Stop Believing the Mythology. Only Connect . . .

About a week ago I came upon David Burkus’ video post, Expanding Your Creativity.
In it, he states that there’s a mythology to creativity: “The Ancient Greeks believed that a set of Divine Muses came and visited mere mortals and inspired them and gave them creative insight.”

He argues that “we need to stop believing the mythology and start working on expanding our creativity.”

And, in what serves as the ultimate battle cry, he tells us that “creativity happens whenever expertise meets intrinsic motivation meets creative thinking skills.          Creative skills can be learned, they can be taught.”

Innovation, like creativity, is based on intrinsic motivation and creative thinking. However, as Suzie Boss writes, the difference between the two is that “creativity is about generating original ideas [whereas] innovation feels more practical. It’s also about fresh thinking, but the focus is on moving good ideas forward so that positive change occurs. Innovation can mean improving on someone else’s ideas rather than inventing from scratch . . . this may not be our invention, but it will certainly have our fingerprints all over it.”

One way that we are learning and teaching creativity and innovation in Vancouver is through an initiative that four Mini Schools have recently undertaken to integrate design thinking and project based learning throughout their offered program curriculum. For our Mini School students, we are attempting to:

  • Blend content acquisition (which is a static pursuit) with skill development (on-going and evolving in nature);
  • Recognize the fact that they are becoming not only better thinkers, but also makers, doers and problem solvers;
  • Create innovative learning experiences that are built on educational strategies emphasizing inquiry, collaboration and active engagement;
  • Teach them how to frame problems, generate ideas, refine solutions, collaborate with experts (locally and globally), and share results;
  • Facilitate a problem-solving process that, as a learning process, is content neutral and so lends itself to cross-curricular partnerships and exploration;
  • Guide them into becoming the owners of their own learning: crafters of their own inquiry working collaboratively to extend meaning and, ultimately, creating new ways of doing and seeing.

In essence, we are talking about transforming our educational experience and, to borrow from Seth Godin, emphasizing the connection rather than the collection of our educational dots.  

Now, take this thought and apply it to the teachers involved in this initiative (because if any school initiative is to work, it has to stretch the aspirations, passion and learning of both students and teachers). As we blur the lines for students between school and life, so too should we do the same for teachers so that everyone is not only collecting the dots but connecting them, synthesizing them and ultimately putting them together in innovative and creative ways.

So, for our teachers, we are attempting to: 

  • Afford them space and offer them support to follow their passions (because if they’re excited their students will connect – with the material and each other);
  • Provide time, both structured and informal, to craft their PBL together and in so doing become instructional resources for each other;
  • Let them view their mini school classes as “demonstration labs” or idea factories for the school community;
  • Encourage them to present their own ‘culminating projects’ to their colleagues so that facets and components of design and project based learning become embedded in regular classes thereby altering, for the better, the educational ecology of a school system;
  • And, for the betterment of both their students and themselves, let them have the administrative support that forever frames failure as a verb: a process (not a noun based product) that leads to reworking, reimagining and discovery.

Creativity and innovation in education: it can be learned and it can be taught. It can be encouraged through authentic inquiry, effective teamwork, and big thinking about what students and teachers can accomplish. It can flourish if we view teachers as designers. It can transform our schools into educational base camps where everyone is engaged in work that is worth doing and learning that is worth knowing.

Stop believing the mythology of can’t. Only connect! To borrow from E.M Forster, if we can connect the prose of what we do with the passion of what drives us,  innovation and creativity will follow.