“Schools in their present state are anti-creative.” [source] There are more than 120 different definitions of creativity but, in the case of creative thinking in schools, it is not just about bringing arts into the curriculum; it is about changing how we teach and learn. It is about creating a new type of school culture where learners are innovating, being curious, taking risks, and are okay about failing and learning from mistakes. Read Creativity at School: is it even possible?
I have been thinking about creativity while working with 1:1 laptop programs and schools that are integrating technology into the classroom. Just giving students a laptop or using technology in a lesson is not changing the culture of the school and how students learn. Learners need critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Teachers become more of a facilitator guiding the buzz happening in their classroom and online. We hear the why we need to change over and over at conferences, in speeches, on YouTube. We get it. We have to change our learning environments to prepare our students to be 21st century citizens. Read Ben Johnson’s post on “How to Ignite Intellectual Curiosity in Students” on Edutopia.
Changing schools like this is not something that happens right away. In fact, changing schools and school culture takes years. The reason is that the adults who work in the system, the teachers, administrators, parents — all were taught in systems where creativity was not allowed. It was about memorizing facts. I still hear from some parents “if it was good for me, then it is good for my children.” The problem that we need to get across to these parents is that yesterday’s schools won’t work today and are harmful for our children’s future. The jobs you prepared for in the past are no longer available today. The world has changed and is changing faster than we can keep up. Our kids cannot compete now. How will they compete as a global citizen? I said it once before — this is a moral issue.
Most innovative programs are with soft money (grants). When the grant ends, the program ends unless they find other money. Some grants are for one year. Some lucky grants are three to five years, but that still is not enough time to change the culture of the school. I’ve been throwing around in my head how much time is enough time for change. Every school, every teacher, every student is different and unique. There is no clear cut formula on change. How you deal with change is personal.
When you think about changing the culture in a school, you need to be creative and innovative. Actually, those are the skills you need to teach. How do you teach something you may not know about? We ask our teachers to integrate technology but, in many cases, we don’t provide enough technology or training, current technology, or technology that works all the time. In fact, it’s not really the technology that makes change. We continue using the same school schedule and assessment strategies. In other cases, we assume if we teach teachers how to use a technology, then they will automatically know how to include it in their lessons. Teachers will use an interactive whiteboard just like they used a whiteboard; in front of the classroom. They will use PowerPoint to present their lessons. Animating bullets may be all a teacher feels comfortable learning and doing. Teaching teachers to let go and let students become more responsible for their learning just doesn’t seem right for many teachers. Being a facilitator instead of a lecturer is not an easy move for teachers especially if teachers are told to teach to the test and follow a pacing guide.
Bringing creativity to the classroom is so big and scary for schools that it IS going to take time before we see full scale change. There are pockets of excellence here and there. There are programs like New Tech High and the Buck Institute where schools are changing to project-based learning. This takes a big effort from everyone and a commitment to invest time and money into people and appropriate resources.
Next post will be about a change process I’m working on with several schools. I thought I’d share how it works while it is being implemented. Going to take a few risks myself so all of us can learn together.