A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in the Düsseldorp Forum and the Mitchell Institute’s Creative Collective, a new initiative designed to bring together a range of people from different backgrounds, who are interested in nourishing a creative society. To be honest, I was surprised to get an invitation, since I didn’t know any of the people from either of the two main organisations. It was nice to be included, however, and nicer to know a couple of the attendees.
The day started with introductions – lots of great people, all with varying ideas about the current standing of creativity in society, attitudes towards creativity, and the importance of living in a creative society – and we learnt more about the research of Prof Bill Lucas who facilitated the day. (OK, let’s take it back a step, the day started with me freaking out about the fact that the event was on the 45th floor, and that I had to go up a lift 45 floors! I sat with my back to the window most of the morning, until I adjusted and could breathe normally again.) Bill Lucas has written a number of books on creativity, and done numerous studies on schools implementing programs to develop creative students. He’s been working closely with Chris Cawsey and her staff at Rooty Hill to develop their approach to creativity, and that was showcased on the day.
The morning session made me very anxious, and a bit intimidated. Lots of people had big things to say about education, and their strong opinions made me shut right up. Even though I probably looked like a complete freak, listening actually helped me find my place in the room, and gave me an opportunity to take notes. I had plans to Tweet the whole day (they had set up a hashtag #CoCreate) but I ended up creating a Google Drive folder, and sharing the link on Twitter, so people could access my notes throughout the day. This actually worked really well, as I shared photos of handwritten notes, PDF copies of relevant research and policies, and also links people mentioned throughout the day. People were pretty stoked with that idea, and even gave the process a cool name – I was ‘live curating’. Nice. You can access the folder here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B-IPb2v6d9Dgb3dwRFlaRTBpZHc
The second session had us split into small groups to brainstorm everything awesome about creativity we could think of – we put each idea on a Post-It note, then as a group we sorted/grouped them into themes. I felt like a researcher coding all my data! I loved this part of the day, as I really like being positive about education, young people, and the creativity of the two. It was cool to see the convergence of ideas between the people on our table, and the activity made me feel comfortable to speak up for the first time. I argued passionately for the power of online communities – fandoms, fanfiction sites, gaming forums, YouTubers etc – to facilitate and support creativity. Young people are already doing amazingly creative things in spaces often unseen, and unacknoeledged by adults. The fact that there were no young people in the room, and that the adults kept referring to the ‘real world’ after school and the ‘future’ got me a bit frustrated, because I KNOW young people are creative NOW – and need to be even more so now, not in some unknown, ambiguous future time. Our world is shit now, right, we need creative young people to be empowered to sort that shit out now, not in ten years time when their formal schooling is completed! So yeah, that contribution was really embraced at my table – and later by the room – and that was cool. We also spoke about the role played by organisations outside of schools, and how they can help students and teachers achieve their creative potential. Oh, and the guerrilla teachers- the ones being creative already, but doing it in a sort of sly, under the radar way.
I think the biggest focus for the day was getting to the guts of what we mean by creativity – and the consensus ended up being that we didn’t yet have consensus. I know we all felt that creativity is not confined to the arts, so it’s not about using poetry, painting, dance or sculpture to teach maths or science, rather it is about a way of thinking. It’s a sort of flexibility or fluidity of thinking, taking risks, and chances, trying things out, testing new ideas, being playful, failing forwards, challenging ideas and attitudes, breaking rules and conventions, being free, mashing things together, seeing things from a different angle… and the best thinkers in all disciplines approach their work/learning/life/world this way. For me, the biggest hurdle to embracing creativity in this way is ‘rules’ , and often the rules teachers see as their biggest obstacles are NOT actually rules at all (cos all disciplines have rules, and rules are not all bad – disciplined creativity is important too), rather they are traditions and expectations, they are the ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ and the dreaded ‘accountability’ – both of these are like some insidious game of Chinese whispers that pervades the whole education system, passed on from teacher to teacher, stunting creativity. This year I’ve been surprised by how scared teachers are to try new things, and often this fear stems from a lack of engagement with policy – sounds weird but it’s true! I put my hand up at the Creative Collective and made the point that many of our policies champion creativity, and all the other cool stuff we espouse as being ’21st century learning’ – it’s just that often people don’t know what’s in the policies, so they fall back on the known, which is tradition (what we’ve always done), and expectations (what the parents want) and fear (I’m accountable, I don’t want to lose my job). I think it takes courageous leadership to change these traditions – within school, and outside of it. Before the Labour Govt gave out all of those laptops through DER, would most teachers or parents think computers and the Internet would be good for learning? Probably not. Now ICT in schools has become an expectation – tradition has changed. I think the MEDIA plays a key role in changing expectations about education – the image we see of teachers on the news, in film and TV, is very traditional… what if the stereotype was challenged/changed? What if society was exposed to images of creative teaching and learning, what if we DID have bumper stickers that said, ‘I’m a creative teacher!’ as suggested by an attendee at the Creative Collective? We’re all inspired by those images of the rebel teacher (um, who wouldn’t want to learn with Jack Black in School of Rock?) so how can we ensure that these types of teachers are not only championed and supported, but seen as role models for newer teachers too? The antithesis of creativity is fear, and I hate to admit it, but we have a shitload of scared teachers (and maybe they don’t show it, with their confident collection of data, or setting of assessments, but if they spend every lesson ‘in control’ then, damn it, they’re scared!).
So, I got off track, huh? But that’s how the day felt by the end – full of passion and promise, but a little directionless and a little outta control. I like that. It’s a start. A beginning of something… hopefully something untidy, messy, confronting, confusing, liberating and rebellious – yes, something creative. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for the Creative Collective, and I thank the Dusseldorp Forum and the Mitchell Institute for organising the event! Bring on the next one!