Thursday, February 15, 2007

Out of Our Minds

A book to read for all who believe in creative education. 'Out of Our Minds' by Sir Ken Robinson. Introductory keynote speaker at the 07 NZPPF Conference to be held in Auckland.
See an earlier blog October 30 for a review of the book. And also Feb 14th
This will be my last blog until about the 8th March as I am off for a holiday in Vietnam. I have become slightly addicted to writing my blogs so I will miss the discipline of posting them.
I couldn't think of a better blog to leave you with ( I guess the odd person actually reads them!) than this one about Sir Ken Robinson. I highly recommend you read his book or at least view his amazing video talk.
The video talk will have you laughing as well as seriously reflecting that our education system as currently structured is harming far too many creative students. Decide for yourself after viewing. If you go to the TEDTalk site ( you can 'google' this phrase) and then look for Sir Ken's video clip
Below are a few thoughts from one of his talks I tracked down.
Sir Ken believes that today businesses have to be competitive by developing innovative ideas and continually adapting to constant change. Increasingly such businesses are finding it hard to find creative people. The reason for this ironically, according to Sir Ken, is our current education system. All over the world , he believes, education suppresses creative thinking and creativity . National strategies to raise standards are making maters worse because they are rooted in an old economic model and a narrow view of intelligence, focusing too much on literacy and numeracy. He strongly believes that creativity should be promoted systematically at all levels of education.
I couldn't agree more.
National systems, he goes on to say, were designed to develop conformity and developed out of the 18th and 19th centuries to meet the needs of the industrial economies which typically needed workforce that was roughly 80% manual and 20% professional. Such schools prioritized the subjects they felt most important for the professional students who went on to secondary education; focusing on maths,literacy and the sciences.The system worked well enough in its day.Those students who had manual jobs received a very basic education premised on values of tidiness, punctuality, and obedience.
While the world has changed out of site little has changed in our our schools.
Two factors demand that schools change, he says, the emergence of the knowledge economy and the demand for creative intellectual labour. And it is not that there are not enough graduates to go around as students stay longer at school to gain qualifications - it is that they too many of them can't communicate,work in teams, or think creatively.
When you visit a secondary school you can see why - student work individually gaining credit by regurgitating knowledge transmitted to them by their teachers.
We need to challenge three misconceptions passed on to us by schools, says Sir Ken.The first is the myth that only special people are creative when it is now believed that we all have profound creative abilities. The second is the myth that creativity is restricted to the creative arts when it is now believed that creativity is part of every aspect of our lives. The third is that you are either creative or you are not when it is now believed everyone can be helped to develop their creativity.
Creativity, Sir Ken continues, is the process of having original ideas: innovation is putting them into practice. Human creativity is complex and dynamic.'That is why',he says, 'the world is full of music, dance, architecture,design, practical technology and values. Different people have different creative strengths- in music,or mathematics, or working with clay, or software, or images, or with people.'
'Real creativity comes from finding your medium, from being in your element'. And by seeing connections between different fields - hard when they are taught separately!
It is all about finding your passion - hardly what are current achievement orientated school are all about! No wonder so many students leave feeling failures - when it should be the schools who ought to be seen as failing.
If schools want to develop creativity in all their students and staff they need to consider three factors according to Sir Ken. Habits how people relate and work with each other; habitats - the physical environments in which they work; and the operating systems - the management processes that support the school. Each , he says, can inhibit creativity and each can be changed to promote it.
The lack of creative individuals entering our workforce, he sees, relates to the lack of creative confidence and capability originating in our schools.
The challenges of reforming education, he concludes, are profound and need long term collective action; the stakes are high and the need urgent.
This revolution is comparable to the industrial revolution and it is hardly begun. The changes, he says, are essentially cultural and impact on every aspect of our lives and how we relate to one another. We need to expect that education will give people the skills and qualities they need for this new world. This cant be , he says, be just about raising standards - this is no good if they are the wrong standards.
What we need , he feels, is a national and international debate on education to inform long term strategic vision. The best companies do this but to few schools.
Education, he reminds us, is often said to be the key to the future but keys can be turned in two directions - turn the key one way and you lock yourself in the past; turn it another way and you face an exiting future.
It is no longer enough to read, write and calculate . We won't survive the future by doing better at what we have done in the past.
In the future we must learn to be creative.
I couldn't agree more! It is not our students who are failing- it is our 'one size fits all' academic education system
To get his message, with humour, view the video clip.

In The Early World

First published in 1964 this book, the result of eight years of teaching in a small isolated Northland school, has been republished by the nzcer. All creative teachers - or teachers who believe in personalizing learning should have a copy. Available from nzcer.
Recently I have been in communication with a post graduate student who is doing her thesis on the value of arts in education and, in particular, the work of pioneer New Zealand educator Elwyn Richardson.
As I a result I have re-read my copy and I am still stunned by the quality of the creative work that illustrates the book - I see little of such quality in schools I visit today. Maybe it is time to go back to see what was achieved a way back then and see what we can make use of today - even as an antidote to the soulless technocratic documents the Ministry of Education has sent out to schools the last decades
The following thoughts have been extracted from the insightful forward to Elwyn's book written by John Melser - well worth a read in itself.
'Education is the greatest adventure mankind has yet undertaken', John writes, 'and that so far it is only in the uncertain beginnings of what will be along evolution.' Elwyn's book he believes is a vital experiment in this evolution and is a 'vivid picture of of a school full of vitality in pursuit of values deeply rooted in the children's lives'. Elwyn's school, he writes, was a ' community of artists and scientists who turned their frank and searching gaze on all that came within their ambit. Curiosity and emotional force led them to explore together the natural world and the world of feelings.' The students learnt to , ' esteem each other's explorations, discoveries, and that a fine collective strength was developed, a strength depending on each child making an individual search and bringing to the group what only he could give'.
Who wouldn't want this said about their school or class today?
Elwyn's students' studies, 'grew naturally out of what preceded them. New techniques were discovered and skills practiced as each achievement set new standards. In such an 'integrated' curriculum the integrity of persons is preserved even more that the integrity of topics.' 'From their paintings, their prints and their pottery they learnt answers to the question 'who am I''.
Elwyn's school functioned as, 'a community of artist scientists' .... 'because of the individualism of its members - each person counted and was expected to make his own contribution to its life. Personal views, even eccentric views, were welcomed', and there was an, 'affectionate acceptance' of the strengths and limitations of of each member of the group,'
One of the most important aspect of Elwyn's school was, 'to see how aesthetic standards were established and maintained.' In this process, Melser writes, the teacher's role is a delicate one, 'with the teacher leading and directing and at the same time humbly ready to learn from the students'. The learning community that grows out of this relationship between the teacher and the students allowed each new achievement to become a, 'springboard for later leaps in imagination and understanding'.
Children will grow, Melser states in his forward, 'in imaginative and aesthetic insight only in a classrooms where high standards prevail and where work will be tested by the critical insight of others, so both strengths and weaknesses are revealed.' At the beginning. Melser writes, such discrimination comes from the teachers but eventually the 'weight of feelings becomes a community one', if it remains with the teacher it will produce 'imitative performances' - a feature of many classrooms today overly influenced by imposed exemplars and criteria.
I loved Melser's description entering Elwyn's room to , 'be dazzled by a riot of colours, shapes, and textures. Drums , pots, mobiles dangling from the ceiling, masks, paintings, printing gear, a small electric kiln - all the disorder of a dozen simultaneous workshops was pent up in this small room.But there was a recognizable pattern, or perhaps a series of patterns, the kind of patterns children can feel at home in, where organisation is sometimes the minimum amount necessary for efficient working.' With the students present an absorption the students in their tasks was seen as the students, as artists and scientists, went about their work.
We could do worse in New Zealand tha to acquire a copy of this book and see what we can learn from Elwyn's teaching. As Melser writes, Elwyn gave , 'children the opportunity to reach their full heights as artists, as craftsman, as scientists, and as students, through the establishment of a community where self respect demanded this generosity of giving and receiving. In this sense every classroom can uniquely express its own mode of of co-operative individualism.'
Future generations of students need to be given similar respect.
Read the book to see what has been missing these past decades.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The importance of creativity

My new 'guru' - sharing ideas some of us have held for decades: Sir Ken Robinson.
'Brilliant' - John Cleese
It has been great to discover Sir Ken Robinson. I bought his wonderful book'Out of Our Minds' last year but the icing on the cake was watching a small video clip of one of his presentations.
A must for everyone . Access his short video clip by going to TEDTalks - scroll down to Sir Ken.
Sir Ken talks about the importance of nurturing innovative solutions in the classrooms - indeed in every aspect of life. Sir Ken is now senior adviser to the Paul Getty Trust and was knighted in 2003 for his commitment to the creative arts and education in the UK.
Creativity is set to become the 'buzz' word of the future. Sir Ken sees creativity as essential for students as they seek jobs in the future.
The world is changing so quickly that promoting creative thinking he says will be essential. Sir Ken reminds us that kids starting school this year will be retiring in 2066 and that we don't have a clue about what the world will be like then.
The trouble is, Sir Ken says, is that the education system isn't designed to promote this kind of innovative thinking.The current system is designed to promote standardization, conformity and a certain type of narrow skill set. NZ teachers will recognize them as their current 'targets'. Creativity, he believes, is as important as literacy and numeracy.
Sir Ken defines creativity as the process of having original ideas and that there are several steps.The first step is imagination- the capacity to see something in the mind's eye. Creativity is using that imagination to solve problems - he calls it 'applied imagination'. Innovation is putting that creativity into practice as 'applied creativity'.
It seems simple enough but he outlines a number of things that get in the way. The first is the belief that only some people are creative - we are creative. The second is that creativity is restricted to the arts - creativity is applicable to every aspect of life ( the idea of 'multiple intelligences'). The third is you are either born with it or you are not - we now know it can be cultivated in everyone.
Educational Sir Ken believes , is currently focusing too much on literacy, maths and science. It is not that they are not important but that we need students with creative power in all fields.
The Renaissance was flowering on all fronts - education today, he says, is focusing on a piece of the problem. Another issue is to develop creative teaching. The trouble is that it has not been a good time for creative teachers in this era of standardized teaching. We need, he says, to create an 'environment for curiosity' to get the best out of teachers and students.
Creativity needs to be cultivated if we are to build a talent pool. Just as a sports person develops his or her skill so should any student with a talent. It can't be left to chance. We ought to be doing better, he states, and in particular the education system needs to do a better job.
Moves to personalize learning he sees as a positive step as with moves to develop a problem centred interdisciplinary learning approach which allows students and their teachers to share their individual talents. Modern information technology, integrated into a creative learning environment, he believes, offers exciting possibilities.
Schools need to be broken into smaller units and individual schools need more autonomy. Standardization may be OK for MacDonalds but it demoralizes teachers and students. Standardization, he continues, is based on making education 'teacher proof' when we need to do the reverse.
The secret of creativity, he believes, is looking hard at teachers and students to help them realize and share their strengths. Creativity is helping people, teachers, students and employees to find their talents.
Watch the video clip on TEDtalk and share with anyone who has an interest in the future.
And don't expect the Ministry to be creative - its not in their job description.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Learning from Leonardo

If creative thought is the new capital of the21stC it is important to develop and capture it!

Our creative thinking often comes to us at odd times making it hard for us to record our thoughts. There are nights when I can't get to sleep for thinking - just can't turn my mind off!

And when we become involved in thinking we become so absorbed that we lose our sense of time, entering into what one writer calls 'flow'. The ideas generated at such times are to valuable to lose

If, at such times when ideas are 'streaming', you can tune into thoughts you can create something of real value. It is important to take advantage of such times because you can't force creative thinking.

It seems we need to think like Leonardo da Vinci who always carried a notebook at all times. I find myself writing notes to myself , sometimes late in the night, in attempt to capture ideas my mind throw ups at such inconvenient times.

Great minds like Leonardo's go on asking questions with an intensity that continues throughout their lives. If we want to develop this faculty in our students we need to retain their sense of wonder and their inborn curiosity. Unfortunately, as a result of an education system based on transmission of knowledge, this sense of wonder is all too often lost.

Not only ought we encouraging students to value their own thinking but we need to assist them to reflect on their thoughts and capture them by jotting them down in 'thinking journals'. We need to encourage them to question accepted knowledge. Curiosity is the wellspring of all learning. We can encourage this creative thought by encouraging and using students question, by allowing students to explore what attracts their attention, and by allowing them to follow their trains of thought.

Very little of this creative teaching is to be found in our schools - even in the best of primary classes where the teachers' agendas, no matter how liberal, holds centre stage. We need to develop an 'emergent' curriculum based on what attracts our students' curiosity.

As we enter, what some are calling a 'creative era', it is important that schools change with the times - or better still lead the change by creating environments for students to develop creative thought.

Schools have a great opportunity to become focused on creative thinking - talk of personalising learning would seem to be start.

Schools in the 21stC ought to be championing those who challenge he status quo.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Are you a creative thinker?

Some people are simply excited by ideas.
Some people become excited by the prospect of new ideas? They are expert in sensing new trends and embryonic thoughts that slip below the radar of their more pragmatic or practical friends.
Original and different ideas attract them but it takes time to be accepted by others and to gain a reputation for having something of value to say.
I guess this acceptance depends on how far away from others your ideas are.
In today world ideas are at a premium and workplaces are continually searching for talented people who have ideas to share. Ideas are the new capital, or intellectual resource, in a world that increasingly values creativity and innovation. By sharing ideas some individuals gain a reputation for being an 'ideas person'. They are what is being called 'knowledge workers', or better still, 'knowledge creators'
Schools ought to be about fostering creativity of all students rather than focusing on academic achievement. If they were to foster creativity they would value their students curiosity, passions and talents and to assist them push the boundaries of their own personal discoveries.
It is not aways necessary to come up with original thoughts. It is equally a sign of intelligence to be able to recognise the potential of original thought no matter where it comes from.
Organisations, including schools, need to learn how to manage and develop such creative intelligence. This is difficult to do in organisations designed for the industrial age. If organisations don't change such people will leave, taking their ideas with them!
Developing a culture to attract and keep top talent will be the challenge of future leaders in any organisation.It is about keeping the entrepreneurial spirit alive; anything that stifles creativity and initiative needs to be changed.
Flexibility, a culture that values sharing across disciplines , the valuing of mistakes, and the 'swiping' of ideas from anywhere, will be the key to attract such individuals.
Unfortunately schools, as they are currently structured, couldn't have been planned to destroy talent and creativity if they had been designed to do so.
Who are the 'ideas people' you value?
Are you seen as an 'ideas person'?
Does your school focus on developing all your students' talents and creativity?

A model for Strategy Planning

Directing and producing a movie is an ideal model strategy planning metaphor.
It is a depressing task to read school strategy plans. Complex and long winded with endless strategic goals - many of them difficult to demonstrate their achievement.
The best strategy is to have a clear strategic intent ensuring all involved know what it is they are creating.This , along with creating the conditions and training to allow staff to get on with the job, is the role of school leadership.
All to often strategic planning degenerates into managing the status quo and not focusing on where the school wants to go - the whole point of strategic planning.
Another problem is strategic planning being left to leadership to develop. Strategic planning is so important to leave to one person , or even a small select team.
Film making is, by contrast, a collaborative affair and, as such, is a good model for strategic planning. When a director looks at a script he, or she, develops a vision of the story they want to tell. They may have the initial vision but, as every director knows, the plan is worth nothing if they are not able to engage talented writers, set designers, actors, and producers to further shape and mold this vision so to bring it to life.
This is exactly the essence of strategic planning.
Effective school leaders cannot be lone visionaries or top down managers but must sell the intent or excitement of what the school wants to become. To make things a little more complicated they must enter into dialogue about the 'story' with everyone involved so everyone the school feels 'ownership' for what evolves. As well as defining the vision with all stakeholders they must also set about identifying tasks that need to be done and who ( usually in action teams) is to take responsibility for them.
If everybody does not buy into the agreed direction then little will be achieved . And, equally importantly, little will be achieved if everybody does not hold themselves accountable to completing the agreed tasks.
A great strategy plan is like a great screen play - a great story to in which everyone know their role. And like a great film it can only be appreciated when the ideas are achieved.
School leaders ought to keep these thoughts in mind when becoming involved in strategic planning.
No one want to be known for taking part in a dud movie.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Summer has arrived - time to go outdoors.

They have taken their time but the cicadas are now in full song.

It is always the way. As soon as the summer holidays have past summer actually arrives.

Teachers and their students, who have up to now had little experience of real heat, are now feeling it, but now confined to their classrooms.

Lets hope teachers have decided to vacate their rooms and do their learning in the cool shade outside.

Teachers who have not forgotten that environmental literacy is as important as book literacy will no doubt be really enjoying themselves. The big issue of the coming decade is not a literacy crisis but a climatic one. The sooner students develop an awareness of their environment , and in the process learn to love and respect it, the sooner they will see the need to sustain and protect it. As the future generation they will need to see it as the number one world problem.

If teachers do take their students outdoors they might begin to see that it is through rich sensory experiences that their students develop real insights and in the process expand them their all important vocabularies. They might even understand that in the beginning was not 'the word' but that in the beginning was 'the experience'.

So teachers ought to take this hot weather as an opportunity to go outside and let their children explore the environment through their senses. If it was good enough for Leonardo da Vinci; it is good enough for their students. Like Leonardo they need to see and interpret their experiences as, artists , poets mathematicians and scientists.

Outside children can sit under a tree and let their minds go for a walk. They can be taught to educate their senses - each sense introducing information for their growing minds to process. Listening bring in dimensions of sound, smelling will remind them forever of environmental experiences, touching opens the world of textures, and sight the world of movements, colours, and shapes.

Teachers who understand how brain grows will help their students expand on their ideas by encouraging students to see connections, to use language metaphorically , or to get them to simply describe what they can see. Teachers who appreciate the power of observation will encourage their students to draw what they can observe - encouraging them to focus on something of particular interests. Digital cameras assist in this process by bringing images back into class to further process.

In rooms ,with teachers who are environmentally aware, the evidence of students curiosity will be all around to see.There will be three line nature poems ( simple haiku), drawings , imaginative paintings, exciting phrases in their written language, and studies developing out of their reawakened curiosity.

Such teachers appreciate that by building on students questions and ideas about the immediate environment there is no need for imposing teacher planned curriculums on their captive students. By developing environmental awareness both teacher and students can learn to be co-explorers.

This is 'authentic' learning - building on how our brains were developed to work.

For environmental idea visit our site

Surfing the waves of change

Are school riding the waves of change or building defences against them?
Waves of change are effecting every aspect of our society, changing forever how we see and interpret our world.
Schools, if they are to future orientated organizations , ought to be at the forefront, riding the waves of change.
Unfortunately, in most case schools, are to preoccupied solving immediate problem to scan the horizons to see opportunities coming their way. Or, worse still, so self satisfied with their past successes, that they prefer to rest on their traditional laurels, watching at the breakwater , seemingly believing that all is well and that there is need to change . Sadly middle class parents seem to agree with this later prognosis and rush to enrol the students to get what might have been appropriate if we were still in 1950.
Governments are loath to make too many waves and all to often are unduly influenced by the powerful reactionary forces that keep waves of change at bay.
Thankfully there will aways be those who have the courage of their convictions to seek new challenges. There are a few principals who constantly ask questions of themselves and their teachers about current practice and are aways encouraging everyone to search out new waves to ride.
These principals share three things: a healthy disrespect for the establishment; the confidence to try out new things ( and to learn from their mistakes) ;and the power to inspire others to join them in the quest.
Timid principals, tied to historic views of teaching, end up by watching as waves of new ideas are dissipated on the breakwaters they have helped build. By remaining linked to the defined foundations of what is to be taught and measured they inevitably limit the capacity for creativity and innovation so prized in their rhetoric.
When school leaders come out from behind their breakwaters and embrace the new opportunities ( risks and all) new paradigms of teaching and learning will evolve redefining historic power relationships and in turn fuelling the thirst for learning of their, staff, students and parents.
It is all about leadership. A leadership that makes 'its' intentions clear - waves are to be ridden; ;risks are to be taken; catching waves is the future.
Such leaders are dissatisfied with the status quo and continually question the purpose of education and then they go about creating the conditions to develop such a capacity to learn in all those involved in the school. They support, trust, and provide whatever resources that are required - including coaching for beginners.
In such schools everyone feels empowered. Parents are empowered to become involved. Teachers are empowered to find new ways to engage their students. Students are empowered by example and are encouraged to seek out waves of their own. In such a school learning is for everyone - they are true 'learning communities' - communities of enquiry. There is a constant thirst to find better ways and, at the core, is action research - where ideas are developed that in turn generate waves of creative energy. Learning by doing applies to teachers as well as students - and more often than not without a clear definition of where that learning will take them. It is this uncertainty that drives learning - not following prescriptions set by others.
The major source of creative energy is a feeling of dissatisfaction with how things currently are; the need to change 'how it is' to 'how it could be'. Leaders do not have to be charismatic but no doubt they will be seen as 'mavericks' , or eccentric, by their more conservative breakwater dwellers locked into conformity and convention.
Real leaders are continually scanning the horizons to predict what might happen and build in all learners ( teachers, students and parents) the capacity and capabilities that will enable them take advantage of future trends.
It will be over to such learners to develop the world they are going to live in and it will demand considerable courage to combat the forces of the status quo. Our society needs such pioneering people who who understand the interconnected world they live - that small waves can develop into major changes if ridden well.
Leaders of such creative schools need to be valued and not pilloried. They are the 'future shape shifters' who will lead the way into new insights by having the courage to leave the safety of the shore and ride the waves of opportunity. Many will not succeed but without their efforts we will all lose out.
So who are they in your community? Search them out - go surfing with them- you will have your minds changed.
Better still search out and make your own waves.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Developing creative secondary schools.

To develop creative students we need to change a model designed for mass education into a personalised one
It was interesting to read, in an 'advertorial' for the University of Auckland, about the importance of developing interdisciplinary creativity.
They have combined several of their 'schools' to create the National Institute of of Creative Arts to encourage such creative diversity to flourish.
The article goes on to say that, 'creativity does not occur in silos. Creative solutions are born when different skills and perspectives come together within an interdisciplinary framework. As we interact in our communities and attempt to find meaning in our experiences, we become empowered by connectivity. Such a creative, connective approach - loosely dubbed "thinking and linking" - can facilitate innovative partnerships that overcome the limitations of traditional boundaries and allow diversity to flourish.'
It is a shame that secondary schools don't have the insight to do something similar for their students. The trouble is heads of the various subject departments prefer to protect their intellectual 'turf' rather than face up to the fact that they are trapped in fragmented organisations designed to produce students for a past industrial age. And, of course, the parents who have scrambled to enrol their children at the best of these traditional schools are not keen to see any changes.
All is not lost.
Their are some newly designed schools that do feature interdisciplinary studies and who value helping their students appreciate 'connectivity'. These schools place the emphasis , not on memorizing content, but in developing each students' special talents and research skills or 'learning power'. Led by principals with strong philosophies, such schools 'attract' an innovative staff.
These schools are the beginnings of the future of education at the secondary level. By exposing their students to range of integrated learning experiences their students develop an appreciation of their heritage, culture and environment. More importantly they provide an environment to develop each students unique talents and gifts.
In such schools what the students have learnt is to be seen by what they can do, demonstrate , perform and exhibit - often in multi media performances. Written exams are of little use to assess what students can do! . Such innovative schools, by integrating the diverse elements of the National Certificate of Education ( NCEA) into cohesive courses, are leading the way.
Hopefully the idea of this 'personalised learning' will spread until all parents demand it for their children having slowly learnt that the 'one size fits all' traditional school is no longer appropriate.
Students, in the future, will need to be aware of what they can contribute to any project and how to pool their collective intelligences. To do this they need to experience the power of collaborative and interdisciplinary learning at school.
Future schools will need to be seen as creative 'learning communities', rather than 'school factories', if they are to assist all students contribute to a creative society.
There is a lot of talk about this 'creative economy' but it will only 'flower' when schools themselves become 'creative communities'.