Ask a group of educators or administrators what they'd consider to be the most critical aspect of teaching and you're sure to get a variety of answers--having a growth mindset, data-driven decision making, willingness to collaborate with fellow educators, the list goes on. But perhaps none is as out of fashion as this response:
Commence the eye-rolling. The word creativity brings to mind images of kindergarteners stringing macaroni necklaces & bulletin boards so pretty everyone knows it's from Pinterest. Not that there's anything wrong with either one of these by the way, fine-motor skills are important & I love a good Pinterest-inspired bulletin board--I mean how cute is this?!
The bottom line is, we've got a job to do--a tough one--and little time with which to do it. So who cares about creativity?
Well, I do. And so do many others--maybe just not in the sense of how creativity is generally perceived.
What I'm interested in is the concept of create-ive inspiration. I'm not talking about the cut & paste, scrapbooking kind of creativity here, I'm referring to creativity as the act of working with an inspired idea to create something worthwhile that makes an impact on your audience. I'm talking about the idea that we create our lessons & curriculum from an inspired source that is unique to us & our particular brand of skills, talents, & gifts. Just as an artist, musician, or dancer uses his own God-given talent to inspire his audience, I'm suggesting we approach our teaching in the same way. Every human craves to find his or her passion--their particular gift to offer the world, the thing that lights them up. Creativity is co-creating with inspiration to offer that gift. When you're working with inspired creativity, you're working with your own particular brand of genius--even though the work has its challenges, it doesn't feel like drudgery or a grind, time flies as you're creating and ideas flow effortlessly. Have you ever been teaching a lesson or working with a student and you get chills? Or you get that feeling like "yep, this is what I'm meant to do"? If so, that's inspiration at work.
The problem with putting importance on the creative process in teaching is that it's not measurable and it seems that in education, if it's not measurable, it doesn't warrant time or attention. Well, as I know you already know, not everything important in life is quantifiable. Ask anybody what matters to them most in their lives & it's the stuff we can't measure: our love for our children, our connection with our higher power, the swelling feeling in our hearts when we're watching a sunset that takes our breath away. Humans need to know that the work they do matters, that how they spend their precious moments here on Earth are important, or they become uninspired. And that's a problem because inspiration is the fuel off which we run. The harder we run (and teachers run really hard), the more fuel we need. Inspiration in teaching right now is in short supply. If it weren't, would so many teachers be leaving the profession in search of something else?
The creative process is talked about in artistic professions like painting, writing, or dance, but not in teaching so much. In the arts, we assume and accept that professionals create their work when inspired--an exciting idea comes & they can't help but create the piece--inspiration takes over! It's an inside-out process. In education, the process seems to be more "outside-in". The conversation seems to be centered around the concept of results driving the creation (i.e. Johnny has increasingly low test scores so our work becomes focused on improving that result) Now, I'm not arguing that Johnny's downslide doesn't matter or that we should ignore that data--it's critical for us to know who's getting what we're teaching & who's not, but it should guide the HOW, not the WHY. In other words, it should shape HOW we deliver our instruction, not WHY we do what we do. If we make results the why, rather than a larger purpose, we become uninspired, which is the kiss of death for a creator. This would be like a painter or songwriter sitting down & asking "now what can I create that will help me get the rent paid?" in order to gain inspiration for his next great piece of work. It's creating from a place of stress & pressure rather than from a place of inspiration & it's been my experience that creating from stress rarely yields good results. When you work from inspired creativity, the great ideas flow, you're engaged, the students are too, and you can't help but get positive outcomes. Additionally, it's important to note that operating from inspired creativity is not about forsaking rigor--the two are not exclusive of each other. In fact, I might argue that some of the greatest works of art and greatest musical compositions ever made were also highly sophisticated, rigorous works. We have to get away from the mindset that these two are exclusive of each other: on the contrary, they go hand in hand.
Whether we're talking about students or consumers, know your audience, YES. Keep in mind what each of them needs & how to achieve that in the way you execute your art. But please, create it because you love the process & you're excited about it, because it lights you up...not to have the class with the best looking data wall. Those great outcomes should occur naturally as a result of that masterpiece you composed, rather than be the impetus of what you create in the classroom.
Let's stop acting like GREAT teaching isn't an art form & bring a little creativity back into what we do. Let's take opportunities when gathered together to remember the impact of our work and take opportunities when alone to connect to our own unique source of inspiration, whatever that may be. While I think administrators have a fantastic opportunity to infuse our PD & inservices with activities that refuel us, the maintenance of our own creative process is ultimately our own responsibility. I had a mentor years ago who compared staying inspired to routinely cleaning soot off the inside of a lantern. The flame of the lantern is your source of light, your connection to a higher power, or your source of creative inspiration, depending on how you see it. If you let too much soot & gunk build up on the inside of the lantern, not only can you not see the flame, it won't provide much light, either. If we're to continue over the years to make a positive impact & inspire our students, we have to periodically take measures to reconnect to our purpose & stoke that flame of inspired creativity so we don't burn out. And what better time than summer?!