Teachers as Creatives

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A Christopherson – Blue-eyed Sight

The Challenge
How can we foster imagination in the classroom? Why is it important for kids to be able to use their imagination in school? This was the focus for the #saskedchat blog challenge offered up by this weeks host Amanda Brace.
Where does the wonder and imagination young children have go as they get older? How come many never find it again? As I explore, examine and question on the fringe of schools, trying to see how we can explore learning and teaching in different ways, I listen and read outside of education. I am struck by how so many authors and writers are seeing what educators are failing to see – that creativity, ideation and imagination are key for the future and, combined with using technology to connect and collaborate, are going to be necessary for living just as reading and writing became necessary for generations. As Claudia Azula Altucher points out in Become An Idea Machine – “Ideas are the currency of the 21st Century”. Students need to be given the opportunity to be creative and grow their imagination, to exercise their creativity. As Altucher points out “Exercise makes the idea muscle stronger”!
Imagination, where does it fit in education? In learning? In teaching? Do we embrace imagination or is it something that has it’s place only in certain subjects/places? What stories do we tell about imagination in school?
Of all our cognitive capacities imagination is the one that permits us to give credence to alternative realities. It allows us to break with the taken for granted, to set aside familiar distinctions and definitions’” (Greene, 1995, p.3).
  During the recent #txeduchat, Dave Mulder posted
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Play is essential for children to grow and learn. It is not a “poor use of school time”! In play, children work through the social world around them, try different ways of doing things, fail and try again and explore in unstructured ways.
Stories of Play
As a child, my mom tells different stories of my vivid imagination. Growing up 5 miles from anyone else and having only myself and the farm animals as playmates, I spent many days playing in imaginary worlds. Fast forward to the present and I spend a great deal of time playing in imaginary worlds with a five year old boy who has a vivid imagination. We play together doing all kinds of different things and I get to see first hand the power of learning through play. As a father of 8 children, I’ve had the privilege of playing dress-up, building blanket forts, redesigning boxes and so many other incredibly imaginative things. Yet, once entering school, these same things are often what happens during recess and “free time”, if they happen at all. They are replaced with the serious work of “learning”.  Why?
Time to be Creative
In Accidental Creative, Todd Henry explores creativity.
If you’re responsible for solving problems, developing strategies, or otherwise straining your brain for new ideas, I’m going to call you creative…”
That pretty much describes every teacher I’ve ever met.  as they work in their schools and classrooms each day with students trying to help and support others learning they are “creatives”. So, instead of seeing teaching as something that is that “other profession” – teaching is a profession that, at it’s heart, is a creative endeavour every single day! It’s about being helping other achieve their greatest potential and supporting them as they find their own creativity and passions.
To do this, Henry outlines the acronym FRESH which stands for:
Focus – focus on what is important, on being creative and productive. I like to think of this as removing the “busy” from what teachers are doing each day so they can focus on the importance of learning and creating!
Relationships – these are essential to being creative. As a teacher, relationships are the foundation of the work that takes.
Energy – this is not just the ability to get work done but includes movtivation and desire to be engaged with the work. In education, a great deal of time is devoted to “energy and busy” with a much less amount of time given to the motivation of teachers and how it impacts the work they do.
Stimuli – what are people reading, watching, listening to? Do teachers have time to delve into the creative aspects of learning? What can the future of education look like? Do they have time to read about what some schools are doing? Is this seen as important for teachers? Students? What is the content that students are being exposed to? Is Genius Hour, MakerSpace, Coding and other creative endeavours a regular part of the learning?
Hours – this is how time is used and spent. “How you handle it will ultimately determine your success or failure”.  To me, that makes this pretty important!  Yet how often do people examine how they use their time and what they are doing with the time they have?
It’s not about efficiency!
It is no longer about being efficient with time, that race has run its course. Instead, as Henry points out “learn instead to focus on effectiveness.” Being efficient isn’t necessarily going to help solve the big problems and help people creatively move into the future. Time management and time efficiency methods are no longer suitable for the work of the world today.  If the time that teachers have is always spoken for and consumed by planning, marking, managing classrooms and attending meetings with little or no time for reflection and thinking about their work, with even their own time outside of school being devoted to doing “work”, there is little or no time left for teachers to be creators and innovators. At at time when many of the world’s thinkers are calling for creativity and demonstrating that the future of work will be vastly different from what it is now many leaders in education and leaders who are making policies concerning education are still in a time management model which is looking to make the system “more efficient” and “the best use of resources”.
The world around is a changing!
In a recent interview with Jeff BrownJeff Goins , author of Discover What You Were Meant to Do, points out
that in 1989 Charles Handy, who wrote the Age of unreason suggested that people would have portfolios that would demonstrate their skills and use these for developing a career. People would have portfolio lives. Recently Forbes popularized a study that shows that by 2030 over half of the working force will be independent contractors, they will have portfolio careers as freelancers.“The idea of a single education, followed by a single career, finishing with a single pension is over.”  The future is coming and it will happen. People will have many different skills and put them together in a portfolio.
So why is creativity so important? Why should schools encourage students to discover and explore, ask questions and be challenged to find answers that  creatively mix what they’ve learned? It would seem that this will indeed be what most of them will experience in their “present adult lives” – their future.
As Todd Henry points out
Anyone can improve their ability to generate good ideas consistently if willing to be a little more purposeful in how to approach the creative process.
This is key, being purposeful in the approach that is taken to the creative process. No longer is this something that can be ignored. If school leaders were to look around, they would find that the business leaders of today are suggesting a very different approach to business – one that students will not be prepared for if creativity, imagination, problem solving, collaboration and connectivity aren’t part of what students do each day. School isn’t about just preparing students for business or college, and some would say it’s not for that at all,  but it is about preparing them for the future in whatever they choose to do. Business leaders like Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, James Altucher, Mark Babbit, Ted Coiné, Chip and Dan Heath, Liz Wiseman, Patti Johnson, Dave Guymon, Rory Vaden, Jocelyn Glei, Simon Sinek  promote such things as  giving to others, relationships, creativity and collaboration among other things as being essential for growing and living now and in the future.
How we define greatness defines us. If you define greatness as choosing to engage every single act and interaction in your life with purpose, that will define your life. Todd Henry
Creativity isn’t selective
Creativity isn’t just something that some people have and others don’t but, instead, is something that needs to be nurtured and developed. To help students for their future, school leaders need to look forward. If, as it seems, leaders wants schools to be “business like” then let’s create them to be like future businesses not past factories. Sir Ken Robinson has so much to say about schools and creativity but there are many other leaders outside of education that are voicing that creativity is essential for the future.
I leave you with this thought by Sunni Brown, author of the Doodle Revolution
As scientists, innovators and even presidents know, doodling is a precursor to and a catalyst for deep intellectual and creative breakthroughs.
Creativity is important! What can you do to ensure students are purposefully engaging in creativity and using their imaginations each day? What about teachers?
Sunni’s TedTalk – Doodlers, unite!

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I am a husband, father, son.... I am currently working on my PhD in Education - Curriculum and Instruction. My focus is teacher professional development and social media integration. I have a beautiful, supportive wife who has been my partner for 28 years. We have 8 wonderful children who are amazing individuals. Together, we are exploring the world around us, sharing our stories, and enjoying the journey!


  1. “If, as it seems, leaders wants schools to be “business like” then let’s create them to be like future businesses not past factories.”

    That is the most positive spin I’ve heard on the business model of learning. I still find myself unreconciled to the concentration of young people into confined spaces with a poverty of resources for interminable hours each day. These conditions constrain imaginative expression.

    I watched my class during indoor recess a few days ago. That, and my weekly Genius Hour period illustrate the problem. Solitary drawing and writing fit neatly into the room, as did groups of several crafters over at the Maker’s Space. Three dancers occupied the open space in the middle, but they were interfered with by the group of boys playing a pickup game of floor hockey they had invented. Their imaginative game had nowhere to go without disrupting others. Schools lend themselves to solitary, unobtrusive forays into imagination. Schools hate physical movement.

    • I would tend to agree that traditional schools are created for a traditional view of education where students spent little time doing much else but sitting. With all the recent research being done about the “harm” of too much sitting, the neuroscience work being done that links movement and learning and, as I comment, a growing focus in the business community on creativity, collaboration, imagination and development, there should be a significant shift yet a recent article from the National Post focuses on the amount of spending on education despite a decline in enrolments – without looking at such things as the age of the infrastructure in most provinces and the cost of shifting away from a factory-style education. The focus, as is usually the case, is can the public see the results from all this spending – read have test scores gone up! Looking for immediate gains is like a farmer planting one week and expecting to tell if there will be a bumper crop the next!

      Anyone who has had to spend a few days on indoor recess soon will understand that schools are not designed for students to move around – the are places of limited and controlled movement where, as you indicate,

      lend themselves to solitary, unobtrusive forays into imagination

      I commend the work you do in at least trying to give students the chances to “explore, dance and play”!

  2. Thanks for your post.
    As I was going to try to write something for the blogging challenge, I was having difficult time to write about my own creativity. Because I often felt like my creative juice is running out of my brain…
    But, your post really is encouraging and reminded me that I AM creative. I am going to post your message “– teaching is a profession that, at it’s heart, is a creative endeavour every single day! It’s about being helping other achieve their greatest potential and supporting them as they find their own creativity and passions” onto my blog as reminder to myself.
    I also like your message Alan was mentioning. I have been working in school system for 10 years as support staff and it was concerning to see how school became businesslike with numbers and liabilities… where is the heart? I wondered sometimes.
    So it is very positive spin to create school to be like future business, not like a factory.

  3. I also keyed onto the part of your post about the need for schools to prepare students for a creative adulthood – business and other roles of adults require creative thought. We miss a great opportunity to nurture this early on when we neglect to encourage creativity in our students. This is something I was really trying to get at in my post on this topic but you have done it with greater creativity!

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