“Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.” ~ Chuck Close on creativity.
It’s true, as Ken Robinson so seminally noted, that we often have homicidal tendencies with creativity in schools. Lectures, grades, high stakes standardized testing: no one’s ever going to go viral arguing the merits of these tools for creativity enhancement.
I feel, however, that one mistake we make when lauding creativity’s place in the classroom is we focus so much on the things which are supposedly stifling it, that we forget to describe how to advance it. We mystify and aggrandize it to the point where it becomes a spoiled child who gets praised a lot but no one ever tells to do anything. I’m wondering if the following would help.
1. Space and Time ~ If we really value creativity, eliminate, or at least diminish the power of, the things that make it impossible to occur. Then proceed to design adequate spaces and provide more time for it instead. Lots of time.
2. Figure out a way to assess it ~ Stop wringing our hands about the subjective nature of creativity, resorting to sheer relativism. Yes, we know it’s often in the eye of the beholder. Fine, so is pretty much everything else we do in education. Develop learning goals, establish criteria, provide feedback, model it. Forget the cliche about the mean grade 1 art teacher who laughed at my drawing of an elephant (which really looked like a fried egg with ears) so I never picked up a Crayola marker again. The problem wasn’t the mean teacher; it was the system that left you so vulnerable and unresilient to feedback, however bitter, twisted, and unnecessarily evaluative it was.
3. Forget the Work-Play Dichotomy ~ Creative work may not be the same as shovelling snow, but it is work nonetheless. We don’t need euphemisms for it.
4. Teach Workflow ~ If you talk to, or read about, creative people who actually (in Seth Godin’s words) ship, it’s pretty clear that the majority of them have strategies and tools to organize their ideas and stay productive. When our students get struck with inspiration, what tools do they use to remember it? What do they do to synthesize their own minds? Many creative people use notebooks, voice recorders, or cameras as metacognitive tools. Do our students?
5. Walk the Walk ~ Any approach to enhancing creativity in our systems cannot preclude the adults and professionals in our buildings from participating in the same processes. We cannot have creative students growing in the presence of adult bystanders. Numbers 1-4 above become a lot easier and context specific when students can actually learn implicit and explicit lessons from creative grown ups.
What else can we do to nurture creativity in our schools?