October: Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted. Albert Einstein
(Written while in post as AD for Hearts & Minds)
How to capture the impact of our interactions more effectively has been a question on my mind for a while. Until a recent meeting with Evaluation Support Scotland, I had the feeling that proof and evidence of our value had to be crunched into numbers, graphs and pie charts to be credible. It felt demoralising. As practitioners we recognise when a child is experiencing being more in control, being immersed in play, feeling happy. As a society we understand the value of these things to our wellbeing, and we understand the importance of wellbeing.
Here are a few stories from my day at a school last week:
My Clowndoctor name is Dr Maybee, and on this particular day I was working alongside Dr Spritely. These visits describe the kinds of interactions that we regularly have in an SEN school setting.
First we met Alfie* who has a room of his own with padding all across the walls and floor. He is strong and he is constantly on the move. This was our second meeting with him. After spending 5 minutes with him, listening & waiting, Dr Maybee took out a sound tube and blew through it like a trumpet. He looked immediately and put the other end to his ear. She made the noise again and he grinned. She built to a beat box rhythm, and every time she did a high-pitched noise through it, he looked at Spritely (equally delighted) and they laughed together with pure joy, looking into each other’s eyes. He stood with us, laughing joyfully, controlling where the sound and vibrations were on his face for a full 5 minutes.
Next we visited Matthew* who spends the day moving from place to place banging his hands against different surfaces as hard as he can. After a few minutes of being in the room with him and mirroring some of his movements he sat down. Dr Maybee sat next to him. He started chewing on the straw of his water bottle. Dr Maybee looked on, very jealous and wanting some. She said, ‘Oh wow, that looks soooooo delicious’. He passed the bottle to her and she pretended to drink from it, making huge slurping noises. He giggled. She passed it back to him and he chewed on it again. Then Dr Spritely asked for some – upset that she had been left out. He gave it to her. More slurps. More giggles. This sequence repeated a few times before he stood up and began his loop of banging on surfaces again. Afterwards, his key worker said that she had never seen him share anything before.
For our final visit, Calum* in P1 started the visit sitting on his key worker’s lap and would look away if we got any closer than around 3 meters. Dr Maybee began playing some music and wanted Dr Spritely to stand in the right spot. Spritely kept moving. When Maybee told her off, she got very upset and had a tantrum. The boy giggled, so each time, the tantrum got bigger and more physical. Then the boy started to encourage Spritely to move to the wrong spot and as he did this, Spritely got closer and closer to him until they were nose to nose. He was giggling in delight the whole time.
I see now that our work isn’t to just speak the language of science in our evaluation but to be confident in communicating the human impact of what we do. As Vassilka Shishkova says in her ETM Toolkit, “The last thing you would want from a public transport service is to surprise you, to bring you to new places or to make you ask questions. Since this seems obvious, why do we still try to evaluate our art the same way?”
I am a therapeutic clown and performer. Writing here is part of my wider practice and maybe some of my thoughts will trigger some thoughts of your own and I hope that helps.