Wednesday, November 02, 2011

To cultivate creativity -work like an artist!

My brother Graeme and self have a small exhibition in our home town of Waverley.

I have always associated myself with teachers who believe their role is to create the conditions to realize the creativity and talents of all their students. New Zealand has had such innovative teachers for many decades ( the most well known being Elwyn Richardson who developed his creative ideas in the 1950s).

Being a creative teacher is not easy because it goes against traditional approaches where teachers pass on to their students what it it they expect their students to know - usually following advice from those who have long since left the classroom. And as well such traditional teaching focuses on mainly ensuring basic skills are in place.

Today creative teaching is even more difficult as the current government is insistent on imposing national standards against professional advice in literacy and numeracy. At present these are more school standards but it doesn't take much insight to see that such standards ( which have issues with reliability) will soon morph into standardised national testing and league tables.

Read Kelvin Smythe's posting to see through the shallowness of many current 'best practice' approaches being foisted on teachers by contracted advisers and compliant principals.

If we had real educational leadership in our schools, rather than principals who seem happy to comply with imposed political directions, schools would become vital organisations to develop the talents and passions of all students - the kind of citizens we will need if we are to ever to become world leaders again.

The missing ingredient in school  are the conditions to develop the creativity of their teachers and in turn their students. It is not the issue of helping students get ideas from their teachers but more how to create the conditions for ideas to get the students.

Many artists say that ideas come to them from their experiences and what they do is to give form to such ideas in whatever medium they work in, be it sculpture, painting, dance. music, film or literature. And this approach applies to scientific discoveries.

So the question for teachers is how do they put themselves and their students in a frame of mind so they can receive inspiration when it comes to them. Creative artists, and scientists, spend lot of time sketching, experimenting , and playing around with others.

Collaboration with others with interests different from our own seems vital - combining ideas from other fields provides fertile ground for innovative ideas. Seeing patterns between various fields or experiences  is an attribute of creative people.

Creative people don't dismiss ideas because they seem strange - they are not trapped by pre-set intentions, goals or criteria. Some of the most important discoveries in science and art have been as the result of serendipity not planning

Once creative people   are attracted to an idea  they then throw themselves into the challenge as they begin the process of fleshing out their inspiration to give it shape - often ending up where they had no intention of being. And during this period they work long hours becoming single minded about bringing their ideas into tangible form.

Traditional schools are not a very good environment for such learning.

There are three basic practices for teachers to cultivate to develop creativity.

Immerse yourself in the area you are about to explore -  innovation often arises from  working with others. Consider the  conditions  past creative teachers needed? Link up with others - ideas emerge when people enter dialogue.

Secondly tolerate uncertainty. Resist the decision to rush to judgement because many ideas are stalled by premature judgement. Learn to appreciate ideas  that defy current expectations and learn to resist others who prefer to follow the beaten track.

Look for simple patterns as they emerge. As work progresses  take advantage of serendipity and mistakes - once again many scientific ideas have been developed by following up on mistakes.

Once the project is over take time to appreciate what has been achieved. Think about what has been learnt and what ideas flow out of what has been achieved. If the conditions are right new ideas will emerge even before the current ideas has been realised.

In a creative school the curriculum will emerge.

What is important is that both teachers and students develop the  creative mindset and are not distracted by imposed answers . As the New Zealand Curriculum states students should be their 'seekers , users and creators of their own knowledge'.

To achieve such a creative learning environment takes real leadership - it is about creating an environment that  encourages teachers and their students to become engrossed in real learning based on ideas that make sense to them.

Unfortunately too many schools are are too tied to control  habits left over from the last century.


Anonymous said...

Good blog Bruce - there is so much pressure, both within schools and from without, to make creativity all but impossible.

And very interesting paintings.

Jody Hayes said...

Yes Bruce, I believe the learning conversation is a key component of the exploring, forming ideas and being creative. Conversation is such an interactive activity and allows for clarification of ideas. For me, my adaptive thinking is worked to a deeper and more powerful level when trying to create (in knit of course!) and having those conversations.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I am with you Jody - creative teachers enter into conversations with their students to help them clarify their thoughts. Being involved in any in-depth activity yourself sure helps you appreciate the intricacies of creation.

Most so called 'best practice' pushes kids into standardised results and clone like teaching.