Preparing Students to Thrive: The Creativity Cohort Approach to Leading Grassroots Innovative Change at School

Photo by pan xiaozhen

Photo by pan xiaozhen

In six months they would break ground on a new building that included classrooms, a library, and an innovation center. The school had already hired a director of innovation who was to begin that summer, a year in advance of the innovation space opening. This was a sign that they had strong leadership with a clear vision. They intuitively knew that they needed to integrate the concepts of creativity and innovation throughout the core curriculum or they’d end up with an underutilized space and several special subjects to work into the schedule. 

But how can a school truly incorporate “innovation” to permeate and support its core educational mission?

BACKGROUND

This is a case study outlining one school’s approach to integrating the principles of innovation and creativity to support its core educational mission. This school took advantage of a new building process as a catalyst for positive, strategic change. But innovative change is personal and based on each unique school’s specific mission, vision, and challenges. A dedicated innovation center is not necessary to integrating innovative principles into the curriculum. This article should not be regarded as a blueprint, but as example of one school’s approach that can be customized to meet a wide spectrum of school situations. 

Rippowam Cisqua School  (RCS) is an independent school just outside New York City serving preschool through ninth grade students. Its upper school houses the fifth through ninth grades and is located on a separate campus from the preschool through fourth-grade lower school. The school has roots in a rigorous yet child-centered approach to education and is known for its excellent language arts and public speaking programs. 

Almost a decade ago, a board-level strategic planning process revealed the need for a new building on the upper campus. RCS was founded in 1917 and for years had been outgrowing its physical space. When the architectural design process began in 2014, the word “innovation” rose to the top of many discussions. 

Nationwide, the importance of innovation and creativity was beginning to be recognized on a broader level. The top skills needed to thrive in the continuously changing world of the 21st century are clear. A World Economic Forum report recently named them as: complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity (World Economic Forum, 2016). In fact, all three of these skills are integral to the creative thinking and problem solving process. RCS leaders knew that the new building process provided an opportunity to re-examine how creativity and innovation might support the continued growth and evolution of the school as a thought leader in innovation and creativity best practices. 

Strategic change requires a strong leader and as building plans were underway, Colm MacMahon was hired as head of school. Colm has a strong vision and understanding of the future of education. He is committed to RCS’s child-centric approach to engage all students so they can experience deep learning and growth. He also knew that the new building with its cutting-edge innovation space had the potential to support the school’s entire educational mission if approached strategically. 

To that end, over a full year before the innovation space ribbon cutting, Colm hired a director of innovation, Miles Cameron, who had been part of the art department and involved in the development of the maker curriculum at Riverdale Country School in New York City.  Miles had a strong track record integrating creative thinking with core curriculum, is an expert on all materials and tools one might find in an innovation space, and is an excellent collaborator.

In the spring of 2016, Colm had a building in the works, an incredible new hire to lead the innovation efforts, excellent leadership skills, and a strong board behind him. But how was he going to lead innovative change that would engage faculty from the ground up and leverage, rather than upend, the school’s culture and traditions?

Kathryn Haydon of Sparkitivity was introduced to the visionary chairwoman of the Rippowam Cisqua board, Kirtley Cameron. We had an initial meeting with Colm MacMahon where Kathryn listened to the school’s vision and goals, asked questions, and spoke a bit about the scientific meaning of innovation and creativity and how these terms relate to the classroom.

WHAT IS INNOVATION? WHAT IS CREATIVE LEARNING? 

It’s critical to clearly understand the terms we are using so we don’t risk being on the tail end of yet another educational buzzword. Innovation is hot right now, but its true meaning is substantial and enduring. Innovation is the result of creativity. Creativity is problem solving to find new solutions. In a school setting, innovation is the personal growth that results from meaningful, engaged teaching or “creative learning.” 

Creative learning is the integration of creativity, content, self-growth, and collaboration. Everybody is creative; that is, everybody has the capacity to be creative, to use both ideational (divergent) and critical (convergent) thinking. When students are experiencing creative learning they utilize this full range of thinking abilities and they grow. Teachers do the same when they teach using creative learning practices. A recent comprehensive review of hundreds of studies and articles found that creative learning leads to students’ “improved academic achievement; increased confidence and resilience; enhanced motivation and engagement; development of social, emotional and thinking skills; and improved school attendance” (Davies et al., 2013).

Creative learning practices boil down to best teaching practices. Many good teachers who aren’t over-constrained by tight curricula and timeframes teach this way naturally. Introducing them to creative learning principles enhances these teaching strengths and helps them use them more deliberately.

Creative learning practices harness and build on strengths—of the school, the teachers, and the students. They allow people to use the full range of their talents to experience growth and progress. This type of personal growth does not occur if education is limited to the lower-level thinking realms of rote memorization and practice. 

Colm and Kirtley were gratified to know that they could have it both ways: innovation and creativity would enhance the school’s curricula and traditions. They both liked what they heard, and Colm expressed interest in Sparkitivity's Creativity and Innovation Intensive for Leaders.   Kathryn developed a tailored presentation to deliver to him in an hour and a half containing the research and practices from the science of creativity that he needed to know specifically for his purposes. They also explored a series of questions to dig deeper into his goals, vision, and challenges.

Throughout the Intensive, Colm and Kathryn were on the same page. He had thought a lot about creative leadership and learning practices, including integrated learning, drawing on individual strengths of students and faculty, and integrating creative thinking with core curriculum. The principles discussed helped frame his thoughts and clarify a strategy.

CREATIVE LEARNING ECOSYSTEM MODEL

The framework for the Creativity and Innovation Intensive was the Sparkitivity Creative Learning Ecosystem model (Haydon, 2015). Based on the systems model of creativity which was introduced by Mel Rhodes (1961) and further developed by Puccio, Mance, & Murdock (2011), the Creative Learning Ecosystem model maps the interplay among several factors that work together to support innovative thinking and learning in school. 

In order to achieve true innovation, which in an educational setting is personal growth and contribution, we  have to employ best practices throughout several domains: leadership, understanding students, teaching practices, and the classroom environment, especially climate and culture. These best practices serve to enhance the strengths of all involved—the school itself, the curriculum, the teachers and administrators, the students, and their families. It is not a plug-and-play program that usurps the way you do things, but fundamentally a mindset shift and simple tweaks that enhance what you are already doing. The Creative Learning Ecosystem model can be effectively used by progressive schools and classical schools, and everyone in between. 

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STEP ONE: ENGAGING CONSTITUENTS

Board. In any attempt at creative change, there are several categories of people to consider: leadership including the board and senior administration, teachers, parents, students, and the greater community. In this case, the board had generated the initial vision. Board members had the long view in mind and trusted head of school Colm MacMahon’s leadership approach. They had a five-year plan and he was not under pressure to produce immediate results; such pressure would have stunted our efforts because creative change takes time and effort to do well. 

Leadership. Change also calls for a strong and courageous leader to persevere, because as humans we are generally predisposed to resist change. Colm already used creative leadership best practices, so he didn’t need additional coaching. He was strong in communicating the vision to all constituents as he spoke about the possibilities of innovative change.

Teachers and Students. The next step in the strategy was to establish a team and to engage teachers on a school-wide level. To that end, Miles Cameron and Kathryn Haydon partnered to design an end-of-summer professional development workshop for the faculty. This was the faculty’s introduction to Miles himself, to see examples of opportunities to collaborate with him even before the innovation space was built, and to introduce Kathryn as an expert in the process and supporter of RCS’s innovation efforts. 

The aim was to maximize the impact of this workshop by engaging teachers in design thinking/creative problem solving activities that they could apply to their own teaching content. They learned a specific way to enhance lessons, an easy shift that pays huge dividends in student engagement and learning. Teachers reported that the workshop was fun and inspiring. Many applied the strategies in their classrooms on the first days of school and shared with us the results. This kick-off was successful because the content was meaningful and applicable to teachers. It helped them enhance and energize their teaching strengths and they saw positive results in their students’ learning.

Parents. One of the often overlooked groups of people that need to be involved in any innovative shift is parents. RCS did not overlook this group; in fact, parents were involved from the very beginning. In many of his talks, Colm MacMahon included talking points about innovation and creativity, about best teaching practices, and creative change. Parents were primed for this and they were given the opportunity to understand the framework of creativity on a broad level that fall. Kathryn Haydon was hired to deliver a keynote speech for parents and the community called: “Creative Thinking: Key to Your Child’s Future.” Parents were engaged and each received a copy of her book, Creativity for Everybody, so they could take home with them background on this framework and think about how to apply the ideas in their families as well.

Innovation Liaison. Throughout this time, Miles was establishing a classroom-sized, low-tech imagination space on the lower campus (PK through fourth grade). He was gathering materials and setting up projects to show what is possible, even in a low-tech space. This lower school space was designed as a prototype, an experiment using a large supplies closet transformed into an imagination space. 

On the lower campus of the school, a new innovation space was not being built and extra rooms were at a premium. It is possible to work with what you have with excellent results; fundamentally the goal is to inspire teachers to enhance their approaches with integrated practices, new lines of questioning, and creative problem solving tools and processes.

Miles started a before-school Maker Lab and it immediately filled, with more kids on the waiting list. He worked with teachers to design integrated learning projects incorporating engineering and problem solving. These included a popsicle stick bridge project, experimenting with lift using simple materials and a fan as a wind tunnel, experimenting with potential energy by making rubber band cars, and learning about gravitational force through zipline experiments and marble runs. Teachers individually recognized the room as an opportunity to use the space for experimental projects. First graders were able to add Little Bits circuitry to their urban-rural-suburban models. Young students built three-dimensional letters to make language arts come alive.

On the upper campus, Miles did the same. Though they didn’t have a space, he helped teachers develop low-tech integrated learning approaches to teach their content. One collaborative project was the Revolutionary War day for middle school humanities students. (Read the full story here.) The seventh-grade humanities teacher had the idea to design for students an immersive experience of a day in the life of a Revolutionary War soldier. Miles helped identify, gather, and organize materials for tent building and fire making. He also provided the expertise to teach the students these skills. 

In another instance, a science teacher had long envisioned a project wherein students would build models of human joints. He hadn’t actualized this because he didn’t know the best approach or which materials to use. Miles worked with the teacher to understand the goals, built a prototype as an example, come up with the steps to the project, and develop a rubric to assess the students on their learning.

This type of integrated learning is always tailored to the constraints or resources of an individual classroom or school. It is not dependent on space or budgets, but only on the creativity of teachers to envision such projects for their students. Even without a director of innovation, when a spirit of collaboration underlies the school culture, teachers can tap into the expertise of colleagues or use their resources to find the expertise they need for certain projects. They can also bring creative learning into their classrooms with simple strategies and ongoing motivation.

STEP TWO: LONGTERM STRATEGY

The teachers at Rippowam Cisqua were engaged in the initial professional development workshop on a broad level. Many were working with Miles on integrated learning collaborations. But the success of an effort to incorporate true creative learning practices throughout the school must include an ongoing effort to support and motivate teachers to use them. Otherwise, creativity becomes another special subject that will one day get cut at the master scheduling chopping block. We cannot separate core learning from creativity. Creative thinking is the highest level of thinking and when it is incorporated in all subjects it drives the highest levels of student learning and growth. (Again, this takes a mind shift and is not as hard as it might sound).

One of the most effective approaches to professional development is an ongoing approach. Schools like The Blue School in New York City keep their teachers inspired and infused with new ideas by having professional development workshops every Friday. This may be difficult to schedule in most schools and the cohort approach provides a more attainable alternative, both from a budgetary and scheduling standpoint.

At RCS, head of school Colm MacMahon wanted to create lasting change. Such change requires strong leadership at the top, but also a desire on the part of the people who are responsible for doing the day-to-day work: teachers. Thus, we opted for the Creativity Cohort Model, a slow and steady grassroots approach inspired on Colm’s end by his own Theory Into Practice Cohort experience Berkeley Carroll School in New York City.

The Creativity Cohort Model is designed to provide a small group of teachers with a collaborative team, idea exchange, and ongoing training and professional development directly tailored to their unique teaching needs. Teachers are busy and when they take time for professional development, they want it to directly apply to their own classrooms. A Creativity Cohort makes this possible. It is also designed to generate a ripple effect. If we are truly inspiring and providing value to teachers, they are apt to share with other teachers and bring them into the process. 

In RCS’s case, Colm collaborated with director of innovation Miles Cameron to select an initial group of six teachers for the first Creativity Cohort, three from the lower campus and three from the upper campus. Two-hour, once-a-month after-school meetings were scheduled from January through May. Each cohort member committed to attend these meetings and they were treated as the VIPs they are, with drinks and snacks provided by the kitchen. 

Miles and Kathryn clearly laid out the outcomes and goals for the cohort from the very beginning. After the trainings, teachers can expect to have:

    •    strategies to exercise their own creative thinking;

    •    strategies to integrate creative learning into their core curriculum;

    •    approaches to evaluate creative products; 

    •    confidence and tools to develop projects that use high-level creative thinking; 

    •    background in the science of creativity;

    •    a team of trusted collaborators;


with the goal to:

    •    more deeply engage students and encourage them to take risks;

    •    be a changemaker in school curriculum and strategies;

    •    work at a school where students are making more choices in what they are
        learning and how they learn;

    •    collaborate with the imagination space (lower campus) and innovation center
        (upper campus) to enhance the student experience.

The training series was designed using the Creative Learning Ecosystems model as a framework along with the school’s innovation and creativity goals. The following year six teachers were selected for the second cohort. The needs of the second cohort were different, partly because of the change in physical environment. The new building with the innovation center was open on upper campus and a new goal was to shift what had been done the previous year in a conference room to take advantage of the new space and demonstrate its potential uses. Every session is approached as an opportunity to iterate and improve by more clearly perceiving teacher needs. Creativity is always customized because it is so individual and personal, yet there are tried and true strategies that make it fairly easy to do so. 

Kathryn Haydon's involvement is to work with Miles to design the cohort trainings and provide background support on overall innovation strategy. Concurrent with the Creativity Cohort efforts, Miles has been “boots on the ground” in the school. In the innovation center, he daily models creative learning practices and collaborates with teachers to teach content in history, science, math, and language arts alongside problem solving skills like design thinking. Collaboration skills and teamwork are emphasized in all the work done in the innovation center. One student used Adobe Illustrator to digitally design a sign language alphabet project that was printed on the laser cutter. Others have used Tinkercad to design 3D models to print a model civilization for a humanities project. Students have even learned how to safely use woodworking tools to prototype entrepreneurial solutions to a global issue related to the water cycle. The rich learning taking place in the innovation center and classrooms is inspiring teachers to try new ideas and incorporate new dimensions into their teaching.  

STEP THREE: RIPPLES OF CHANGE

At all levels, this idea of positive, creative change is being infused into the culture and practices of the school—all to the end of facilitating learning that deeply engages students and helps them grow as individual thinkers and learners. 

Recently, Sparkitivity's Kathryn Haydon gave a report to Rippowam Cisqua’s board. She shared that the progress sparked by the Creativity Cohort can be observed in classrooms throughout the school. There are many, many examples already of changes teachers have made. Many have received boosts in confidence to keep doing what they do well when they realize that they’ve already been using a best practice. This is just a handful of examples of how teachers are applying Creativity Cohort learnings in their classrooms: 

  • a lower school teacher requested Sparkitivity to provide summer training to her grade-level teacher team to help them improve a major social studies unit and to learn the strategies so they can do this themselves in the future;
  • a cohort member middle school technology teacher collaborated with a science teacher to teach tech skills in the context of a science unit;
  • a cohort member is leading a new Lego Robotics team at the school, headquartered in the innovation center;
  • a middle school teacher reported that his entire teaching methodology was transformed by Creativity Cohort learnings and engaged students corroborate this feedback; 
  • a cohort member now writes articles for national publications and speaks at conferences on a specific application of creative learning, representing the school as a thought leader in the broader community; 
  • an elementary teacher is using an aspect of Creativity Cohort learnings to deepen student engagement in every lesson she teaches;
  • many, many teachers are collaborating with Miles in the innovation center on significant curricular projects, and students are asking for more.

The Creativity Cohort approach is designed to deeply engage and inspire teachers in the same manner we want them to engage their students. Its intent is to create a ripple effect to gradually make the needed shifts to more sustainably support creativity and innovation—in the culture, the curriculum, and the interactions among constituents. When you meet people on an individual level and give them structures and strategies that tap into their strengths, they become inspired by the growth and progress they experience and they contribute even more fully to their jobs or communities. As they celebrate these tangible results, an iterative cycle is perpetuated wherein best practices are reinforced and the organization continues to flourish.  This is what is beginning to transpire at Rippowam Cisqua School as a result of its strategic, multi-level effort toward incorporate the concepts of innovation and creativity into its core mission.

CONCLUSION: INNOVATIVE CHANGE IS ALWAYS CUSTOMIZED

Chairwoman of the board of Rippowam Cisqua, Kirtley Cameron, said recently that the idea of innovation has always been core to the school’s identity. The board members knew that pursuing this focus on innovation was right, even though they didn’t know quite what it would, or should, look like. This happens to be one of the most important mindsets for achieving truly innovative results: tolerance for ambiguity, or the ability to navigate situations that don't yet have a clear solution. This leadership approach models the mindset needed for sustainable change.

Kirtley was right when she said that innovation must look different at every school to be genuine. So many schools know, like Rippowam Cisqua did, that innovation and creativity are important. Yet, running a class in design thinking or creating a Maker Space don’t on their own result in a fundamental shift in student engagement, depth of learning, or the development of essential creative problem solving skills. Many independent schools have built incredible innovation spaces that become centers for excellent special subject or after school classes but they are trying to figure out how to more deeply connect them to the school’s overall curricular goals. Strategically approaching innovative change through a grassroots model customized to a school’s individual needs is a recipe for longterm, sustainable growth within an inspiring and empowering process.

Kathryn Haydon, M.Sc., is the founder of Sparkitivity and co-founder of the Creativity Cohort at Rippowam Cisqua School. She works with leadership teams to create sustainable cultures of innovation, and with teachers at independent schools to integrate creative thinking across academic content. A former award-winning second grade, Spanish, and enrichment teacher at an independent school, she has written and spoken widely on the topics of creativity, creative learning, and supporting creative and gifted students. She co-authored Creativity for Everybody (2015) and Discovering and Developing Talents in Spanish Speaking Students (2012), and her writing has appeared in The Washington Post and other top publications. Kathryn is a graduate of Northwestern University, and she holds a master of science degree in Creativity and Change Leadership from the acclaimed International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY-Buffalo in New York.

 

Sources: 

Davies, D., Jindal-Snape, D., Collier, C., Digby, R., Hay, P., & Howe, A.  (2013).  Creative learning environments in education—A systematic literature review. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 8, 80-91. 

Haydon, K. P.  (2015).  What if we view our education system as an ecosystem? In M. K. Culpepper & C. Burnett (Eds.),  Big questions in creativity 2015 (113-128). Buffalo, NY: ICSC Press.

Puccio, G. J., Mance, M., & Murdock, M. C.  (2011). Creative leadership: Skills that drive change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Rhodes, M.  (1961).  An analysis of creativity.  The Phi Delta Kappan,42(7), 305-310. 

World Economic Forum. “The 10 Skills You Need to Thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” The Future of Jobs.  January 18, 2016. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-10-skills-you-need-to-thrive-in-the-fourth-industrial-revolution/ 

 

Leading Creative Teams Can Be Like Herding Tigers. Todd Henry Helps Us Do It Well

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Creative leaders use their own creative thinking to draw out the creativity of their subordinates. This approach to leadership is key to sustaining engaged, innovative teams, which is a rarity these days. A 2015 Gallup poll revealed that only 32 percent of U.S. workers are engaged in their jobs.  Contrast this with a McKinsey survey updated in 2012 that shows a whopping 89 percent of employees are satisfied when their companies have leaders who are inspirational, supportive, empowering, and focused on development. That’s creative leadership in a nutshell.

I’m a creative leadership nerd. Looking back, I’ve been attuned to creative leadership all my life. Throughout school I was in my element when teachers used creative leadership strategies in the classroom. In college, I applied to my university’s Undergraduate Leadership Program, where I studied creative leaders past and present. I have a master’s degree in creativity and change leadership. In my own business, I’ve learned to be a creative leader and I help educators and managers apply the principles of creativity to their own leadership. Needless to say, I was eager to dig into Todd Henry’s new book on the topic, Herding Tigers: Be the Leader That Creative People Need.

Todd travels the world helping teams become “prolific, brilliant, and healthy.” As he engages with thousands of people each year, the same challenges come up again and again. Herding Tigersreleased today, is designed to help the many leaders of creatives who share a common problem. They “feel alone, under-equipped, and frustrated with their teams.”  The book is targeted to anyone who leads teams of creatives, but is especially helpful for creatives who have been promoted to leadership roles. 

Because creative thinking is thinking differently, highly creative people live in an ethos of different. It follows that they are often not understood by those around them. In order to effectively lead them, we need to understand general principles about the dynamics of creativity. If the climate, practices, and environment of our team run counter to creative leadership best practices, team members will neither perform nor engage.

Throughout the book, Todd demonstrates that the upside of effectively leading creative teams is enormous—for the leader and the team.  He wrote, “. . . those leaders who commit themselves to developing the people around them—unleashing their potential, helping them recognize their own greatness, and teaching them to curb their destructive impulses—will build a body of work that echoes down through generations as their influence multiplies through the lives of the people they’ve led.” 

Herding Tigers tackles two overarching components: mindset and mechanics. Todd convinces us that being a creative leader for creatives is essential. He busts several myths about creative people, including the myth that “creative people want total freedom.” Todd well understands that constraints drive creativity, but the constraints have to be clear and predictable. 

If you listen to Todd Henry’s Accidental Creative podcast or have read his other books, you know that he is all about developing consistent practices to help you achieve your goals and live the life you envision. I’ve become a believer in the importance of daily practices, sparked by his last book Louder Than Words

The lion’s share (had to) of Herding Tigers is practical. It details how to apply the principles of creative leadership and how to develop your own creative leadership practices so that they are sustainable. Each chapter concludes with suggested actions, conversations to have with team members, and rituals. True to the spirit of creative leadership, it is not prescriptive but a menu of options that you can tailor to your own particular leadership needs. 

Authoritative leadership does not lead to productive, engaged teams and it crushes creatives. But most of us default to leading the way we were led. We can get out of this default mode by thinking back to experiences in our past when we had leaders that helped us grow as individuals.

What did the leader do that inspired you?

How did she structure meetings or conversations?

What types of questions did he ask, or what types of directions did he give?

Your own positive experiences, connected with the principles, practices, and stories in Herding Tigers, will help you lead the way you’d want to be led. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Creativity for Everybody" Helps Middle School Students Begin the Year With Positive Self-Concepts

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This is a guest post by Karina Olsen, sixth-grade teaching apprentice at an independent school in Fairfield County, Connecticut. 

Sparkitivity's Creative Constellation lesson at the beginning of the school year helped me better understand my students. It also gave them a launching point for how to think of themselves as learners and community members. This is a great activity for fresh start in this new year, too.

At our school, we value childhood, creativity, and experiential learning. I wanted to start off the year with an activity to help them establish positive views about themselves because I’ve found that the most effective way to increase student success is through helping them find a higher sense of self-worth. When students confidently believe in themselves and have a clear understanding of their strengths, they feel ready to tackle challenges. 

I began the lesson by talking to my students about creativity and asking them if they think of themselves as creative. We had a discussion around “What is creativity?” and “What makes someone creative?” This allowed me to see their pre-existing perspectives on creativity.  

Next, I simply read to them from Kathryn Haydon and Jane Harvey's book, Creativity for Everybody. The book is written in a way that is so simple and yet engaging. The authors truly break down the stereotypical ideas about what creativity is (theater, music, art) and by reading from Creativity for Everybody, I was able to introduce the idea that everybody is creative. 

Then, I printed out copies of the constellation map from the book and gave a copy to every student in the class. I explained that they would be making “their own creative constellation that highlights their creative strengths.” 

While planning the lesson, I was unsure if some of the students might roll their eyes at the activity and I didn’t know if it was “too young” for their age. However, once we began, those worries were completely dispelled. I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly and excitedly the students engaged with this activity. 

Using white colored pencils, they all began to draw lines connecting their different strengths to make a shape in the sky on the constellation sheets. Some students took the time to write their strengths on the side of the constellation as well. In the end, they all made constellations, gave their constellations a name, and I mounted each student's sky map up onto the wall. 

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This activity gave me a reference point for each of my students. Not only did it create the opportunity for self-reflection for my students, but it allowed me to understand how they view themselves. Throughout the year, I can reference our constellations and ask my students “Have you been fulfilling your expression of your creative strengths constellation?” or “How have you been expressing your constellation lately?” This is a great conversation to have during our morning homeroom. 

There are several ways that you can approach this lesson and Kathryn Haydon writes about one of those ways and another teacher’s success here.  I recommend this activity to all elementary and middle school teachers, and I’m grateful for Sparkitivity’s support in changing the focus in education from “What are my students doing wrong?” to “What are my students doing right?”

I believe the more effective we are at helping our students have positive views of themselves, the greater success we will find in the classroom. 

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If you'd like a copy of Sparkitivity's Creative Constellation lesson plan, please email us at inspired@sparkitivity.com and we'll be happy to send it to you. 

Should We All Take Note When Silicon Valley Parents Opt Out of Schools with Tech?

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 

Many of us want our kids to be fully engaged in learning, to keep up with the latest trends, and to be prepared for the jobs of the future. 

So what are we to think when we hear that Silicon Valley titans—those who are thriving in this new economy by inventing cutting-edge technology—don’t even let their kids have iPads and send them to unplugged retro schools? What do they know that we don’t? Do they see danger in too much technology?

Futurist and founder of Wired Magazine, Kevin Kelly, is a Silicon Valley parent of three adult children. When I spoke with him on the topic of education, he underscored the advantage of being different. In the field of creativity, we also value difference. Creativity allows us to think different thoughts to come up with new ideas to solve problems. People’s individual combinations of creative strengths inform the unique contributions they can make to the world.

In his book The Inevitable, Kelly wrote about the shift from television culture to internet culture. Back in the 1990s, television executives and others were incredulous that their audiences might actually become participatory contributors, rather than the passive consumers they were with T.V. Yet, the data show that about two thirds of the internet has been created by the ‘audience,’ not by a handful of corporations running the show.

I asked Kelly what implications he thinks this shift from passive T.V.-watchers to active internet builders has had on learning. Kids can now use technology to create content from a young age. Do they need to have these tools at school to be engaged? 

My own work has shown that students don’t necessarily need tech, but they need to be active participants rather than the equivalent of T.V. consumers in their classrooms. They need opportunities to use their original thinking to process the content. 

Kevin Kelly is a rare expert who truly understands where tech is headed and he told me, “I’m not sure we want the environment of school to reflect only the current media landscape. There is value in quiet contemplation, going deep as you might do into a book, being involved in nature.

He continued, “We have to be careful about having a school that reflects only one part of what a full life might be; school should institute something bigger than just work. As we remodel education the target is not to produce better workers but wider thinkers. There is an advantage to being different and being able to challenge the current zeitgeist. . . but if you have education that mirrors society too much it won’t be effective in improving it.”

That’s what’s good about our entrepreneurial culture and many of the educational experiments going on throughout the country. We have a diversity of parents, educators, and entrepreneurs and school leaders coming up with new ways to effectively educate the next generations of students. Some of these are high-tech experiments. Others are taking a completely different approach and looking outside of the current zeitgeist, to put it in Kelly’s terms.

Waldorf schools, such as those favored by tech titans, were founded in the early 1900s in Germany by Rudolf Steiner. They are based on a philosophy that imagination is essential in learning and they take a holistic approach to teaching and learning. Traditional Waldorf schools include handwork activities like knitting and they have little to no technology in the classroom. 

Another approach that is gaining in popularity is the classical model of education. Founder Katy McKinney of the new Classical Academy de Lafayette (CAL) near St. Louis wrote, “We are in the business of forming minds, not programming machines. We are breaking rank with modern education and instead drawing on the 2500-year track record of classical education.” At CAL, there's only one computer in each classroom, used to show videos about history or play classical music. Students hand write their papers in cursive and are not allowed to have personal technology devices. Yet, they are fully engaged in thinking and learning. 

Classical education, Waldorf education, forest schools, homeschooling, and other models represent a deliberate step outside the typical norms and trends. If Kevin Kelly and many other techies in Silicon Valley are right, I suspect that we will be looking to the variety of micro and macro educational movements to inform new directions for the most effective learning practices of the future. 

 

Kathryn Haydon teaches leaders and teachers how to spot and develop 21st century innovator strengths. You are welcome to download her free Creative Strengths Spotter tool here and join thousands of others who receive the twice-monthly Strengths Report. Start supporting true innovation now!

Copyright 2017 Sparkitivity, LLC. All rights reserved.

Creativity Rises From the Ashes: A Love Letter to Ojai After the Thomas Fire

Photo by Gail Peterson

Photo by Gail Peterson

by Kathryn Haydon

If you watch the national news, you may despair that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. If you watched the national news these past two weeks, you may think that all of California is charred or burning. You may think that everyone there is depressed, afraid, or preying on victims. I had some of these feelings, too, before spending a week trying to keep tabs on family, friends, and former neighbors in my adoptive hometown of Ojai, California. 

To be sure, the fires are horrendous. They have left a wide trail of ashen destruction. They have destroyed homes, ranches, and buildings. Families are left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Fires continue to burn, people are still displaced, and there is much to be done. 

But I’d like to share a story of the triumph of human creativity and community love that rose up in the midst of the inferno and, I daresay, saved a town. 

By definition, creativity is novel, active thinking. Creativity stares down fear so that it blinks first. It opens doors that lead to pathways on which we can move forward. If fear is conformity to sensational claims that render us hopeless, creativity is the opposite. 

When we offer a new idea borne of our creative thinking, receptivity from others and collaboration with them can magnify it exponentially. Creativity and collaboration rose from the embers (before they had time to turn to ash) last week in Ojai even as it was ringed by hellacious fires and its fate was unknown, revealing the heart of humanity at its best. 

Last Monday, a fire began in the hills east of town and was turbo-fueled by dry vegetation. A second fire began in another location and soon fused with the first. In an eery allusion to the tune by Johnny Cash, who actually had a ranch in the Ojai Valley, the town was soon encircled by a ring of fire. It was frightening. Many people live on sprawling, chaparral-filled properties in the hills and canyons and were in harm’s way. So many lost their homes. But the bulk of the population lives in the town proper. There are only four ways in and out of the valley, and several were closed. Many had evacuated but many were also at the shelters in town. Wednesday night the fierce Santa Ana winds were expected. Even with hundreds or thousands of vigilant firefighters on command, would the town survive? 

Trying to get up-to-date news on friends, I realized that national news sources were inaccurate and mostly fear-mongering. Facebook updates from friends who were actually there were much more accurate. These led me to the Ojai hub of creativity and collaboration in the midst of disaster: a Facebook page dedicated to sharing information about the fire. The simple idea to set up a page to facilitate direct communication was a creative act. Instead of giving up or becoming frustrated, the person took action. For the next week, I was glued to this page, scanning for ways I could help and witnessing the very best of humanity (and best use of social media I’ve seen).  

Thursday morning I woke up on the East coast and went straight to the page. Ojai had survived the night! Newspapers were reporting a “miraculous shift in wind” that saved the most populous part of town, with the tireless work of superhuman firefighters. I posted this article to the page with a message of hope. Not long after came the following post from an Ojai resident: “However this goes, our community needs to throw our firefighters a HUGE thank you party. Who’s with me to make this happen?” The post quickly garnered over 600 “likes” and almost 150 comments. The Ojai community was in. That’s evidence of creativity number two. In the midst of a ravaging fire, fate unknown, Ojai was planning a party to thank the firefighters. 

Just recently, I wrote about the importance of gratitude—to health, wellness, and creativity.  If it’s possible to measure the probability of Ojai completely rebuilding by considering the expression of gratitude alone, Ojai will be back more than 100 percent. The gratitude to the first responders and to others in the community is overflowing. Through the Facebook page, I saw dozens of people donating food, chapstick, respirator masks to filter out the smoke, water for first responders. I saw them saving animals. I saw them making signs to thank the firefighters, offering free food, and setting up a “coffee brigade.” I saw friends checking up on friends. “Who lost their house? How can we help?”

Local vigilantes patrolled neighborhoods all night to protect from looters. One guy drove around for days answering questions for evacuees about surviving structures and smoldering fires. There was the sharing of Go-Fund-Me pages for those who lost everything. One woman said she was taking her kids out of town till the smoke clears, would anyone who was displaced like to live in her home till she gets back? There were prayers, offers of free massages for responders, free therapy for victims, free handyman services for those who need to repair and rebuild. Hairdressers were offering haircuts. Businesses were donating filtered drinking water and refilling bottles for free.

There was a new hashtag #ojaistrong that turned into a logo for t-shirts and hats being printed and sold to raise money for people who lost everything. Restaurants, whose businesses no doubt are suffering with so few people in town, are serving free food to responders and victims. A man and his kids delivered 240 tamales to the fire stations to thank them. A phrase was coined, “Ojai is not a place, it’s a People.”   Someone even proposed an air filtration mask decorating contest. Way to bring in humor and levity! 

Ojai was overflowing with gratitude and creativity, even as thousands of firefighters continued the fight to save it. Talk about leading with grace and refusing to be overcome by fear. This is creativity in action, and I hope that the Ojai community can continue to maintain these even in the face of difficult rebuilding and lingering smoke. It proves that humans have their own individual constellations of creative strengths and they can use them in good times and bad.

Are you witnessing the Ojai effect in your community? If not, you can be the spark to ignite the fire of kindness. These are the type of fires that need to spread, and we don't need disasters to start them. 

This is the map of the fire as of 12/17/17. The yellow is where the fire burned or is burning. Ojai is that little green crescent in the middle. Source: http://www.readyventuracounty.org

This is the map of the fire as of 12/17/17. The yellow is where the fire burned or is burning. Ojai is that little green crescent in the middle. Source: http://www.readyventuracounty.org

Can Makers Make Money as Entrepreneurs?

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

There’s a difference between the daily rhythms that successful managers must maintain and the daily rhythms makers must maintain. Makers, such as programmers, writers, and anyone who is consistently creating high-value ideas, require long expanses of time to dig deep into their work. Managers, on the other hand, do well going from meeting to meeting to keep their employees moving. In her recent book, Entrepreneurial You, Dorie Clark refers to Y Combinator Paul Graham’s essay “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.” Since life defaults to the manager pattern, Clark warns that entrepreneurs of all kinds must be sure to guard their time as makers to consistently create high-value work. 

But what about the maker entrepreneur? What about those of us who thrive on long expanses of solitude for deep work, but who also need to build our brands? It’s common for the “highly creative” to find sales and marketing hard to stomach. There’s a constant tension between sales  functions and the reason we have to do these functions in the first place: our creative work. Is it even possible to be a true maker and an entrepreneur and make money?

After reading her new book, Entrepreneurial You, I knew Dorie Clark would answer this question with a resounding “yes.” Designed to take the guesswork out of the methods now available to monetize our knowledge, the book is a refreshing splash of water in the face of the creative who regards money as either a mystery or an afterthought but actually needs it to live. I interviewed Dorie to dig deeper into this topic and explore how “maker entrepreneurs” can apply the ideas in her book to thrive financially without compromising their work. The article below is structured with my questions to Dorie in bold, her responses in regular font, and my commentary in regular italics. We began, of course, with creativity. 

What element of creativity is most foundational to your work? 

When I think about the work I have created, such as written products, I think that what has been most helpful for me in a lot of ways is structure. Structure is not what people think of when they think of creativity; they think of the opposite. It’s like the proverbial example that the structural requirements of the sonnet force you to think of something new within those constraints. People go off the rails when they are all about the ideas and not as much about the structure. If you start with the structure, you realize it is not that difficult to do and you can learn to fill in the blanks with the valuable information. 

As creative professionals, we know that constraints drive creativity. We know that true creativity combines both divergent and convergent thinking. We apply structures, such as a creative problem solving process, to do our best creative work. It makes perfect sense, then, that we would need structures to move our business forward. Entrepreneurial You is all about giving us that structure. 

Many maker-types become drained at the thought of marketing and sales. They want to focus on creating deep content. How might they use your book to help them become more comfortable with the sales/marketing/money-making aspects of their work?

Some people who are really passionate about their particular form of creativity bristle at the idea of marketing or sales because they feel they are going to be required to do things they don’t enjoy. For them, the whole point of creativity is to have the autonomy to focus on their art. They didn’t sign up to be forced to do a series of unpleasant things that make them feel bad about themselves, which the idea of selling does for some people. It’s loaded. But there are two points that help us get around this. 

1. If you do your marketing right you have to do very little selling. If selling feels uncomfortable to you, the answer to that is to get really good at marketing because when your marketing is strong (when people know who you are already and they come to you) then all sales entails is saying to the people who like your work, “Hey I have this thing. Would you like it?” They ask how much it costs and the transaction is made. 

2. The good news is there are a lot of ways to market yourself. Some may be uncomfortable to you, but you can choose. Play to your strengths and build your brand that way. 

Entrepreneurial You is divided into three sections: build your brand, monetize your expertise, and extend your reach and impact online. In the monetization section, Clark begins with a chapter called “The Courage to Monetize.” She writes, “Charging what you’re worth is key to creating the long-term impact you desire.”  She then details a menu of ways to monetize, including coaching, consulting, speaking, podcasting, blogging, vlogging (video blogging), and organizing conferences or mastermind groups. Clark stresses throughout the book that you should not aim to do all of these. Choose which money-making strategies work for you. Use the proven structure that she has laid out as a broad creative constraint and tailor your own strategy within it. But if you’re an ideator, you may find value in all of the ideas and find it hard to choose. So I tossed that question to Dorie. 

In your book, you’ve presented a menu of good ideas for monetization. You are clear that each person should choose from them and not attempt them all. So, how does one choose without becoming overwhelmed by pressure to do them all? Do you have any additional tools to help?

All of us face the pressure that it would be nice to do everything. As an entrepreneur, your to-do list is theoretically infinite. Personally, I choose only two strategic goals every six-month period. Obviously there are things you need to do no matter what, like answering emails, but in terms of broad strategic priorities, I pick two at a time. I ask this question to help guide me: What, if I do it now, will enable me to get more leverage and do other things in the future? 

In 2016, I knew I wanted to create an online course but didn’t know how. What could help me do that better? I decided to write this book about entrepreneurship, interviewing people who have done online courses to give me more information and help others at the same time. It is all about strategic pacing. I do have an online course called Be More Productive that goes into depth about goal setting methodology. 

In the book, Clark spells out the nitty gritty about how specific strategies make money. She interviewed dozens of people who have successfully implemented these strategies, and she even includes dollar amounts. What should speakers aim to charge at every experience level? How many people do you need on your email list or blog to earn affiliate income and what specific dollar amounts can you expect per thousand subscribers? I appreciate Clark’s honesty and transparency in sharing this information. It may make you, a creative who shies away from money conversations and is driven by your passionate commitment to helping the world, a bit uncomfortable but it is invaluable information to have if you want to put actual food on your table as a result of your work. But even with all the necessary conversation about money and monetization, there is a deeper purpose to the book. 

How might creative professionals become more comfortable with the idea of monetization, even if it is antithetical to how they typically think about their work? 

We all need to make money in some capacity in order for it to be sustainable. My hope for Entrepreneurial You is that by laying out different options and showing different business models, it will spark ideas about possibilities. Perhaps it will even help maker entrepreneurs become creative about their business models. Maybe it will inspire you to be creative in terms of how you deliver your art to people, how you craft an offering. There might be interesting possibilities and breakthroughs for people as they think about, “Oh, I conceived about this as a live workshop, but what if it’s an online course instead?” The underlying goal is not just to lead to more money, but to find ways of reaching new people. 

Note: For this article, I directly applied Dorie's advice from Entrepreneurial You and signed up for her online course affiliate program and linked her books via Amazon associates in this post. If you click on them and purchase, I will receive a small amount for my sharing. I have been following Dorie's work for nearly a year and have found it useful and high-quality. It has helped me be strategic and reach more people with the creative strengths paradigm! Connect with me via my twice-monthly Sparkitivity Strengths Report to receive more expert insights on how to support your greatest strengths (and those of your employees, co-workers, family, and students) so that you can live your best life ever. 

 

Facilitating Creative Thinking Through Experiential Learning

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Guest post by Dr. Iman Rasti, middle school English and humanities teacher at Rippowam Cisqua School in Bedford, New York. Dr. Rasti is one of the teachers in the school's first Innovation Cohort, led by Sparkitivity's Kathryn Haydon in partnership with RCS Innovation Director Miles Cameron, to create a grass roots move toward deeper learning throughout the school. Teachers were trained in the Torrance Incubation Model to help them easily integrate high-level creative thinking into their content areas and deepen student engagement. 

One freezing January afternoon, standing around the campfire and drowned in the crackling fire sounds, my seventh-grade students took turns to answer this question: “What are you grateful for?”  This brief mindfulness activity closed a half-day history project carried out on the wet, cold fields on our middle school campus.

In our seventh-grade American history class we study the American Revolution: causes and effects, major battles, historical facts and statistics. Aiming to answer the central questions regarding the American Revolutionary War, we usually read and analyze primary source documents, discuss the key concepts, debate controversial issues, write research papers, and frequently work in groups to further explore the topic at hand. Although these activities, along with the use of media and some hands-on mini-projects, make the lessons really engaging, there are still some deeper questions to be answered: How can you bring the topic of the Revolutionary War to life for your students? How can you help them draw meaningful connections between that war and contemporary ones? How can you help them realize that wars should not just be looked at through numbers, and that knowing about and empathizing with the individuals fighting in them and what they go through everyday is arguably even more important?

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Pondering these and many similar questions on one hand, and attempting to facilitate and foster creative thinking skills (See Appendix) in my students through mindfulness and experiential learning on the other hand, I designed a project in Torrance Incubation Model (TIM ) format the last time I taught the American Revolutionary War. A highly effective approach to teaching any lesson to children of varying age groups, TIM has three interactive, yet sequential stages: heightening anticipation, deepening understanding, and extending learning. Torrance and Sisk (1997) summarized the goals of the Incubation Model of Teaching as follows:

"Before creative thinking can occur, something has to be done to heighten anticipation and expectation and to prepare learners to see clear connections between what they are expected to learn and their future life (the next minute or hour, the next day, the next year, or 25 years from now). After this arousal, it is necessary to help students dig into the problem, acquire more information, encounter the unexpected, and continue deepening expectations. Finally, there must be practice in doing something with the new information, immediately or later" (Torrance and Sisk, 1997, p. 91, cited in Hébert et al. 2002, p. 25).

The project was to reconstruct a typical non-combat, camp day of a Continental Army soldier during the American Revolutionary War, with emphasis placed on setting up a tent, making fire, cooking food, playing games, and reading letters received from the loved ones. To arouse my students’ curiosity, get their attention, and create the desire to know (Heightening Anticipation), I decided to reveal what the project was going to be in a piecemeal fashion.

The class was already studying a whole unit on this topic and they were told that there was going to be an experiential project at the end, but I intentionally created a context where they had to keep guessing and imagining what kind of project it would be. For example, when I received the package I had ordered with the tripod campfire stand as well as ironcast crock pots and other utensils for the cooking phase of the project, I simply unpacked the box and laid everything on my desk for a few days without telling anyone what they were going to be used for. I did the same when I received the canvas tarp, cords, and poles for pitching the tent.

After about a week, I finally introduced the project and had my students break into small groups to do some preliminary research about the main components of the lesson. Once they acquired some basic information, we set out to complete the project outside on our athletic fields which were partly covered by snow. This was the phase where students had to dig into the problem and encounter the unexpected (Deepening Understanding). For instance, the howling wind had made it difficult to pitch the tent and the wet wood had made it hard to start a fire. Highly motivated to solve these problems, students intuitively started seeking original solutions by experimenting with new ideas, testing solutions, elaborating, and communicating their discoveries with each other (Haydon et al. 2016).

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Once the scrumptious food was cooked over the fire and served inside the tent, the students played authentic American Revolutionary War games, discussed war-related topics, and some even lay down, simply savouring their experience by being present in the moment. Next, the students, pretending to be soldiers, gathered around the campfire and recited the real letters written by some American soldiers’ families during the Revolutionary War. It was an emotional time for the students as they were deep into characters, empathizing with those individuals and what they had to go through psychologically; not just because they were fighting in a deadly war, but because of being away from their loved ones, with the unsettling feeling of the uncertainty of ever seeing them again. “I’m grateful for peace,” one student uttered emotionally. “I’m grateful for the American soldiers, past and present, who risk their lives for our safety and security,” said another one proudly. Engaged in this creative mindfulness activity, the students tried to keep the learning process active (Extending Learning), each sharing what they were grateful for.

Summarizing the main tenants of a creative learning paradigm, Kathryn Haydon (2015) argues when creativity is integrated with academic content teaching and learning, learning becomes more meaningful to students, which in turn leads to enhanced intrinsic motivation, resulting in new ideas, skills, or personal growth. My students had become so involved and committed that they lost a sense of time that day. They asked if they could stay right by the fire a few minutes longer, reflecting on their experience, doing nothing but being immersed in the warmth of the fire, each other, and the subject they were studying, vicariously experiencing a typical day in the life of an American soldier during the Revolutionary War, or any other war for that matter. And I simply let them.


Appendix

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References:

Haydon, K. P. (2015) What if we view our education system as an ecosystem? In Culpepper, M. K., & Burnett, C. (Eds.), Big questions in creativity 2015. Buffalo, NY: ICSC Press.

Haydon, K. P., Goff, K., & Harvey, J. (2016) Academic creativity in your classroom. Torrance Journal for Applied Creativity, Vol 1, 27-31.

Hébert et al. (2002). E. Paul Torrance: His Life, Accomplishments, and Legacy. The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

Torrance, E. P.  & Safter, H. T. (1999) Making the creative leap beyond. Buffalo, NY: Creative Education Foundation.

Sisk, D. ( 2009) Making Great Kids Greater: Easing the Burden of Being Gifted. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.  

 

 

Futurist Kevin Kelly Reveals the Superskill of the Future

Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash

Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash

We all want to thrive in life—to be healthy, happy contributing members of our communities. 

Yet, we live in a time of exponential change. We hardly know what skills we’re going to need next week, let alone in five, ten, or twenty years!

So we have to zoom out. When we understand the overall patterns of change we can more clearly pinpoint what we, or our kids, will need to thrive. Wired Magazine founder and futurist, Kevin Kelly, detailed these patterns of change in his recent book, The Inevitable.

One of the clearest points he made is that in this new world, we are always in a state of “becoming.” We live in the age of the present participle—words ending in -ing that mean the action is in process. Everything is in a flowing, changing state. This flux turns us into continuous learners. 

Kelly points out that we are all “newbies” all the time. How true that is. How many times just in the past week have your apps updated, resulting in a new feature or interface?  

After reading The Inevitable twice and recommending it to everyone I know, I set up a call to talk with Kevin Kelly about his thoughts on learning. He shared with me what he thinks is the superskill of the present and the future: learning how to learn or optimizing our own learning

Do you know how you learn best?
How about when it’s something hard and frustrating? 

To start learning about your own learning, observe yourself in the learning process. You can do this as a scientist, recording your insights in a notebook, or you can do it casually to get a general sense. Look first for meaning and purpose

When you are in the midst of the learning experience, notice what makes it meaningful to you. When the meaning is in place, is the learning process more enjoyable? Do you have more drive to stick with it? 

Then, notice what makes you feel frustrated. Did you lose your sense of purpose about the task? Did the meaningful element disappear? If so, in what ways might you reclaim that connection?

I wrote a piece here about my experience trying to learn how to belly dance. It was hard for me, having rarely taken a dance class. But once the instructor started using metaphor to explain the movements (“make a little rainbow with your hips”), I clicked with it. I felt like I could make progress (another key point). 

I love words, I love metaphor, I love poetic language. I also love making connections across disciplines. It was exciting to think of word pictures in relation to dance moves. When the instructor used metaphor, I was able to connect something I love and understand (words) to help me do something that was awkward and irritating (tiny, isolated body movements). 

By using metaphor, the instructor made learning meaningful to me. Yet, I didn’t re-enroll after the series because there was something missing for me: purpose in taking the class. No one was making me take it, and I was busy. However, if there had been a greater purpose behind it I likely would have persisted.

We have to find our source of meaning and define our purpose as the first step to optimizing our learning. These deep motivators support our drive to continue when the going gets tough, as it always does when we are growing in a skill or craft. Whether we have to memorize volumes of information for an exam or we are trying to move from novice to amateur in tennis, it won’t happen without a lot of hard work driven by internal motivation.

One way to begin to find meaning and purpose is to connect with creative strengths. We all have our own constellation of creative strengths. For example, if humor is one of your top creative strengths, jokes or relationships or activities that involve humor are probably meaningful to you. When you know your creative strengths, you have a basis from which to begin connecting to meaning. I’ve created a Creative Strengths Spotter workbook to help you find your own, or your kids’, creative strengths. You can get the Sparkitivity Creative Strengths Spotter for free here

We often try to just buck up and get our work done. This can work in the short term for some tasks, but it doesn’t sustain our long-term effectiveness. We expect the same of our kids: “Do your homework so you can get good grades so you can get into a good college so you can get a good job.” While this statement might be meaningful to adults, it says nothing about an individual child’s motivations. Kids who are just going through the motions to stay on the predetermined pathway are not being driven by meaning and purpose. We have to help them not only find their motivations, but make deep and lasting connections to what they are learning by tapping into their creative thinking. When they learn to do this, they are well on their way to developing their own future superskill. We can do it for ourselves and lead by example.

In what ways do you learn best? 

Read more here about how to harness student creative thinking in science to optimize learning.

Want the quick-start guide to the science of creativity to help support your best work? Get Creativity for Everybody here. 

Copyright 2017 Sparkitivity, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

How Belly Dancing Can Help Slow Learners

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I am not a dancer.  I don’t seek out dance classes because it is hard for me to learn dance moves and harder to commit them to memory.  Compounding this, my sense of following a rhythm has been laughed at on a number of occasions, so moving in a routine to music is a double whammy.  When the Electric Slide or Cotton Eyed Joe come on at parties, I want to be in the midst of the fun but when my line’s in front of the rotation I try to drift to the back as we turn.  If I were being evaluated, one might conclude that I have a dance deficit, that I am low-functioning in my dance abilities.  If dance were a core subject in school, I would certainly be placed in remedial dance classes; if mainstreamed, I would be at the bottom of the class.  It might be whispered that, unable to master the national dance standards, my future will be limited.  This would seep into my self-concept, and I would probably dread school, get frustrated, stop trying, pass notes, or act out.  Unless I had an amazing teacher . . .

Let me pause the story for a moment, and invite you to consider your students who seem to have trouble learning a particular subject, and as you continue to read, please place them in my position as the learner in the narrative. 

Despite my historic pattern of dance avoidance, I recently agreed to accompany a friend to a belly dancing class.  After initially turning down the offer, I finally conceded when she said I could wear regular workout clothing and joked that since neither of us has dance experience or talent we would probably be in the back of the class laughing together because we would be such a sorry spectacle.  My attitude toward the class upon arrival was reserved openness, slight annoyance that I was doing this, and an underlying conviction that I’d trip through this for one hour and laugh with my friend and that would be the end of it. 

When the confident but gentle teacher entered the room, a slow evolution began to take place in my thinking.  The instructor, Emily, came in with a warm smile, dimmed the fluorescents, turned on soft lighting, and rhythmic, Middle Eastern music. She offered us a selection of pretty, jingling belts that looked fun, so I tied one around my waist and submitted to instruction.  I felt awkward as we learned the simplest moves even though she demonstrated slowly and threw a couple of compliments my way that sounded genuine.  “She sees that I don’t have much skill in this and that’s why she’s complimenting me right now,” I thought on both occasions.  It was clear to me that this was not going to be easy, and then I began to think about the popular belief that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to get good at anything.  My thoughts went like this, “It’s fun to wear this jingly belt, I enjoy being here in this calm, dimly lit room with my friend, the teacher is nice, but, yes, I’m still no good at dancing and in that case it is certainly not something I want to dedicate time to practice if I’m never going to be that good anyway.” 

As the first few minutes of the class went on, I was reunited with that irritating feeling of trying to learn something that seems hopeless and pointless.  Bumbling around with some sinuous arm movements, I heard Emily say, “It’s kind of like the backstroke.”  My mind snapped to attention.  “The backstroke! I can do the backstroke,” I thought.  Immediately my arms cooperated, mimicking the swimming technique that I knew well.

A few minutes later, Emily compared another movement to surfing.  Once again my focus emerged from the active thoughts in my head.  “Surfing!  I know how to surf.” And it was no longer arduous.  It wasn’t easy, but it was in reach.  I wondered if she noticed that each time she used a sports analogy I suddenly was able to complete the movement.  A few minutes later I heard, “It’s like a rainbow.  Just make a little rainbow with your hips.”  So I made a rainbow. 

Now I was having fun.  Emily was speaking my language, and I suddenly felt good about learning dance moves.  Never before had I been able to visualize and implement  a series of complex gyrations directed from afar, but she was giving me something to hook into my own experience and bridge the gap.  I thought, “Perhaps there is hope for me yet, at least to achieve a basic level of skill in articulating my body in an abstract routine.” 

During a break, I joyously mused to Emily and the class, “Every time you compare a move to something else, like another sports skill, I then understand what to do.”  She smiled, “So metaphor works for you.”  Yes!  Emily had tapped into my penchant for metaphor.  I revel in good metaphor like someone else might appreciate a striking work of art.  Metaphor is also practical: it builds a bridge between the abstract and the concrete while speaking to each person in a different way.  As the class proceeded, we made crescent rolls, scallops, grapevines, and many other image-movements.  Now Emily was actively seeking analogies when she introduced a new motion.

It was still hard work and I had to concentrate deeply to focus, but now I was engaged and felt that it was possible that I could learn, at least a little.  Also, I was developing a trust in Emily.  She had created a welcoming, accepting atmosphere from the start - including a calming physical space - and repeatedly encouraged us to make mistakes.  She carefully observed the individual levels of the students, and differentiated instruction accordingly.  She certainly responded to my need for imagery to illustrate body movements. 

Well-known Harvard Business School professor Theresa Amabile has done extensive research on intrinsic motivation as related to creativity, productivity, and satisfaction in the workplace, lately focusing on the concept of inner work life.  I paraphrase her definition of inner work life as the intersection of emotions, perceptions, and motivations that people experience in the context of a work environment.  Amabile and colleagues conducted an extensive study that required workers to detail their emotions and reactions each day over a period of time in order to understand the effect that the state of inner work life has on productivity, creativity, and job satisfaction.  The team gleaned much interesting information, confirming that praise, collaboration, and a fun, relaxing environment all assist in helping people develop and maintain positive inner work lives.  The study also revealed that the most important management factor is “to give people the sense that they can make progress in their work.”

Now we arrive somewhat circuitously to the question at hand: How on earth can belly dancing help slow learners in your classroom?  First, let’s apply Amabile’s theory to teaching.  I entered Emily’s belly dancing class as a diffident learner who believed I had a pre-existing deficit in the content being taught.  My “inner student life” (my reinterpretation of Amabile’s term) consisted of a mix of emotions (apathy, skepticism, self-doubt, happy to be out with a friend), perceptions (view of dance as difficult, view of myself as a poor dancer, view of myself as an athlete not a dancer), and motivations (no particular interest in the content, reticence to workout classes). Overall, my view was somewhat curious but apathetic toward the class content itself.  I was not convinced at the outset that the experience would be a good one.

However, instructor Emily was an outstanding teacher.  Beginning from the moment she set foot in the classroom, she met all of the basic qualifications that Amabile found lead to positive inner work life:

-created a welcoming, nurturing atmosphere;
-expressed positivity and joy;
-pointed out strengths;
-encouraged mistakes;
-worked with students in collaboration.

Those factors all steadily improved my connection to the class and the content.  But the most important point lines up with Amabile’s research: by laying the positive groundwork she made me feel comfortable; but when she began to use metaphor Emily gave me the hope that I could actually make progress in this learning.  That was the breakthrough moment, and it was sustained when she realized my individual need for metaphor and actively taught to this need.  Her effort solidified my trust in her as a teacher, and told my inner student life that I was safe trying this activity with her.  This mentality allowed engaged me to try harder and even have fun while doing it.

As teachers, we’re always going to have learners that arrive in our classrooms lacking confidence and skill in one area or another.  By establishing a positive, accepting climate and comfortable physical environment, we take the first steps toward engaging learners and dispelling the blocks that slow progress.  By teaching with a variety of methodologies, as Emily did, we increase the chances that more students will connect with us, and, ultimately, the content.  This might mean infusing the arts, picture books, problem solving, experiments, and opportunities for exploration.  It certainly means diverging from the standard texts and photocopies of information to bring in other resources, multi-media, and interdisciplinary content.  The more we vary our teaching strategies to students’ individual needs, the more apt we are to connect with them, which will result in expectation of potential growth, followed by engagement, real learning, and ultimate learning success.

Students have no real choice whether or not they go back to school tomorrow.  I can return to the belly dancing class next week or not, it’s completely up to me.  Because Emily was an effective teacher, she made the experience engaging and worthwhile for me and I have chosen to go again. You don’t have to engage your students.  They’ll be there tomorrow anyway.  But wouldn’t it be amazing if belly dancing sparked your inspiration to hook them in even more deeply? 

Source:
Amabile, T. & Kramer, S.  (May 1, 2007).  Inner work life: Understanding the subtext of business performance.  Harvard Business Review, volume 120,7. 

This article first appeared on The Creativity Post. Copyright 2017 Sparkitivity. All Rights Reserved.

What’s in a Pitch? 

children-2741843_1280.jpg

Guest post by Emily Hyland, fourth-grade teacher at Rippowam Cisqua School in Bedford, New York. Mrs. Hyland is one of the teachers in the school's first Innovation Cohort, led by Sparkitivity's Kathryn Haydon and RCS's Innovation Director Miles Cameron, to create a grass roots move toward deeper learning throughout the school. Teachers were trained in the Torrance Incubation Model to help them easily integrate high-level creative thinking into their content areas and deepen student engagement. 

“Alright, alright, let’s settle down. I’d like to get started. Actually, today, I want to tell you about a new contest we’re going to be holding here in the 4th grade.” A melody of outbursts follow. We willingly forget for a moment about our class rule of one voice speaking at a time. 

“A contest!”  

“What kind of contest?”

“How do you win!?” 

“What’s the prize?” 

“Who will vote for the winner?” 

“Will it be fair if we can vote?”

“Well, it seems the author of the novel we are reading forgot to give names for the chapters. I’ll be holding a contest to name each one. Is anyone interested in submitting?” A few hands go up. 

“Alright, well you don’t all have to submit today for chapter one but the winner will get their chapter title published in our classroom.” A few more hands go up. 

“Great, we have some friends interested. I’ll hand around a submission form. We will all get to vote on the winning submission. As judges you will be asked to consider accuracy and cleverness in your decision.” Two more hands in the air. I place a Post-it on the interested contestants’ desks. 

This conversation is an excerpt from the beginning of a language arts lesson on Natalie Babbitt’s timeless book Tuck Everlasting. Before starting in on chapter two, I wanted to assess who could succinctly capture the main event from chapter one that describes the home of the main character, Winnie Foster, described by Babbitt as a “touch me not cottage.”

Rather than start with a lesson about summarizing or identifying a main idea, I held a contest. It required no physical preparation on my part (other than a stack of Post-it notes); however, the submissions, and conversations that happened as the students were considering their submissions, were very telling about what each child remembered from the previous day’s reading. 

Last school year, I was lucky to be a part of the founding Innovation Cohort at my school, Rippowam Cisqua in Bedford, NY. Among other things, the cohort worked alongside Sparkitivity's Kathryn Haydon studying the Torrance Incubation Model (TIM), a simple yet effective framework for lesson planning consisting of three straightforward stages: heightening anticipation, deepening understanding, and extending the learning. From this work sprung wonderful conversations and a deepening of my conviction that we must always put ourselves in our students’ shoes as we lesson plan. Long story short: if it would bore you as an adult, it will definitely bore them as nine-year-olds. 

But, as I took what I had learned from the cohort back to my classroom, I began to think about what an intimidating task lay before me. After all, as a fourth-grade teacher I am responsible for everything from reviewing parts of speech in grammar to reinforcing the times tables in math. How on earth could I make it ALL interesting and fun?  

I cut myself some slack and decided to just focus on the idea of “What’s in a pitch?” or as the TIM model would put it, heightening anticipation. I would focus in particular, each day, on the first minute of each lesson, those few seconds when a child, just like an adult, decides “I’m interested” or “I’m out.” 

By awakening children’s creativity immediately, and as often as possible, suddenly you can hook even reluctant students. And if you’re lucky, the child who maybe doesn’t yet love to read does enjoy a good healthy competition and suddenly they’re happily summarizing a chapter in a book. Not to mention that this approach to learning--and lucky for me--teaching, becomes a little more fun. Who wouldn’t sign on the dotted line for that? 

Sources: 

Babbit, Natalie. (1985). Tuck Everlasting. New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux.

Torrance, E. P.,  & Safter, H. T. (1999). Making the creative leap beyond. Buffalo, NY: Creative Education Foundation.

Teaching History, Building Empathy With the Torrance Incubation Model

John Brown's Fort (The Old Fire House), Harper's Ferry, WV by Noel Benadom via Flickr

John Brown's Fort (The Old Fire House), Harper's Ferry, WV by Noel Benadom via Flickr

Guest post by Dr. Iman Rasti, middle school English and humanities teacher at Rippowam Cisqua School in Bedford, New York. Dr. Rasti is one of the teachers in the school's first Innovation Cohort, led by Sparkitivity's Kathryn Haydon, to create a grass roots move toward deeper learning throughout the school. Teachers were trained in the Torrance Incubation Model to help them easily integrate high-level creative thinking into their content areas and deepen student engagement. 

“I have, may it please the court, a few words to say. In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted -- the design on my part to free the slaves. I intended certainly to have made a clean thing of that matter … That was all I intended. I never did intend murder, or treason, or the destruction of property, or to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection.”

These were the opening remarks made by John Brown, a radical American abolitionist, to the court at his trial on November 2, 1859 in Charlestown, Virginia. Believing in the violent overthrow of the slavery system, John Brown and 21 of his followers attacked and occupied the federal arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, on October 16, 1859, aiming to capture supplies and use them to arm a slave rebellion. John Brown was captured during the raid, put on trial, and later hanged on December 2, 1859.

When teaching my eighth-grade humanities students the events that led to the Civil War, I always include the trial of John Brown, using his original speech to the court as the main primary source document to analyze. I also have my students read textbook excerpts and show them some relevant video clips to make my lesson more ‘interesting.’ 

After a few sessions of studying John Brown and analyzing his speech, I realized I was not totally satisfied with the depth of my students’ learning. So I tried to design one last lesson on this topic, only this time approaching it in the Torrance Incubation Model (TIM) format.

An effective way to teach and learn creatively, TIM breaks a lesson into three stages:

  1. Heightening anticipation

  2. Deepening understanding

  3. Extending the learning

The intent of TIM is to help us get our students to a higher, deeper level of learning by integrating a creative thinking skill into each stage of the lesson. Torrance’s Creativity Skill Set includes 16 specific creative thinking skills from which to choose.  I focused on the “visualize” skill to make my lesson more appealing to the students’ eyes and minds. In so doing, the core objectives and curriculum content of my eighth grade humanities was not compromised, but it was enhanced.

Heightening Anticipation

Aiming to get the students’ attention, I set up my classroom environment differently, transforming it into a typical 19th-century American courthouse with designated seats for the judge, victim and his lawyer, defendants and prosecutor, witnesses, and jury.  

Changing the usual classroom setting by rearranging the furniture ‘heightened’ my students’ anticipation as they walked in the classroom wondering why it was set up so differently. They were able to visualize an actual trial setting. With their curiosity aroused, I simply introduced the task: “Today, we’re going to re-enact John Brown’s trial.”

Deepening Understanding

Truth being told, I did not want my students to simply participate in a mock trial of John Brown, repeating exactly what he and others had uttered during his trial. What kind of deeper understanding would that create? What I wanted my students to do, however, was to ‘dig deep’, go beyond the surface, and understand the human emotions. In other words, I wanted them to vicariously participate in the trial of a fellow human being, charged with treason and murder, to discover and learn something new about themselves and their own feelings. I wanted them to "visualize" the experience through language. 

Drawing on their already existing knowledge of John Brown and his trial, the students began performing, synthesizing the information, improvising, thinking creatively, and finally reaching a verdict-- one which was different from the actual historical verdict. To them, John Brown was guilty of killing innocent people, but not guilty of exciting the slaves to rebellion or making insurrection. Right or wrong, I respected their verdict.  

Extending the Learning

The trial stimulation was intense, gripping, and highly engaging, with every single student having a role to play. Once it was over, I helped my students discover ways to extend the lesson to the real world. I asked them to simply imagine having to actually play any of the roles they played in the mock trial in real life, in a real trial, at a real court. I had them mentally explore this possibility for a while, to visualize it in their minds.

Torrance’s creativity skill to use innovative thinking to imagine the future helped the students to imagine and explore things that do not yet exist. Next, I had them share their thoughts explaining how this experience allowed them to realize how tough it is to be in the shoes of any of the people involved in that or any similar case. My students seemed to get one step closer to identifying who they were as individuals. Subsequently, they refined their ability to empathize.

TIM also enabled my students to learn the content more deeply through cultivating their own creative thinking skills. But perhaps TIM’s most powerful contribution to my lesson was the opportunity it provided for my students to get to know themselves and each other more profoundly.

As I began rearranging the furniture to its original format, I pondered how incredible it would be if all my lessons be presented this way.

Sources:

Brown, J. (1859) “John Brown's Speech to the Court at his Trial” National Center. November 2, 1859

http://www.nationalcenter.org/JohnBrown'sSpeech.html

Haydon, K. P. & Harvey, J. (2015) Creativity for Everybody. New York, NY: Sparkitivity, LLC.

Torrance, E. P.  & Safter, H. T. (1999) Making the creative leap beyond. Buffalo, NY: Creative Education Foundation

Worwood, M. (2011) “Torrance Incubation Model of Creative Teaching and Learning (TIM)” Teach Digital

http://www.teachdigital.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/TIM_PROJECT_Model_DM3_01.pdf

 

Why Robots Will Only Partially Take Over Teachers’ Jobs and Why They’ll Actually Love It

Why Robots Will Only Partially Take Over Teachers’ Jobs and Why They’ll Actually Love It

In our interview, Wired Magazine founder Kevin Kelly imagined a scene that will make teachers smile: 

A Student's Alternative Chapter for The Indian in the Cupboard

Film poster image from The Indian in the Cupboard 1995 film directed by Frank Oz

Film poster image from The Indian in the Cupboard 1995 film directed by Frank Oz

This is a guest post by Sparkitivity's sixth-grade student mentee, Catherine B. Catherine excels in language arts and needed Sparkitivity to create an advanced reading and writing mentorship to supplement what her school could provide so that she could continue to grow as a learner. The following is the second part of her final writing assignment, Catherine's "alternative book chapter" for The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks. The prompt asks her to use imaginative thinking, one of the highest-level thinking skills, to drive her writing. 

The Assignment:

Main character Omri's friend Patrick acted more like a typical kid might act in relation to the magic of plastic figures coming alive. Imagine if it had been Patrick who discovered the magic of the cupboard. Write a pretend chapter on how the story might have unfolded from the moment an immature Patrick pulled a live Indian out of his cupboard. How might the events have taken place? The boys us avoided trouble in the real book with Omri's wise thinking, but how might it have been different if Patrick had been in charge?

Catherine's Alternative Chapter to The Indian in the Cupboard

"Why am I even friends with him?" Patrick thought, locking the pitiful plastic Indian in a beat-up old cupboard as he prepared to go to bed.

His best friend Omri had gotten him nothing but a plastic Indian for his birthday, and he felt the need to lock it up where it couldn’t be seen. Seeing it reminded him of his disappointment. Getting into his nightclothes, Patrick thought about his favourite present. Now, that skateboard was another thing. It was by far the best birthday present he had had in years. He could imagine himself, the wind in his face as he rode to school. All the other boys would be so jealous, and--
 

THUNK!

A loud sound awoke him from his daydreams. What in the world? Patrick looked around, but nothing had fallen from a shelf or his dresser, and that thunk wasn’t the sound of someone knocking on the door.

“Hello?” he asked timidly. He didn’t expect an answer, and he didn’t get one.

THUNK!!

Again! What was it? It sounded like it came from the shelves next to his bed. Cautiously, Patrick got out of the chair he had been sitting in and stepped over to the shelves. Just as he had thought, the only thing there was the old cupboard and a few plastic figures that he especially didn’t want to step on (they were carrying sharp plastic weapons).

THUNK!!!

The cupboard rocked. Patrick’s heart jumped. What was in there? When he had put the Indian in the cupboard, it had been empty! Carefully, slowly, and quietly, Patrick unlocked and opened the cupboard.

In the cupboard stood a perfect, tiny--no, minute!--Indian. He had jet black hair, leggings on his tiny legs, and a single, straight feather at the back of his head. Patrick couldn’t believe his eyes.

A thousand thoughts flashed through Patrick’s mind. What would he do about this? Was the Indian real? Who could he tell? He didn’t want to talk to his father, of whom he was deeply afraid, and his brother was probably holed up doing homework, the stupid brainiac. He had decided two things. The Indian was a fake. It was probably put there by his brother as a trick. The detail was astounding, though. The second decision he made was that he needed to tell his mother. She was least likely to yell at him for disturbing her.

Then the Indian moved. Patrick took one look at him, realized the truth, and he fainted.

Patrick didn’t wake up until morning. His mother heard no sound in his room and thought that he had already gone to sleep, so she didn’t come in to say goodnight.

Patrick had a disturbing dream. “MOTHER!!! OTHER!!! MOTHER, COME HERE NO!!!” he screamed, wanting his mother to see the microscopic detail of the Indian.

This started a chain reaction. First, the Indian fell over backwards, covering his ears with his hands. But it was too late. Patrick’s yelling had literally ruptured the man’s eardrums.

Then, Patrick’s mother came rushing into the room.
“Patrick?” She had no idea what was wrong, but her son was yelling.
Finally, Patrick, looking from his mother to the Indian, realized what he had done. He saw the Indian’s ears bleeding and his mother in the doorway, one step away from getting extremely angry.

Patrick’s mother saw the Indian and fainted.

This left Patrick no options. His Indian was losing blood and his mother was deathly pale. He decided to show his brother. Patrick’s brother took one look at the Indian, grabbed him out of Patrick’s hand, and dropped him on the floor for no reason. The Indian lay there, unmoving. Patrick woke up with a jolt. He was sweating and he saw that his sheets had been twisted together as he thrashed.

Suddenly, Patrick remembered his dream. He ran to the cupboard and saw that the Indian wasn’t there. Looking around carefully, Patrick saw something red sticking out from behind the cupboard. Reaching back, he pulled the Indian out of the small space.

“You!” he said loudly. Then he remembered his dream and dropped his voice to a whisper. “You must never do that again! You’ll fall and die, or hide and get lost! Then nobody will ever be able to see you! They won’t believe me!"

Then, without further ado, Patrick found an old matchbox, poked a few holes in it with a sewing needle his mother had left in his room, slid the middle out, dropped the Indian inside, and closed the thing, making sure the Indian would be able to breathe but not escape. The man struggled violently inside the matchbox but didn’t manage to free himself. Seeing the struggle, Patrick realized that he wouldn’t really be able to take the Indian to school to show Omri until he had shown his parents. After all, he wanted them to believe him, and school could be a dangerous place. Still, Omri was his best friend and he had a right to see the Indian. Patrick compromised by putting the Indian back in the cupboard and getting ready to go to school.

His skateboard distracted him. After debating whether to ride it to school or not, Patrick decided not to. He was already late, and the bike was much faster than the skateboard. At school, Omri asked him if he liked his present.

“Oh, yes. That Indian was better than any other gift.”
“But--”
“You know why?” Patrick asked, cutting Omri off. “It’s because he’s alive. I put him in a cupboard and locked the door, and now he’s a real living person!” And with that finale, Patrick got on his bike and pedaled home. Now Omri knew about the Indian, and if he didn’t believe Patrick, well, then he was probably very sensible.

After school, Patrick ran up to his room without so much as a hello to his mother. He flung open the cupboard door and saw the Indian. He was stiff, staying still in one pose. He was squatting down as if he was about to sit down, but he was frozen in place. Gingerly, Patrick prodded him. He fell over.

Patrick sat down on his bed and thought for a minute. He had put the plastic Indian in the cupboard, and he had turned into a live Indian. He had put the live Indian into the cupboard, and he had turned into plastic. Therefore, he should put the Indian back in the cupboard and he would turn live! Patrick was definitely not the sharpest knife in the block, but when he put his mind to it, he could think logically.

Acting on his thoughts, Patrick pulled out the live Indian about two minutes later. Aha! Think of all the fun he could have! Patrick wondered if he could bring any toy to life. He stooped to the floor and lifted up one of the fairly large tins that he kept his figures in. Taking a handful out, he stuck them in the cupboard, being careful to remove the live Indian beforehand. Closing the door and then opening it again, he saw terrified, horrified, detailed faces of people seeing him as a giant. There were soldiers, horses, and a lone princess that his friend’s sister must have put in when the family came over for dinner. Quickly, Patrick closed the cupboard. He opened it again and took all the people out. They were unimportant. What mattered was that it worked. Patrick put the Indian back in but didn’t close the door. He would have to show his parents this! First he would show the Indian to his mother. She would help explain it to his father.

“Patrick? Honey, are you feeling alright? I think we should take you to a doctor. Come along, now, get your coat.”

“Mother! I’m not ill! I just need you to see him. Then you’ll believe me. Ill indeed!”

“Patrick,” his mother began, carefully choosing her words. “An imagination is a wonderful thing, but yours is--well--completely out of control! There is no way you’re telling the truth when you say that there’s an Indian the size a playing card standing on the shelf in that decrepit cupboard. And honestly, when will you throw that thing in the scrap wood pile?! I just can’t stand this any longer. You better not be playing some trick on me. If you’re lying about this, you’re grounded!” And with that she began to climb the stairs, Patrick trailing in her wake.

The Indian had been snoozing. He got some sleep while he could, and there was no way he would be tired when it came time to go to war. These giants would not harm him! He would spear them with his knife!

A lot of things happened in the next 24 hours. Here are some highlights:

  1. Patrick’s mother had to have a drink or two or three to recover from seeing that her son was not lying about the Indian.

  2. Patrick’s father told him the he would grow up to be an aspiring scientist even though what Patrick had discovered had been nothing but luck and Patrick really had rotten grades.

  3. A team of scientists came to the house and carefully removed the Indian. They took him to a lab and ran some tests on him, determining that he was in face an actual human, just one of a small size.

  4. Patrick’s father received an astounding offer on the house from the government. This was only after the scientists realized that removing the cupboard from the house killed its magic. After all, everyone had big plans for what to do with the cupboard. Could unicorns come to life if somebody put plastic ones in the cupboard? Could dinosaurs? Dodo birds? Dearly missed extinct animals? PEOPLE??? It had lots of potential. Albert Einstein could repeat his last words to somebody who spoke German (his last words were mumbled to an English nurse who had no idea what they meant). All sorts of people could be brought back from the dead if people made a good enough plastic representation of them: William Shakespeare, and, uh, I guess just him! But Shakespeare is cool! He could write more tragedies that were just comedic.

  5. Patrick’s father signed over the house, collected his money, bought a new house, and started packing.

  6. Patrick’s brother was oblivious to all of this, being over at a friend’s house doing homework.

Patrick went to school the next day and bragged that now his father was rich and his mother could have lots of nice things and they would have a new big house. He also told everyone about the Indian in the cupboard. Everyone was impressed, of course.

THE END (because this is where the book would end. It would be quite a boring book). 

How Parents and Teachers Can Be More Fulfilled

The other day I was talking with a friend, a mom who has for years come up with incredibly novel solutions to meet the educational needs of her son and daughter. She was thinking that she hadn’t been creative for a long time because her kids, now teenagers, have never been into “glitter and felt.” I pointed out the creative problem solving that goes into her every day as a mom and teacher. “Thank you,” she said with a genuine smile. “I hadn’t realized I was being creative like that in my daily life.”

Author and speaker Todd Henry has a term for people who employ creative problem solving or creative production in their jobs: “create-on-demand professionals” or “creative pros.” Often we don’t realize that parents and teachers fall squarely into this category. Paul Torrance wrote, “Being a truly good teacher is indeed the most creative occupation in the world.” It’s the same with parents. 

Todd Henry’s most recent book, Louder Than Words: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice, is used by consultants, writers, designers, and entrepreneurs. It can serve moms, dads, and teachers, too. With deep-thinking questions that help us better understand our identity, vision, and how to realize our vision, it’s a perfect summer reading assignment to help us move forward as individuals, rather than as an amalgamation of our kids or students. 

Too often as parents our own needs get squeezed out by what we do for our kids, and as teachers we feel crushed underneath pressures and requirements. But when we know who we are and what unique contributions we want to make, we can figure out how to claim the time and motivation to accomplish them. 

When I spoke with Todd recently, he shared with me that his concept of “dailies” has deeply resonated with Louder Than Words readers. After readers define who they are and what they want, they absolutely need a framework to support them to get where they want to go. Dailies are practices that buttress these long-term goals and keep people “on track mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.” 

As a writer and father of three, Todd himself has specific writing, reading, exercise, family, and meditative/prayerful dailies that he does each day. He also has separate business dailies to support forward progress in his work. 

I have to admit that when I first read about the dailies it was hard for me to envision how I could actually be consistent about them in my own busy life. I was used to fitting things in—or not—amidst the busy-ness of work and family, usually late in the night. But as I realized that my prior approach was ineffective in supporting my goal to write every day, I made a concerted effort to follow Todd’s advice. 

As a teacher and parent myself, I know how crazy life is. But I also know how draining it feels to not have time to work on my goals and to keep myself in prime mental shape. Too many parents and teachers neglect themselves for too long and then face burnout. If we can just get consistent about nourishing our own souls and goals daily to keep our thinking fresh, it will benefit our families and students as well. Everybody know that if mom isn’t happy, nobody’s happy!

If it makes you feel better, Todd Henry, one of the most well-known contemporary business authors and speakers, grew up in a small town where he had a lot of freedom to play, invent games, and make videos with those giant VHS recorders that we used to have.

He told me, “I’m so thankful because we had to invent our own world.” From studying the lives of eminent creators, I know that so many of them had this freedom in childhood to explore. So if you have to give up planning a lesson or driving to an activity in order to fit in one of your personal dailies, your kids will probably be all the better for it anyway. 

Todd also gave insight into the deep motivating factors that drive him to keep such a rigorous schedule in order to help creative pros worldwide. He said, “What drives me is the understanding that there is a tremendous number of people out there trying to do creative work and each feels alone. I want them to know that they are not alone, that there is a path that can lead to meaning in their work, and that they are building something that matters and that they can be proud of.” Don’t you think it’s about time that parents and teachers get access to these ideas, too?

Check out Todd’s books, Die Empty and Louder Than Words this summer so you have time to read his new book in early 2018 when it comes out. I also recommend Todd’s Accidental Creative podcast. 

References:

Henry, T. (2015). Louder than words. New York, NY: Portfolio/Penguin.

Torrance, E. P. (2004). Predicting the creativity of elementary school children (1958-80) —and the teacher who made a difference. In D.J. Treffinger and S. Reis (Eds.), Creativity and Giftedness (35-50). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

The Golden Shadow of Creativity

Guest post by Sparkitivity student Tyler Lynch, age 12

Creativity is a flow of energy circulating through one's blood, shedding crystals into your brain which spark ideas and innovation. It could be making props and costumes, or an invention waiting to be made and put to the test. Creativity applies to anything a creative person does, even if what they are doing is so gloomy and dark. Creativity forms the way one speaks, writes, acts and works. Creative ideas go on to change the world as we know it. It brings the color and ideas to a person's life.

The dull, unfinished newspaper sculpture sat in front of me when a rocket shot out of my head like a Looney Tunes animation. The color, designs, attributes--all of it--came to my brain. From there I started, every little piece bringing my sculpture more alive and closer to excellence. The feeling of accomplishment because of the spark of creativity felt serene, for everything came together. The final product was done with every little detail conspicuous. It was promoted to the art show where it stood for pictures. Look where creativity brought my sculpture, into the whimsical character it is now.

If creativity were removed from me it would drain the color around me and make the air dark and misty with thick smoke from a fire. It would be hard to perfect my work, putting all my ideas in a desolate desert. Creativity has helped me create inventions I have in my mind. It has given me the hammer to smash the deep stone walls of dull writing, making stories that take the reader inside them. I would absolutely reject no creativity because we would not progress and move forward. The realm of humanity thrives on ideas that come from creativeness. Creativity helps shape the world.

 

Three Keys to Unlock Your Thinking

Have you ever thought about thinking? Can you describe what it means to think? Most people find it hard to explain what they are doing when they are thinking, and even the dictionary isn’t as insightful as usual when you look up words like think, thought, and thinking. 

One person who does think about thinking is author and innovation consultant Tim Hurson. 

Tim observed in our recent conversation that so often in life we believe we are thinking when we are actually reacting, mindlessly following, or disengaging. These are unproductive states of mind that tend to lead us into dead-ends, as opposed to productive thought that steers us onto open roads of possibility.

In his book, Think Better: An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking, Tim wrote, “At its heart productive thinking is about freedom.” Freedom truly is the key to innovating products, or our own lives. 

In Think Better, Hurson details his ThinkX model for effective, productive thinking, based on the Osborn-Parnes creative problem solving model coupled with his own experience working with businesses worldwide. The book has been so popular in the ten years it’s been on the market that McGraw Hill is releasing an updated edition in trade paperback this fall under its “Business Classics” series. 

Tim knows that our brains are like muscles that have to be exercised in certain ways to improve productive thought. Improved thinking leads to more ideas which leads to better ideas which leads to freedom. Here are three of Tim’s latest insights to “think better, more productively, and more creatively.”

  1. Practice disconfirmation.
    In psychology, confirmation bias is the term that means that we selectively remember information that reinforces our predetermined beliefs, often in a self-perpetuating cycle. Tim proposes that we practice disconfirmation to help free us from limiting thought patterns. He says, “Wouldn’t it be great if everyone in the world spent a few minutes a day asking, ‘I wonder where I’m wrong?’” Ask yourself this question right now and see if you can come up with a brainstorm of at least 7 possible ideas about your own assumptions that might be incorrect. 
     
  2. Look through the lens of simplicity.
    Complexity and simplicity underlie every problem; the energy resides in the tension between them. Tim likes to tell the story of the classic chess puzzle, the knight’s tour problem. The challenge is to get your knight to land on each square of the chess board only once. In 1823, H.C Warnsdorff came up with a simple heuristic to solve the challenge: Always select the move that has the fewest possible next moves. This was a simple approach to a problem that is too complex algorithmically to be solved by even today’s computers. So, when you’re working on your next challenge, try out the lens of simplicity. Ask yourself, “What might be all of the simplest solutions to this problem?” 
     
  3. Use discernment while suspending judgment. 
    “Don’t judge me!” your teenager might shout with a foot stomp. Judging, in its contemporary usage, can feel reactive. We think of “snap judgments” that are unjust rather than careful analyses. Though they can be used as synonyms, discernment connotes a deeper perception that goes below the surface. Tim believes that we can still be discerning in the process of suspending judgment. The next time you are faced with a decision, practice discernment. Look deeply and, before deciding on a course of action, create a list of positives and negatives about each choice.

Thinking better requires action. It’s when our minds lull into a reactive stupor that we get stuck and unproductive. These three of Tim’s recent thinking exercises can help us train our brains for productive thinking and free us to truly progress. 

For more tips and the research behind the work, check out Think Better. Due to popular demand, Tim is developing an online course, Do It Better, to complement the book. The course will be available this fall.