Sunday, October 31, 2010

Let's have some real creativity!

Too many teachers and principals have become sidetracked by data collection and compliance requirements - some even believe in them. All this has created a surveillance risk averse culture, all about conformity, compromise and being controlled and is nothing to do with creativity. Too many principals have become unwittingly part of the problem.

Lets be honest, there never was that much creativity in our schools. They have aways been more conservative than innovative and this includes many so called child-centred primary teachers. Creativity is seen when students and teacher diversity is appreciated, experiential learning valued, and where students complete powerful personal 'products' following up their own ideas in: in depth research, poetic writing, the creative arts - including these days information technology. The 'default mode' for most primary teachers is literacy and numeracy first and others areas in the time remaining. Over the years I have worked with some truly creative teachers ( and far fewer principals ) and it their ideas I share. Nothing of any real creativity has come from recent 'delivery' orientated contracted advisers yet, in past days, such advisers were the key to creative thinking. Must be time for me to go!

Sir Ken Robinson is to give a keynote at a conference in Palmerston North late next January. He should be inspirational. As I am also to give a keynote I will be present to hear him. But I am betting that, after all is said, little will be done. The ground is just not right for creativity to catch on - hopefully I am wrong. Maybe Sir Ken will be the catalyst we need to escape current formulaic teaching?

True creativity involves an element of tension as it is always not clear as to what will be finally achieved. Decisions and choices have to made along the way , often without full understanding, which grows and evolves in the process. This is in contrast with the current, so called scientific management model which insists on predetermined goals, intentions and 'what are (we) learning today'( WALT). True science is about being comfortable about the unknown and is an area involving creativity - being both open and skeptical.

Sir Ken Robinson has written that we have a problem as worrying as the ecological strip mining of our environmental resources. There is, he writes, a crisis of the mind - we are strip mining children's brains in our focus on delivering literacy and numeracy. In this obsessive process teachers are unaware of the talents not being looked for. As a result too many students simply end up by enduring school and too many never find out what they are good at - even the so called successful achievers; few end up loving learning. The future depends on encouraging and developing the talents of all children. Until we do we will aways have an 'achievement tail'; kids who see no point in school without a home culture to support them to persist.

Most people, according to creativity expert Robert Fritz, can't cope with creativity because they want quick answers and don't like living in the realm of not knowing, the very essence of science and creativity. Such people, he says, are intolerant of these moments of confusion not appreciating that it is such confusions that are the best learning moments of all. In such times creative people (artists or scientists) discover original ideas and where people go beyond usual ways of solving problems; when Fritz says, 'creativity gets into gear'.

Fritz writes that we are frightened of discrepancies and our instincts are to solve problems and end the tension of not knowing. Creativity accepts not knowing , happy to try out unusual ideas even if they 'feel' uncomfortable. Being creative means accepting such 'feelings'

Fritz writes that many creative people are happy to leave the problem for a while, to sleep on the problem, and, as a result, new ideas often emerge. Creativity needs time. Leaving the problem unresolved provides the tension for ideas to be generated.

This perception of creativity is different from what teachers often call creativity where children are encouraged to 'be creative' and to accept whatever is given. Fritz's definition is deeper and slower not just fun and messing around. Fritz is about focusing the mind on the problem not just freeing the mind and picking from the best ideas to solve the problem on the spot. True creative people think deeply about the problem they are trying to solve without rushing in to solving it. This Fritz writes is problem solving but it is not necessarily creative.

The mind is a sucker for quick answers and theories even if little real understanding is gained. Fritz quotes Sherlock Holmes who, when asked by his poor hapless Watson, if he suspected anyone, said, "Yes. Myself.Of coming to an answer prematurely".

So let's have more creativity ( unknowability) and less data collection and premature superficial thinking. And let's help our students develop their talents - in whatever area that attracts them.

This is what marks out the few creative teachers I like ( mostly liked) to work with. Too many teachers ( and most principals) are just too busy trying to solve imposed compliance problems to understand let alone risk creativity.

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