Currently, I am a student at Lehigh University, where I am in the process of earning my K-12 Principal Certification. For the current class that I am attending, one of my assignments was to lead the class “in a brief (no more than 20-minute) professional dialogue regarding a topic of [my] choice that relates to the principalship or to instructional areas within K-12 schools.” My presentation took place last Wednesday night, and it focused on creativity in the classroom.
The topic for the presentation was inspired by Mike Schmoker’s book, Focus, which was ironically recommended to me over a year ago by my current professor. The content of the book focuses on (no pun intended) what is essential for schools: “reasonably coherent curriculum (what we teach); sound lessons (how we teach); and far more purposeful reading and writing in every discipline, or authentic literacy (integral to both what and how we teach).” The majority of the reading deals with authentic literacy, and while I do agree that students need to be exposed to this on a consistent basis, at no point in the book does Schmoker address the role that creativity should play in the classroom. As a result, I grew somewhat frustrated from reading his work and I decided to present on “the other side of the story.” Nonetheless, I should also note that there is a lot of information in the book with which I do entirely agree.
I started the presentation with the essential question, “What is creativity?” This question spurred some interesting conversation, as creativity is an idea about which we often talk, but we almost never try to define what it is. At the conclusion of this conversation I talked about original and worthwhile as the two words that are often used in order to identify creativity. When promoting creativity at school (both as a teacher and an administrator), students could also benefit from constructing their own definitions of creativity, as opposed to viewing it as an abstract concept.
After examining the essential question, I showed a portion of David Kelley’s March 2012 TED Talk, How to Build Your Creative Confidence. (An abbreviated version of the video is featured in the above presentation.) Some of the main points from the video include:
- People opting out of thinking about themselves as creative
- Fear of judgment
- Teaching people to become creative
- People carrying themselves differently when they realize that they are creative
When introducing the video to the class, I made sure to mention IDEO (a design and innovative consulting firm, which Kelley co-founded), and Tony Wagner’s Creating Innovators (a book that heavily features Kelley). The hope is that some of the students will take interest and then explore these resources on their own.
Following the video, the following guiding questions were presented:
- When you were a student, did any of your teachers or fellow students stifle your creativity? (This happened to me when I was a freshman in high school.)
- What is happening in your classroom/school/organization that nurtures creativity, innovation, and informal leadership?
- From the point of view of a building administrator, how do you ensure that your students are being taught creative confidence? How do you promote creativity in your teachers? Your students?
- How do we create a culture in which students are not afraid to take risks?
- How does creativity “fit” into meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)?
- How does creativity “fit” into the Common Core?
When listening to conversation that was encouraged by some of these questions, I thought it to be very interesting that all of the students in the class talked about creativity as if it should be one of the top priorities in our schools (in that teachers should instruct creatively, and students should think creatively). Nobody downplayed the topic’s importance by announcing something such as, “We don’t have time for this while we have to meet our yearly goals for state testing!”
At one point, one student (a fourth grade teacher) admitted to not being creative, but at the same time he announced that as an administrator he would do everything in his power to promote creativity in his school. This statement incited an interesting conversation as to whether or not a principal must be creative in order to inspire creativity.
At another point in time, a first grade teacher voiced her displeasure with her district’s decision to adapt a reading series that is entirely scripted and therefore leaves no room for creativity. I thought her disapproval to be interesting, as many teachers are probably in favor of a scripted program (it minimizes the need for planning time, but there is no flexibility with instruction).
At the conclusion of the presentation, the class spent a very brief period of time discussing the following quotes:
- “My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” – Sir Ken Robinson
- “The advocates of 21st century education cited in this chapter… are not proposing (as some do) that students need to spend less time learning content and more time making movie previews, video skits, wikis, silent movies, or clay animation figures. We need to say ‘no, thank you’ to such faddish, time-gobbling activities.” – Mike Schmoker
- “There is zero value in memorizing anything ever again.” – Seth Godin
- “The world of innovation, these young innovators, every one of them whom I interviewed, was far more intrinsically motivated. They want to make a difference in the world.” – Tony Wagner
Overall, I was quite happy with the presentation. As an aspiring administrator, creativity in the classroom is a worthwhile topic for countless reasons, but especially because (1) it is an idea about which we must not forget during this age of standardized testing, accountability, and the Common Core, and (2) by promoting risk taking and creativity, principals can help to create a school culture that maximizes both student and teacher learning.
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