Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lets value individual creative teachers.

This is my rather battered copy of Elwyn Richardson's inspirational book 'In The Early World'. Tomorrow, after a long drive to Auckland, I am attending an opening of a new edition of the book originally published in the early 60s

If you are  a creative New Zealand teacher please share this posting with other like minded teachers - it is time creative teachers start to fight to have their voices heard. Education is too important to be left to politicians or even conformist principals

The sixties were exciting times.  Creativity and liberation were in the air. The fifties, following the devastation of World War Two,  were marked by both rebuilding and a need for security but there were also  feelings that there must be better ways of doing things in all areas of life.

We are at a similar position today!

It was during fifties in a small isolated rural school in the far north that teacher Elwyn Richardson, began his journey into creativity . Originally Elwyn had intentions of continuing his own science study of molluscs but somewhere along the way became focused on helping his students explore their environment and then to express what they saw and felt through a variety  of creative media.   The insights he gained through his experiences  are expressed poetically in the pages of his book.

About the same time of Elwyn's books publication I began my own teaching career as a school adviser. As part of my role I visited every school and classroom in South Taranaki and I soon became aware that certain teachers stood out. Such teachers were to be found teaching in small rural schools  and in my area about six or seven attracted my attention. It was through such teachers I became aware of Elwyn's book. The ideas he had developed  were well known to these teachers and their classrooms reflected similar student creativity. I also became aware of the work of the Art Advisers in the dissemination and support of this creative approach to teaching and learning.

Unfortunately the appreciation of the insights of creative classroom teachers ( today such individuals are called 'postive deviants') has been neglected  at first by the introduction of new curriculums ( most of which, due to lack of support failed to 'stick'). After the introduction of such curriculums came an emphasis on the importance of leadership and whole school development.  Now It is all about accountability.  'Experts' now abound delivering research based ( whatever that means)  'best practices'. As a result the 'voices' of teachers have all but disappeared.

Now, fifty or so years later, I still firmly believe that it is only by the sharing of the innovative ideas of individual teachers that real educational progress is realised. School based reforms  may have proved greater consistency, even quality, but  at the cost of creativity. 'Positive deviants' find it hard to survive in such a monitoring, and increasingly, surveillance culture. Conformity and standardisation are now features of our schools. and small rural schools are no longer centres of innovation. Top down compliance has created  risk averse school environments

It is time again to value those who dare to see things differently.

Creative leadership is required to create the conditions to encourages teacher creativity.

Developing creative school cultures the real challenge if we are to take advantage of the creativity of those teachers who want to try new things with their students.Leadership is required to support and protect such teachers. We need leaders with the confidence to let such teachers learn through their mistake so as to develop ideas that  can then be shared with others. Not many principals have the insight or courage to do this.

Real improvement in any area of life occurs when people feel free to share ideas and where the culture encourages open interaction between all involved. By such talk teachers build up a shared language and means to assess which ideas are worth pursuing. Good ideas are self selecting.

This approach, based on valuing the artistry of the teachers, reaches back to the ideas of such pioneers as Elwyn Richardson. Just as he needed people around him to support him in his endeavours so do teachers today. And when ideas are shared with other creative teachers by school leaders then real change will  spread like benign virus and be established in sympathetic schools.

It is this 'bottom up' innovation, supported by school leaders, and those outside of the school, that is now needed. Real growth in nay area of human endeavour  arise first by outliers, by those working at the edge by those willing to the risks,  but to be shared such ideas needs the support creative cultures and insightful leaders.

A creative classroom  can be seen as a 'fractal' of a  creative school and in turn a creative community. Creative classrooms,  creative schools and  creative communities  do not emerge by chance - they are supported, often intuitively, by having the right conditions and leadership.

Hopefully the republication of Elwyn's book  might be the spark that sets off of new creative era. As someone has said, we need to do the sixties again but this time properly.


Anonymous said...

You are so right Bruce. It only happens if it happens in a classroom - and those few teachers who see things with fresh eyes are the real treasures - but no one seems to have a map!

Bruce Hammonds said...

It is not that there are not good results from whole school reform but even the best of such principals have to act with compliance requirements in mind making them more than a little risk averse. And even in the best of such schools there are always two or three teachers the others look towards for inspiration. I just think that more focus should b placed on making such teachers the real experts and to be more proactive about celebrating them and sharing their ideas.

Allan Alach said...

Great Bruce - we must keep this torch burning through the educational dark ages. Is the coming book a reprint, or will there be new material? My copy is as old as yours, without the cover. For those readers wanting to know more about Richardson, watch this:

Alison said...

Thanks Bruce. I've shared this on my Facebook page.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Alison - be great for creative teachers at any level and in any field to have somewhere to share ideas.

As for Elwyn's book Allan it has new material and a new, and evidently powerful, new forward.

Be worth aquiring.

Anonymous said...

Well said. Might I also contribute some additional thinking that I feel links well to what you have stated in your post-- This additional is offered via my blog

In this blog I share some of my recent research which connects the "artfulmindedness of leadership" (Steffensen, 2012) to successful educational transformation.

I will definitely add your post to my collection of must reads!Thx Bruce :-)

Bruce Hammonds said...

will check out your site Karen - thanks for your positive thoughts.

TaraTJ said...

What I find remarkable about Elwyn Richardson, is that he was a leader in (what many would call 21st Century) Learning (personalised, flexible, meaningful, and authentic) back in the 1950s.

What I find MOST remarkable is the blatant disregard to Learn from this and instead focus on standardised, rigid, meaningless data.

I'm very much looking forward to the new forward, I imagine it will be inspirational as ever...

Ivon Prefontaine said...

Bruce, I was not familiar with this book. You have piqued my interest. If I am reading you right, a more recent contributor to the issue of creativity, or lack of it, is Sir Ken Robinson. I appreciated your post and am sharing it on my blog at

Thank you.