Encouraging creative instincts…

What is creativity?

Can anyone be creative?

What are the conditions for creativity?

Can creativity be taught?

Can/should creativity be assessed?

How might we encourage children’s (and teachers’) creative instincts?

How do we create opportunities for creativity in our classrooms?

Is teaching creatively the same as teaching creativity?

Is creativity an attitude, a skill, a conceptual lens or is it action? (PYP connection)

What is the relationship between inquiry learning and creativity?

How might global collaborations  enhance creativity?

These are some of the big questions with which participants grappled in a PYP workshop on encouraging creativity, last week at Victorious Kidss Educares, an international school in Pune.

It was the first time I had led this workshop and I wanted to ensure that the teachers’ own creativity was awakened and that the workshop would provide opportunities for creative thinking and creative expression.

In addition to exploring the issues above, among other things, teachers designed creativity maps..

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recorded their thinking on wall mounted ‘bubble catchers‘…

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engaged in a newspaper bridge building challenge…

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audited their units for opportunities for creativity…
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Skyped with teachers in Melbourne about creativity in the early years, in writing and in maths…

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planned and created animations...

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Hope they had as much fun as I did:)

The day I met my kids…

A row of serious children sat in front of the screen and stared at me. This was my first interaction with 5th graders at KNB in Phaltan, India but, with several years of Granny Cloud experience, I knew the discomfort wouldn’t last long. Despite the standard response to most of my questions being blank stares, I persisted and, within a few sessions, we were all more relaxed and the children’s confidence and English began to improve.

With the passing of time, the sorts of things we could tackle in sessions developed. From simple topics such as animals and colours, we advanced to searching google maps for places, exploring distances, finding out about languages…

In one session we talked about sports, they told me about Kabaddi and Googled Aussie rules. In another session we looked at art. I introduced them to Picasso, they did their own searching and then produced surreal pictures of themselves.

They told me about their school, their lessons, their families and their celebrations. I shared pictures of my grandchildren and, on one occasion, I showed them the classrooms at my school and they had great fun reading children’s bios on their lockers and noticing commonalities.

Once we did a combined session with another group at a school in Delhi. In the middle of what I’d thought would be an interesting opportunity they sent me a text to say they would rather talk to Edna Granny.

Gradually individuals began to emerge as leaders. I observed Aditya’s particular curiosity and eagerness to learn. I noticed the thoughtfulness in Sanika’s eyes when ever a question was posed. I was delighted by Diya’s confidence in disrupting my plan for a session and replacing it with her own.

And then, miraculously, I had an opportunity to meet ‘my kids’. A few days in Pune for an IB workshop were extended to include time with my friend Suneeta and a couple of very special visits to KNB, once to work with the teachers and, finally, to meet Saniya, Aditya, Diya, Sairaj, Jayesh, Aishwarya and the others… in person.

They waited eagerly near the gate, then hung back a little shyly at first but a couple of warm up activities melted the ice and soon everyone wanted to talk and there was much laughter. They took me on a tour of their little school, showing me each classroom with its stone floor, old style desks, glassless windows and surprising, colourful images adorning the walls, painted by the children and their parents, of honey bees, pandas, flowers and flamingoes.

They took me to the library and we sat in a circle on the floor reading the picture book I had brought them. They sang and danced, we played and talked and they presented me with carefully made cards.

I’m not sure if the photos can capture the magic of our first face to face encounter…

A different workshop…

These are a few of the delightful children with whom I regularly interact via Skype from Kamala Nimbkar Balbhavan, an unusually egalitarian school in Phaltan, Maharashtra in India…

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It’s my first time visiting KNB and I’m excited to meet ‘my kids’ in person, but before the school year starts, the teachers gather for some of their own learning. I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead a workshop here and share learning with this dedicated group. It will be an introduction to the ideas of Ron Ritchhart and Visible Thinking, something completely new for them.

I head into the session far more nervously than usual, uncertain what to expect in terms of their level of English and their openness to different ways of thinking… but mostly concerned that, without being able to understand their conversations,  I might not get a sense of what connections to help them make, how to shift thinking forward or what to reinforce.

My fears turn out to be unfounded. There is enough English in the room for mutual understanding, be it via valiant attempts at self expression, translation by those who do speak English or facial expressions and body language.

There are so many things that make this a unique and special experience for me…

I love the way most of those speaking in Marathi still make eye contact with me (not the person translating), and I can sense the passion as they talk about their school, even if I don’t understand the words.

I like the fact that a small sprinkling of English words in the midst of the Marathi, along with intonation and facial expression, are often enough for me to get the gist of what they are saying.

I’m delighted by the fact that when I am talking, even though I know they are concentrating hard to understand me, I can see the light dancing in their eyes, because they are excited by the ideas I am sharing.

I love the warmth with which they welcome me, their obvious desire to learn, as well as their pride in their school and everything it stands for.

I’m humbled by the opportunity to share learning in a context so different from the well resourced schools at which I usually work and to observe first hand that the most important resources are not ones that money can buy.

I note with interest that in this outwardly simple seeming, rural school, powerful beliefs, not just about learning but about humanity underpin every single thoughtful thing that happens. (Read more about it here)

I remind myself again that, even at my age, after so many years of experience, there is always so much to learn…

Tomorrow I meet ‘my kids’!

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My first experience of a thinking routine in Marathi!

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Who are ‘they’?

It’s a joy to be spending a few weeks with precious little gifts, Matan and Shai, one blonde, calm and smiley, the other dark, energetic and curious. Perhaps they’ll grow to have much in common, but I think they will always be very different.

The local cousins have seven children between them, aged from 2 to 16, each one so different from the next, it’s hard to believe they are related. They have varying interests and strengths, some have discovered their passions, some find school tedious, each has their own unique learning story.

All of which reminds me of a question I often ask: Who are ‘they‘?

You hear about ‘them‘ frequently, in the things their teachers say…

‘They’ struggled with this.

‘They’ won’t be able to do that.

‘They’ don’t get it.

‘They’ are a talkative bunch.

‘They’ are an interesting group.

‘They’ are a tough class.

They can, they can’t, they do, they don’t…

There is no ‘they!’

Every learner has her own way of constructing meaning. Each one has something valuable to contribute. Each learns in a different way. Each has talents, challenges, interests, needs and a personal story that matters.

Stop lumping ‘them’ together in one generalisation.

And leaders, your teachers are not ‘they‘ either!

10 questions for teacher reflection…

We’re not even half way through the school year here, but a request from someone important to me on the other side of the world provokes my thinking…

‘ Have you ever written a blog post on strategies, tools or frameworks that a teacher can use to reflect on their past year of teaching?’

My immediate response: ‘ Reflection has to happen all the way along. It’s too late at the end of the year.’

But here are some questions to ask yourself, as you look back, look within and look forward…

1. What were the most powerful learning experiences in your class this year? Can you describe what made them successful?

2. How do you learn best? What hinders your learning? How can this knowledge help you with future teaching and learning?

3. What do you believe about how learning occurs? What are the conditions for powerful learning? Does your practice align with your beliefs?

4. Who controls the learning in your classes? Do you seek compliance or do you foster student ownership? How will you encourage learner agency?

5. What are you proud of in your teaching or learning and what do you wish you could do better? How might you go about it? Who might support you?

6. What do you wish you could change in your teaching, your learning, your classroom, your school? What small steps could you take towards making it happen?

7. What are your strengths? How might you develop them further? How might you use them to support others in their teaching and learning?

8. What can you learn from your students? What works for them? Have you asked them? What might you change as a result?

9. What excites you? What excites your students? How might you make that part of your teaching and learning?

10. What do you dream of doing? How might you work towards that dream? Who might you share it with? What kind of support do you need?

School has changed, have expectations?

At an information session for parents, we highlight the ways that school has changed and share a range of examples of learning that is real, relevant, engaging and trans-disciplinary. Learning that matters in the world these children live in, not constrained by subjects, walls or limited imagination.

We explain how the PYP develops our students’ academically, socially and emotionally, focusing on personal values, learner agency and global awareness. The passion and knowledge of the teachers in the room is impressive and the picture that’s painted for the parents is one we imagined would excite and delight them.  But these are still some of the things we hear…

I just want my child to learn the basic skills.

What about rote learning? Knowing the periodic table was valuable for me.

At the end of the day, they need to be able to remember stuff for assessments.

With all this broad emphasis, will they learn about specifics?

What about VCE? Will their grades be good enough?

At the end of the evening, a number of parents do come up to say thank you. We have clearly provoked their thinking, even those who are having trouble reimagining school. One mother, whom I happen to have taught about twenty years ago, says quietly  ‘I know I need to shift my old-fashioned views of school’. Indeed. School looks nothing like it did when I taught her!

What’s behind the story?

The planning session, as usual with the Year 2 team, is passionate and thought-provoking.  Everyone has opinions, there is questioning and probing and tension as we figure out what we want the learners to get out of the unit of inquiry. It’s based on one we have done before, so starting from what we do NOT want the unit to be about proves really helpful.

It’s an inquiry into the concept of story. Through exposure to and exploration of many and varied stories, we want the children to understand that stories can be told in different ways, that story is a powerful tool for conveying ideas, experiences and values. We want them to to reach a point where they are able to describe and explain their own connection to stories. We want to them to build the understandings and language to engage in conversation about their responses to stories. And we want them to be able to share their own experiences and ideas through different forms of story.

We discuss the possibility (yet again) of connecting with children in other places to share and discuss stories, via Twitter, blogs or Skype and I’m told that it’s difficult to do these things because there isn’t time. It’s a familiar story and my instinct tells me it’s an excuse. How hard can it be to find five minutes a day to check Twitter? What’s so difficult about signing into Skype to have a conversation?

Then I remember that my role is to interpret the story, to find the underlying message and respond to that…

That’s a different story!

10 ways for leaders to encourage agency…

My school’s focus this year, more than ever, is on student ownership and many teachers have set themselves the goal of increasingly letting go.  It’s been six years since I wrote 10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning and it’s still the post with the most hits on this blog, on a daily basis.  

Looking back at this surprisingly popular post about student ownership, I realise that most of the tips identified are the behaviours that effective modern leaders exhibit, leaders who wish to encourage autonomy and to shift from a hierarchical model of leadership to a distributed one.

And once again I note that what works with kids, works as much with adults!

What kind of leader are you? Ask yourself these questions… (not just if you’re a manager.)

1. Who makes the decisions?

How often do you ask your teachers, parents and students what they think? How do you ensure shared ownership of decision making? Do you work collaboratively to define problems and develop solutions?

2. Are you open to other perspectives?

Do you come with preconceived ideas, ask others’ opinions, then do what you wanted to do anyway? Or are you open to the ideas and perspectives of others, especially if supported by knowledge, experience and evidence?

3. Do you listen more than you talk?

Do you really listen to the people above, below and beside you? Do you listen to the changing world around you…? 

4. Do you model behaviors and attitudes that promote learning?

Do you talk about your own learning? Are you an inquirer? Are you an active participant in the learning community? Do you model and encourage enthusiasm, open-mindedness, curiosity and reflection?

5. Do you take an inquiry stance?

You don’t need to be the expert. Do you explore, experiment, reflect, learn from failures, try again… collaboratively? 

6.  How do you get your people involved?

How do you ‘invite participants in’ and get them excited to explore an issue further? Do you plan every detail or do you leave space for your people to make their mark?

7.  Do you value initiative above compliance?

Do your teachers know the reason for everything you ask them do? Do you implement one-size-fits-all rules that ensure compliance? Or do you encourage your people to use common sense and rely on professional judgment? Do you celebrate initiative?

8.  Do you focus on growth rather than accountability?

What kind of performance reviews do your teachers have? Are they evaluated against a list of preset criteria? Or do they have opportunities to set their own goals and have support and encouragement to grow?

9. Do you encourage reflection and seek feedback?

Do you get your teachers and leaders to reflect on experiences and initiatives and think about how they might be improved? Can you take notice of what they say and plan ahead based on their feedback?

10.  Do you display an innovator’s mindset?

Do you constantly look at things through fresh lenses? Do you ask yourself, and those around you, what you could change and how you could improve things? Are you willing to seek solutions that lie beyond the known, in the realm of emergent practice?

And remember… You can lead from anywhere.

Change…

We started the new school year after the summer break, with a focus on ownership of learning for teachers and students alike.  A couple of months later, our exciting Unleashing Learning conference provoked further thinking and action, followed by a week of learning and sharing with Sam Sherratt. And now, as the seasons change and we settle into the year, it’s exciting to observe bright spots of colour and evidence of new growth…

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One team is exploring a new project based approach to maths. Another is experimenting with unleashing writing through play. Year 6 is investigating a year-long approach to the PYP exhibition, allowing students time to discover what they really care about, with a greater focus on sharing the learning journey. Two different groups are reading and discussing The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros.

Teacher A has let go of control and seen what happens when students have agency. Teacher B is well on the way and feeling the exhilaration of learning unleashed. C wants to rethink the school musical and find a way to give students more ownership. D has realised that authentic, meaningful learning experiences trump delivering curriculum… and noticed that much more of the curriculum is addressed incidentally via this approach! E is rethinking the way she used to do things and collaborating with others to reimagine her role. F and G are changing the way they reflect with their teams and refining the process as they go. H is breathing imagination and creativity into everything she touches… And I? 

I hear the steady drumbeat of hope for real and meaningful change.

Once unleashed, there’s no stopping the learning…