By Benjamin Hebebrand
Head of School, Quest Academy
Creativity, innovation, and imagination have become buzzwords in the 21st century. Sir KenRobinson, author of Out of Minds: Learning to be Creative, says that “creativity is not some exotic, optional extra. It’s a strategic issue.” In my opinion, creativity has indeed risen to a national – if not global -- priority status as a result of a confluence of both proactive and reactive forces.
The reactive forces can be found in both our economy and education. Still mired in a recession, today’s economy not only requires innovation to launch new products and services but also to foster new systems of management and leadership, allowing industry to capitalize on the power of collaboration and ideas at all organizational layers. In education, we are reacting to a hard-core standards movement that has put so much emphasis on academic skills that we dropped and discounted the student’s curiosity in learning for the sake of merely “covering” learning content to check off a standard and prepare for the next standardized test. And, yes, we also dropped and discounted the fine and performing arts. I, for one, am sensing that our educational system is moving in a new direction of “uncovering” and “discovering” the learning content.
The proactive force can be found in technology – the kind of technology that allows us to interact without limits and the kind of technology that allows for the transformation of both our systems of education and economy. Technology has to be used properly and not misused by engaging with technology in a passive, consumer-oriented, numbing manner. Instead, technology should spur collaboration, strategic thinking, and productive outcomes, all of which can nowadays be encountered in well-designed gaming environments or well-guided virtual classrooms.
The field of gifted education has always included the idea of creativity as an essential component. Dona J. Matthews and Joanne F. Foster, authors of Being Smart about GiftedEducation make the point that giftedness and creativity are not two separate or disconnected notions but rather they are symbiotically intertwined. “Creativity is an important component of actualizing giftedness in every domain, and domain-specific mastery is a prerequisite for high-level creative work.” In a way, creativity advances knowledge and knowledge advances creativity. We would be wise to remember this in educating students, particularly those students who are just entering the formalized educational system.
Consider how Sir Ken Robinson explains creativity within the context of education: “I remember when I was running the national commission on creativity, education and the economy in the U.K., the Secretary of State there said, ‘We're very committed to creativity in education but we've got to get literacy and numeracy right first.’ And I said, this is just a basic misunderstanding. It's like saying we're going to bake a cake and if it works out, then we'll put the eggs in. That's not how it works. If you want people to be literate, you have to get them passionate about reading and that's a creative job. To think of it as an afterthought or in conflict of the core purposes, is a misconception of what creativity is.”
Schools should indeed be among the primary incubators of creativity. Classrooms must be supportive and encouraging to allow creativity to emerge and flourish. Thus, schools and the teachers within the schools have a choice to make – to be creative and thus liberate students to be the same.
Indeed Robert Sternberg, a noted gifted education theorist and creator of the Triarchic Model of Intelligence (comprised of analytical intelligence, creative or synthetic intelligence, and practical intelligence), believes that being creative is a decision we make (or not). He proposes a list of ten mindsets by which we decide for creativity – a list that teachers would be well served to employ in their classrooms:
· Redefine problems: This approach may prevent us from getting stuck.
· Analyze one’s own ideas: I would refer to this mode of thinking as fine-tuning and re-tuning one’s own thoughts.
· Sell one’s own ideas: Demonstrating the value of one’s thinking is bound to result in greater creativity.
· Knowledge is a double-edged sword: So-called expertise may limit flexibility.
· Surmount obstacles: I would define this as one’s willingness to entertain contrary points of view in an effort of redefining one’s own ideas.
· Take sensible risks: Creativity or divergent thinking mandates one move beyond one’s comfort zone.
· Willingness to grow: One’s viewpoint of being correct can hinder the examination of different solutions.
· Believe in oneself: I would think that anyone who believes they can be creatively productive will indeed be creatively productive.
· Tolerate ambiguity: Embrace the uncertainties of the creative process – accept that the end point can be redefined during the process.
· Find what you love to do and do it: Follow your passions and interests.
In conclusion, we would be wise to think of creativity as a means to stretch our ideas. Stretching one’s body increases flexibility; stretching one’s mind (and not limiting it to a multiple choice answer) increases creativity.