Thursday, March 26, 2015

Define 'Creativity'

The table our senior students painted and donated to a local Kindy

What is creativity?  

It is a serious question, and today I have had reason to pause and reflect on what creativity is, could be, or might be.  

Let us start at the beginning and let me give you a bit of a background. 

Back in late October last year I received an email from two young newly qualified teachers from the UK, unsolicited and completely out of the blue.  Both young women had been in a placement during their training where they had been inspired by the way the school they were in promoted creativity and the holistic child.  They were seeking schools to visit around the world where they could continue to observe and document creativity (and how practitioners facilitated this) in Primary and Early Years settings.  They wrapped up their email by stating they had found our website and would appreciate an opportunity to come and visit.  At the time it sounded like a fun opportunity and so we said yes, and then we promptly carried on with all that happens as you wrap up a school year.

That was at the end of last year.  

To be honest, I had forgotten about it, so when their email arrived saying they were here and looking forward to visiting us shortly, I had a bit of a conniption.  A lot can happen in a term, and at the end of term teachers are busy, and the day they had chosen to come coincided with our House morning (a crazy whole school collaborative process where students were cross grouped into their school house, participating in a wide range of different activities aka organised chaos and manufactured mayhem). 

Worst of all, I had a moment of educational school doubt and second guessing.  At the time of their original email I was really intrigued about the research they were undertaking.  I confess I was a little sceptical about why they might want to visit us.   Our website is standard at best, our facilities not that 'flash' but quite ordinary, and whilst I think we have been on an interesting journey,  I wouldn't say it is all that much different to most of the other schools in our country.  I worried that coming to us would be a bit of a wasted day for them.  Sure, we are quite nice people, and reasonably friendly, but not that inspiring in the big scheme of things.  

That is not to say we are not worth talking to.  Our student inquiry group is quite unique, and our student voice focus groups a little interesting.  Our cultural ambassadors are a good way to bolster students cultural capital,  and I think our educational coaching journey is an inspired development to support teachers.  More recently, our student led Whanau group (which I will blog about eventually) has been a neat development.  BUT, and its a big BUT, I started to worry and question if any of this was creative, and, more importantly, given the timing of their arrival, I knew they wouldn't see any of that when they visited.  

However, a promise is a promise, and despite my little panicky moments that we were wasting their time (not at all helped when you see some of the places they have visited prior to coming to us), I have to say it was a delight to have them on site and to meet with them.  

Haley and Victoria (firstly let me publicly say to the both of them how terribly sorry I was to have kept on getting them mixed up - lets blame that on the my little moments of panic) arrived nice and early and started with a chat with myself and my DP.  They were fascinating to talk to.  It is always interesting to discuss differences in educational systems.  Two of our students then showed them around and after that they were left to their own devices.  

Whilst I am not convinced we had all that much that they could take from us, I on the other hand, have had three key reflective takeaways from this opportunity to meet with them.  

Takeaway One:  Amazing Opportunity!

What a fabulous opportunity these two young woman have given themselves.  To travel the world and research how schools foster creativity and the holistic child will be one of the most amazing professional development experiences that can be imagined.  I just wish that I had had more time to talk to them both this morning, and find out a little more about their journey and how it all came about.  It is, quite simply, inspiring.  It is my dream to travel the world and write about best practice, and I am a little cross at myself for being needed in about 7 different places, and missing a further opportunity to pick their brains about what they have seen and experienced.  Sigh.  

Takeaway Two: How Often Do We Underplay What We Do?

I stated earlier that I was worried that we were going to be wasting Haley and Victorias' precious time by coming to see us, and that in the big scheme of things, we were a reasonably typical New Zealand school.  On refection, all schools have things worth sharing and all schools have a story to tell.  This is particularly true for New Zealand schools in that we are self managing and we decide how we do things and in what way.  We may have similarities but in truth, each of our communities are different and as a result we focus on different priorities.  At the very least, as Hayley and Victoria travel New Zealand they will see   our similarities but I am hopefully they will see the many flavours that are our differences - a real strength in our system.  Often, when I am talking with my colleagues, colleagues that I know are doing innovative and interesting things, I catch them having the same self doubt, commenting that they are doing nothing out of the ordinary.  So today, I wondered, do we underplay what we do?  Do we undersell our journey and why do we do it?

Takeaway Three: Do We Know What Creativity Is?

I have been thinking all day about creativity and what is it, is not and could be.  I don't think that thinking about it all day has helped if I was to be honest.  You see, I think the issue of creativity is in the defining of it, or to be more exact, the perception of what we think it is when we define it.  What would have helped me today is if I had actually had Hayley and Victoria define what THEY see as creativity.  You see, in my head, creativity and innovation are not necessarily the same thing.  For some reason, I have a preconceived notion that creativity is about being arty and creating art things - paintings, constructions, and all other manner of 'artsy' things.  

I know.  You are right.  It is narrow and I can not tell you where that actually comes from.  

It is bizarre really.  The moment I look at the definition of creative, I am able to straight away make logical sense of it and 'artsy' things are only a small part of what comes to mind.   

the state or quality of being creative
the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns,relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms,methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, orimagination:
the need for creativity in modern industry; creativity in the performing arts.
the process by which one utilizes creative ability:
Extensive reading stimulated his creativity.

When I look at the above definition from, in particular part 2, I am then able to think more critically about what we do at our place, that meets the definition of creative.  I wonder if it is this definition that Haley and Victoria are more interested in, or more 3, whereby schools are bringing out the creativity in students as opposed to being the creative unit.  Perhaps it is both.  The list I wrote earlier about what we do, especially around fostering student leadership, voice and agency are, I think creative in terms of methodology but not 'artsy' creative. 

Whilst I am still not that convinced we were able to give these two inspiring young women all that much to inspire in return, it has been interesting to think in terms of how we facilitate creativity and the holistic child.  Our place is all about the whole child, providing opportunities for our students to be successful socially, emotionally, physically and academically.  Today provided us with an opportunity to discuss education in a wider context and to reflect on teaching, learning and what we do.  

Finally, if your school gets the chance to share with Hayley and Victoria then I highly recommend it.  These two young women were most interesting to talk to, and our kids loved meeting teachers from another country.  The opportunity to think outside your own context is always a powerful reflective tool and having met them both, I am quite sure they will be an asset to education.  

Happy journeying Ladies!!!  You are doing something amazing and I can't wait to read your insights after you have conducted your research! 

You can find Haley and Victoria here
Follow them on twitter @KindlingC 

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