I have just finished Out of our Minds: Learning to be Creative by Sir Ken Robinson. This is the third time I have read this book, but the first time I have read the second edition. It is hard to consider this the same book as the first edition. It was completely re-written and makes a much stronger case.
One of my favorite sections was the section in Chapter 9 on the Roles and Principles of Creative Leadership. Though many of his ideas are directly taken from business and the corporate world, I see these principles as having great potential in schools. They occasion a powerful environment for a culture of learning and personal growth.
Principle # 1 – Everyone has creative potential
A school should believe that every member of its community has the potential to be creative, and to contribute creative ideas to the whole. Students, teachers, administrators caretakers, parents, grandparents, coaches, etc. Not only should they all feel that they have creative potential, they should be active participants in the generation of creative ideas. They should all have a voice.
I really like the example given about switching roles within an organization. What if a teacher was encouraged to be a caretaker for a day? A secretary helped in the classroom? A parent came in and answered phones? Students ran the office?
Ideas that would cross pollinate and grow. Empathy would build. There would need to be a strong sense of trust and growth-mindedness among the community.
Principle # 2 – Innovation is the child of imagination
You can’t be innovative if there is not a strong commitment to imagination. A school should stoke the fire of everybody’s imagination. It should give a safe place for people to take chances and play with ideas. There are no stupid right or wrong questions or answers. Only potential.
Robinson talks about the Pixar University, a place where the employees can learn new skills. A chef can take a course on film production. What would this look like in schools? Elementary teachers learning from high school teachers, and vice versa. Everybody has their own interests, and they could share these interests with others. It doesn’t even have to be related to school (though isn’t everything) just related to building a culture of learning and growth.
Principle # 3 – We can all learn to be more creative
Instead of taking a short term view of professional development that benefits the core subjects (reading skills, math workshops, ESL training), why not invest in courses in fostering creativity as a skill? As Robinson argues, creativity is something we can better at with practice. Creativity workshops, improv games, creative writing clubs among staff, these could all be used to help increase creative potential in a school, but also to value it.
Actively engaging staff (and students, parents, etc) in creative pursuits would benefit the entire community. Wouldn’t it great if the purpose of a meeting was to just build creativity? Have a community improv evening, where all members of the school community get together and play improv games. Why? Because it values creativity and community.
Principle # 4 – Creativity thrives on diversity
Bringing together different people from different sections of the school would provide for a space that may allow creative ideas to emerge. Brent Davis writes about a type of math PD called Concept Study. In it, teachers from diverse backgrounds get together and deconstruct and reconstruct their understanding of a mathematical concept, for example, multiplication. This is done over a series of months, allowing time for ideas to grow, and be applied in the classrooms. It is like a form of action research. The strength of it lies in the diversity of the voices. A kindergarden teacher may not teach multiplication, but they will see the seedlings of the concept being born.
Schools could easily create trans-disciplinary teams to look at a wide array of different concepts. High school calculas teachers and grade 1 teachers doing a year long joint inquiry into assessment. Parents, teachers and administrators meeting regularly to discuss the concept of student engagement. Groups of older students and younger students getting together to inquire intolearning spaces. The possibilities are endless, and the potential limitless.
Principle # 5 – Creativity loves collaboration
“Cooperation only requires that the efforts of different people be synchronized in some way. Collaboration involves people working together in a shared process in which their interaction affects the nature of the work and its outcomes.” A scientist and a artist are not collaborating to try and show the other person what their process is. They are collaborating to find a new process that incorporates both of their methods into it.
For schools, it is about this new space. What will happen if these groups of people get together and try and solve a task? For true collaboration to happen, there needs to be an open space in which there is unknown, and in which something new will come out of it. It the task is prescriptive, then you will get cooperation. If the task is proscriptive, you will get emergence. The team will operate more than the sum of its parts.
This is a hard one to give examples of. It is built into the values of the community. However, we can design our tasks better at schools to allow for new space. Instead of asking a team to come up with a new form for field trips (a prescriptive task) have them create a document that will act as a philosophical guide to why field trips are beneficial (a proscriptive task). Jobs and committees can focus on these open space tasks, while individuals or small groups can tackle the prescriptive tasks that don’t require that new thinking.
Principle # 6 – Creativity takes time
Everybody knows about Googles 20% time. Concept Study follows the same philosophy; it takes time to break down what we know and rebuild it. Yet, time is one of those ideas that schools can have an iron grip on. It is build into the language and structure of school. Timetables. Class schedules. Lunch time. Recess time. Time to get to class. We’ll have time to do that later(no we won’t). It’s time for music. Meeting time. Bathroom break time. Bus time. Home time. How many times do you say the word time in a day? (It would be interesting to count and report back here. I know I would have a high number….)
Of all the examples that Robinson gives in his book, and all the examples I have given here so far, the biggest argument against doing any of them is time. The only response I have to this is; we give time to what we value, and we take time away from what we don’t value. What should a school value?
Principle # 7 – Creative Cultures are supple
I have had some of the greatest learning opportunities and profesional development from consultants who have come in from outside. Truly transformative stuff. But, how much do those one day workshops affect the culture of a school? Are there systems in place to make sure that those ideas are being kept alive? Is there constant sharing and reporting going on? Does the professional development continue after the workshop leader leaves?
The goal is to make those ideas alive. To have them live in the organization, and to continue to evolve and grow. This may require a loosening of the hierarchy of schools. Make a group of teachers in charge of Inquiry. Have a group of students in charge of developing reading spaces in classrooms. Train members of the community to communicate across the school.
Principle # 8 – Creative cultures are inquiring
Never accept the status quo and always be curious about what is above the next horizon. The world is changing so fast, and to continually think of how these changes affect the role of schooling is one of the key tasks to staying creative. This principle speaks to me as the need to maintain an open and honest conversation. To admit mistakes, and to not be afraid to go back and re-do something. Admit what the school is doing poorly, and seek out advice and ideas on how to fix it. This conversation should be going on on multiple levels; students, teachers, parents, administrators, all community members should be inquiring into the future, asking hard questions, and trying to figure out unknown answers.
Principle # 9 – Creative cultures need creative spaces
The physical environment says a lot about the philosophy of an organization. Blur the boundaries between home, work, and play. Make the classrooms comfortable. The hallways inviting. Have common areas where staff, students, and parents can just relax and talk. Make the schedules more flexible and allow time for people to work when they are at their most creative (not the first thing in the morning).
Allow the students to personalize their spaces. Yes, you can put contraints and rules. It is ironic, but creativity needs rules. It is within the rules and the structure that new forms emerge. The constraints enable you to open new pathways. Enabling constraints are about opening possibilities by limiting choices.Very simply put, too much choice is overwhelming. Too little choice is restrictive, squelching learning and creativity.
It is nice metaphor for schools because you have to set the structure and thereby the culture. But what happens within that space, you should let roam free, and have an open disposition towards new possibilities.