Personal Project: Published! (Sort of.)

The first thing I submitted for publication was an article on creative teaching for IB World magazine.

I saw their call for responses, I emailed the editor with questions about word limit, and then I wrote and sent in a 600+ word article. And the editor responded fairly quickly! And they’re going to publish my work!

Well. Some of it.

Okay. Thirty-four words of it.

So, since 95% of the article will not otherwise make it beyond the editor’s inbox, I am pasting it here.

What is creative teaching?

As engaging as creative teaching can be, I’d like to propose that what students really need are teachers who facilitate creative learning.

Too often, emphasis is placed on what the teacher does or what the teacher produces in the form of handouts, presentations, worksheets, and lectures. Creative lesson plans may be interesting, but who learns the most from them? The students who bask momentarily in their teacher’s glory? Or the teacher who is driven to devise a unique approach or interesting connection to a subject that he or she has been studying for years? I’d argue that it’s the latter.

Instead of being known as a creative teacher, I hope my students see me as a facilitator of their creativity. Instead of producing a few cool lessons myself, I hope to build an infrastructure that will develop and support my students’ creative work.

I was reminded about this recently when my grade level team assigned a comparative essay in which students had to discuss how an aspect of the ancient text we’d read in class compared to a more modern text of their choosing. Students could write about any other text they wanted: a film, TV series, play, novel, or nonfiction text about a historical figure. They could approach the essay creatively!

But few students did.

The essays were overwhelmingly formulaic and boring.

As I complained about this to a colleague, he suggested that maybe the essays were formulaic and boring because we had given students a formulaic and boring assignment.

This hurt.

But it was true.

Looking back on that semester, some of the most creative student work came when this same grade level was studying the art of persuasion. Students were assigned, simply, to be persuasive. They got to choose something they cared about, something that related to them, and then — using the most appropriate techniques we had studied — persuade the audience of their choosing to take action and care about this topic, too.

Some students wrote emails to their club sponsors and teachers, some created infographics to post around the school, one student wrote and performed a spoken-word poem, one student had a meeting with the administration, several students posted homemade videos to social media, and still others wrote and illustrated books for children they knew. It was interesting.

So now, in addition to asking myself how I can best assess my students’ learning, I am also asking myself, “How can I create assignments that give students autonomy? Assignments that students might enjoy? Assignments that require creativity? Assignments that aren’t boring?”

Getting creative can be scary for some students (and some adults). Some people like being told what to do. They want a formula, a template, a word count. They want to be given the questions so they can look them up online, memorize them, and regurgitate them in a standardized fashion.

Which is exactly why teachers should be pushing for more creativity. We’ve all heard the adage that practice makes perfect. And creativity — just like any other skill — is something that can be practiced.

In their book, Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential of Us All, brothers David M. Kelley and Tom Kelley argue that “Building confidence through experience encourages more creative action in the future, which further bolsters confidence.”

This is our challenge as teachers: to provide students opportunities to take risks, develop their creativity, and build their confidence. According to IBM’s oft-cited survey of over 1,500 CEOs around the world (also referenced inCreative Confidence), creativity is the most important trait that employees will need in order to navigate a world that increasingly devalues knowledge and routine work.

So as teachers, it is not only possible to improve our students’ creativity, it is imperative.

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