Cry God for creativity, England and Sir Ken!

So. It’s been a shocker of a week and wallowing in a rather negative mindset I got to thinking about thinking. Particularly about the idea that we ‘grow out of creativity’ and Sir Ken Robbinson’s battle cry that we must radically reform education systems in a whole new way if we are to succeed in championing creativity and run a truly innovative and efficient society.

To be honest, it’s hard not to be disheartened when reading ‘Out of Our MInds’ however accurate or inspiring the book might be. Especially so when, in the last week I have been forced into the defensive teaching corner by the never ending pile of badmin (hence blogging drought)  but also coming out of certain meetings that have been centred around problems in achieving something rather than encouraging positive cloud thinking. Such meetings mean, even in a week when I feel like I’m flying (the “Ofsted? Yes! Do come in, this is how it’s supposed to be done! feeling) it can be demotivating to feel that you are in the minority. You might be nurturing stella moments of creativity and independent learning but student feedback includes:

“But we need the right answer for the exam miss, it doesn’t matter what we think.”

Or

“Miss / Mr X is a great teacher. She / He just talks at us all lesson and we know what the answers are without having to discuss it.”

It is hard not to feel alone. You scream (hypothetically) “but this is how it should be!” but no matter how strong your convictions it is sometimes hard not to think your efforts futile. How can we produce an educational model that has ‘creativity at its centre’ if our SLTs (close to home) or our government (at a national level) don’t acknowledge or actively promote creativity because society is obsessed with performance statistics? But do they really think it’s ok that our lessons are boring if our A*-C ratio is above average and reflects well on the school? I don’t believe they do. But I do think some leadership teams have stopped investigating the content of lessons and are no longer proactively ensuring or promoting creative and independent approaches. They perhaps just hope it’s all happening. So will the enthusiastic teacher continually pushing for more inevitably become frustrated? Is this why teachers end up in menopause corner? Must we gracefully accept our fate?

But even if we persevere and shout about creativity until we’re blue in the face and someone listens and we set up a committee to look in to it … don’t we just have another problem? If creativity becomes a whole school agenda does it become counter productive – is it no longer creative? This week I attended an excellent inset given by Steve Garnett and Dragonfly Education called ‘integrating thinking skills in the classroom.’ Steve introduced us to ‘thinking maps,’ ‘Venn diagrams’, ‘living graphs’, ‘anthropormorphism’ and more. It was an Inset well worth the considerable chunk of budget and every idea or resource designed to foster the best kinds of independent and creative learning. At one point I wrote in the margin of my notepad: ‘why not use thinking maps across curriculum for uniform approach?’ Perhaps because if everyone used them, the outcomes would become formulaic and  no longer result in the creativity we were seeking? Of course, teaching is all about balance and there is certainly a place for didactic methods but in trying to cage creativity within our institutions are we crushing it at the same time? How do we innovate without incapacitating?

I don’t propose to answer these questions but simply post them into the virtual universe for consideration. Because, on reflection, I believe that it is forcing yourself to tussle with these pedagogical problems that enables good teaching. We won’t always get it right. We won’t always manage  brilliance – some weeks the badmin will win! But simply twisting ourself in knots around the question of creativity may well ensure that we achieve a higher ratio of what Steve Garnett calls ‘Ahhh moments.’ What’s an ‘Ahhh’ moment?  An ‘ahhhh moment’ is one in which a child is emotionally engaged in the moment of learning. Either a stimulus (persuasive text featuring abandoned puppy for example) makes them go ‘Ahhh’ and so they are more effectively engaged in the learning by being emotionally invested or a moment in which they finally understand for themselves a concept, idea or skill… ‘Ahhh!’ I witnessed the latter this week when one Y11 student finally submitted to independent analysis of a poem cried ‘Miss! I can do it! And I really like poetry…it’s all about ideas and my ideas matter.’ And with that, one teenage boy dispelled my lingering sense of futility. So I think… Just as companies used to say ‘oh! You speak Viking? You must come and run our factory?’ So we, the teachers, should say ‘oh! You don’t know all the answers but like asking questions? You must come and teach in our schools.’

With that, time to scuttle off and plan some lessons that involve me doing very little and them doing very lots. Three cheers for tying yourself in knots and for the young man that sparked my creativity this week! Happy Monday mornings to you all. May it be a new sheet of paper and a challenge worth accepting.

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7 thoughts on “Cry God for creativity, England and Sir Ken!

  1. Laura – I feel your pain. I too have experienced the existential angst brought on by kids saying things like, “That was a really good lesson sire, we didn’t have to think at all.” Agghh!

    My bete noir is, “I don’t know.” Yes, I know you don’t. What do you THINK?

    I’d really recommend reading Daniel Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School? In it he sets out why students don’t like thinking and suggests some things we can do about it.

    Keep fighting the good fight, David

  2. Have also been to a Steve Garnett Dragonfly session, excellent stuff.
    Re. ‘uniform’ approach, our SLT responsible for Learning to Learn has held training sessions informing staff of the language, methods etc that pupils are using in L2L classes in year 7, so we can all try to be on (or at least be aware of) the same wavelength. Depressingly, met with lots of hostility from inflexible staff. Likewise the (younger) staff who are trying to inculcate this year’s whole school focus of ‘Independent Learning’.
    Anyway, great blogpost and keep going.

  3. I’ve been in the exact same situation this week, left scratching my head over where the pupils are as a priority in all the paper work and admin. Ofsed would like schools to ‘appear’ to be doing everything right with reams of paper work, regardless of what is actually going on in class.
    I got some real inspiration this week from Ian Beadle’s book, Dancing about Architecture where he says it is a professional obligation to be breaking the rules and trying new things. So I have, and I’ve enjoyed my teaching hugely as a result. Can’t say out comes are any better, but my conscience is clear!
    Cheers,
    Chris

  4. Dear Jack,

    I’m afraid, if you’re 32 I am not the teacher you are thinking of. What a shame! I hope you find her. It’s great to know there are teachers making such a difference.

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