the arts in an inclusive way. They will all get the chance to express, explore, perform and create art as others have done before them and on their own terms. Similarly, we genuinely want parents and our vibrant community to gain a deep understanding of our arts curriculum provision, how we deliver it and why it works for their children. I am very much looking forward to more opportunities to actively work with our parents through workshops, through gaining their help with major arts projects and, hopefully, even some immersive theatre and creative arts activities that we’ve got up our sleeves for later this year... watch this space! I am eager to see what we can achieve together. Coming to Huili and settling into my new life in China has been made infinitely easier and more enjoyable by all those who have welcomed me and my family to Shanghai, to the Wellington China group and to Huili School. It has been an awesome, frantic, reflective, whirlwind of an experience already and I can’t wait to see what can be achieved next.

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