This is the latest in a series of blog posts by a partnering cohort member.
By: Leslie Kosanovic
Creativity has been defined in a myriad of ways (irony not lost here) and that definition is typically tied to whatever is the current context. It is often defined in terms of new and useful products, but perhaps we need to consider the processes involved in defining creativity as well. Creativity involves cognitive processes that transform one’s understanding of, or relationship to, the world. As an educator, I must question if creativity is truly valued. And by “truly valued”, I mean valued enough to make it a priority. Remember that to make something a true priority takes time, typically much more than we originally plan. Do we as educators sometimes have biases against the truly creative student? Do we fear that true creativity will lead to classroom chaos? In my time as a high school science teacher, I was so blessed to have learned alongside many creative students and it was only when they became true partners in the classroom that the most wonderful lessons were achieved. In taking the time to reflect, I realize that the “truly creative” sometimes also have personalities that allow them to take more risks, be more impulsive and be more independent. Typically, this type of student in much less compliant and, dare I say, “less well-behaved.” So, I ponder, is there a disconnect between the official stance toward creativity and what actually happens in our schools? How can teachers and administrators nurture creativity in the classroom in an era of rapid technological change, when human innovation is needed more than ever, and children are more distracted and hyper-stimulated? In addition, let us not forget that there are some drawbacks to creativity, such as time. Allowing a creative solution to evolve for one problem often generates other problems. However, the catch is that in times of change, we need to bump up creativity levels in order to generate the innovative ideas that will keep our society afloat. Quite the conundrum, for sure!
Consider that in our high-stimulation environment, our children spend so much time processing new stimuli that there is less time to “go deep” with the stimuli they have already encountered. Reflection time to process information, in a variety of ways, is vitally important to truly “owning” any new information. Liane Gabora, Associate Professor of Psychology and Creative Studies at the University of British Columbia recommends the following as ways to cultivate creativity in our classrooms: Focus less on the reproduction of information and more on critical thinking and problem solving, pose questions and challenges and follow up with opportunities for true reflection, and curate activities that transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries, such as painting murals depicting biological food chains or acting out historical events (After all, our world does not come carved up into different subject areas. Our culture tells us these disciplinary boundaries are real and therefore our thinking becomes trapped in them).
Failure has also been defined in many ways as well. Most of these ways tend to sway toward the negative. The word “failure” rarely makes anyone smile, laugh, giggle and/or leap with reckless abandon. That being said, Sochiro Honda, the founder of Honda, once said, “Success is 99% failure”. Therefore, I ask you to continue to ponder. What is the relationship of failure to innovation and creativity? Why do so few organizations have a culture where the ability to fail or experiment is a valued part of innovation and creativity? What are the organizational barriers to this? After all, there are many examples where a huge failure or botched experiment has led to success. The company, 3M, reportedly sells 50 billion Post-It notes every year (I used some in the process of constructing this blog – thank you to the person that failed and accidentally created the adhesive for all those Post-Its). I would challenge that it is not the failure itself, but instead how you deal with failure that matters. Rather than abandon a failed initiative, if you can learn what went wrong and figure how to tweak it, then you will be able to improve on your idea and try again to be even more creative and more innovative. Successful businesses (and education is indeed a business) have both thinkers and doers. There is a problem when you over-think and under-do and vice versa. A truly creative culture is one where there is no gap between thinking and doing. The reality is that successful businesses (schools) must have such “experiments” championed by individual managers (students, teachers, administrators) who collectively support the culture of innovation and embrace a culture of failure as a “trade-off” for future success. A huge thank you to Bridgeport Superintendent, Mr. Zac Shutler, for being the conduit for the Literacy Collaborative and for crafting a culture where it is expected and even OK to fail on the quest to future creative innovation and systemic success. Every student, every teacher and every administrator must all be leaders of change.
“School leaders have to empower distributive leadership across the system, or else this change either won’t happen, or it will take so long that it might as well not be happening.” Therefore, in summary, I ask that we ALL hold up a mirror for “one of those really GOOD and HONEST conversations with ourselves” and let us ponder: Are we truly willing to lead? Are we truly willing to commit the time and the energy to allow failure, so that true creative innovation is achieved in our classrooms? I know that I am seeing that commitment throughout many classrooms within the Bridgeport School District. I am hearing from many teachers that are supporting students as they discover their “voice” and “the power of choice and self- advocacy”. Truly wonderful things are occurring in our classrooms and this is being supported by numerous staff and students. I am encouraged that this is true organic, systemic change. John Gordon is quoted as saying, “One of the reasons people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.” As educators, we are after all ensuring the viability of our society, as we are quite literally “responsible for educating our future”. In addition, I love the quote credited to Thomas Edison saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. So, let’s get out there – embrace our failures – learn our lessons – reset – and “try, try again”. Oh yeah, may we all find the joy along this reflective journey!
“What creativity really is – and why schools need it?” - Author Liane Gabora
www.forbes.com - “Why The Ability To Fail Leads To Innovation” - Author – Karen Higginbottom
“How Schools Are Killing Creativity” - Author Lin Dalile, Contributor and 14-year-old student
DA – District Administration – March 2018 - “7 Steps to Deeper Learning” - Author – Tim Goral (based on work of Grant Lichtman in his book Moving the Rock)
The Third Door: The Wild Quest To Uncover How The World’s Most Successful People Launched Their Careers – Author Alex Banayan