Saturday, November 8, 2014

Creativity...The Key to Challenging Students to be Their Best

I have to admit, I could never color inside the lines as a child. My colorings or drawings were never neat and my glue jobs were even worse. I don't know if it was some kind of early non-conformist act of trying to move beyond the lines of confinement, but I am pretty sure I was just horrible in art. As I was told that we were being "creative" I looked at my neighbors drawing and then mine, and concluded that there was no way that hers and mine could both be "creative," so I guessed that mine was not. As a result, I was convinced that people were either creative or not. In fact, I truly believe that I was not even though I desperately wanted to be. However, when I look back on my education and I look at schools today, I am struck by the thought that we have neglected to truly teach our students the importance and the structure of the creative process.

Creativity has been misused for far too long in our schools. Even now, as it is included in the Four C's as one of the most important 21st Century skills, it is often looked upon as a side note rather than a focus. Creativity is reserved for electives and projects at the end of the semester when everyone has completed their coursework. Most people associate creativity with art, media, drama, and maybe creative writing courses. The perception is that creativity is the glitter you sprinkle on top after completing all of the "real work." We have to break this cycle of thinking.

The truth is that creativity is the key to unlocking the maximum capacity of our students. We have to understand that creativity is the launching point for our students to be engaged, motivated, challenged, and to feel a sense of accomplishment when they complete their work. We as humans are naturally inclined to want to solve problems creatively, come up with creative conclusions to challenging questions, or create things that improve the processes of our lives. If we design projects in our schools where the problem is meaningful, the methods by which the problems are solved are left to the student being challenged, and the outcome is important, the sky is the limit for what a young mind can do.

In his book, "Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire," Bruce Nussbaum explains that great design and innovation come from Knowledge Mining, Framing, Playing, Making, and Pivoting (adjusting for growth and change). This is not free time. This is a structured creative process that we all should implement in our classrooms and schools. Knowledge Mining is the all important skill of researching. Framing includes finding out the problem and the need for a solution within the context. Playing involves the testing of theories, trail and error, and design. Making is the finishing of the product or the answering of the question. Pivoting is making your answer, invention, design, or outcome meaningful to the current climate and purpose. For example, it could be making your design into a business venture.

Why are we not using these fundamental processes of creation in our classrooms today?

In history, there have been great military leaders, athletes, musicians, inventors, scientists, artists, and architects who would be considered children today. These young people achieved greatness because they saw the need for greatness and used their creativity to seize it. Are we asking our students to do these things today? What are we asking them to do with their creativity? They are entering one of the most economically uncertain times in American history, into a workforce that none of us can realistically predict, and into a world that is more globalized than ever before. How do we prepare them for something so intimidating and unpredictable? We have to harness the power of creativity to teach them how to be critical thinkers, collaborators, communicators, and community members. They have to be competent in their ability to problem solve using their creativity. Instead of asking if our classes are rigorous, we should ask if our classes involve the creative process. Because if they do, there is no question about how challenging and worthwhile the learning is. Leading is Teaching.

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