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  • Writer's pictureJusJo

Schools kill creativity?

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

Having joined the Facebook group DisruptED, I find the latest in all number of statements that challenge the increasing 'edge' I experience as a classroom teacher - and indeed, parent of Year 9 and Year 10 children also.

Like all things - perspective is critical in how we manage what we read and how we apply the thinking or relate.

The latest article on DisruptED, featured 'Schools - where creativity goes to die'. penned by Peter O'Connor, Auckland University. As O'Connor so succinctly puts it "...despite everything that has changed, the Ministry of Education continues with a futures focused curriculum, resisting calls to address inequity, and resolutely refusing to allow the imagination and creativity into classrooms." If I was to just think 'art', then yep - ain't that the truth?! I get a mere 10 minute scope a day to do anything that could tick the imagination and creativity box, in the classrooms I'm aligned to. However, there's creativity - there's being creative.

While integration could give rise to greater access to time and flexibility - the demands on 'individual' achievement demands strict writing, maths and reading programmes - for an hour each - where collaboration is next to impossible. There's simply no time, once every kid has had to have been seen in a 'group' for each of those three subjects. Teaching is becoming more and more the most crippling experience for too many - teachers and students alike. However, it need not be, if we think creatively and really facilitate the programming well.

I found myself reduced to tears during an appraisal recently - where after 33 years in education the level of interrogation was just sad... The demands to 'tell me exactly how you...' through to 'show me a learning intention in a (kids' exercise) book...' gave rise to a heartbreaking almost 2 hour session. On one hand, I'm duty bound by trends today to teach far more radically - but on the other, I'm just as duty bound to succumb to the heavily micromanaged edge that authoritative school reigns insist.

While the angst was personal - the recognition of this is nationally pitched. Says O'Connor: "The misguided and now tragically dated notion sitting behind the Ministry of Education’s approach to learning, is centred around individual achievement..." which is soooo against the grain for today's learners need to be skilled in. As a result, as O'Connor put it, it simply "...risks creating classes of people disconnected from a sense that they can be active participants in their own lives". Says O'Connor: "There is nothing soft about collaboration, nor of managing human interaction in complex situations. Learning these skills should be routine, commonplace and practised frequently in our schools.

Post-normal times means we can no longer rely on the tried and the tested, as the best evidence tells us little of how we can navigate the ambiguities of living marooned between the past and the future. Replanting creativity in schools might be the most important thing we can do to survive the darkness of today."

In practical terms, that requires principals galore to 'just let their teachers be the professionals they are...'. Like the kids, we - as their teachers have also been hugely stifled. We're locked into templates, locked into group tasks - locked into reporting on individual achievement and locked into all number of tick boxes - bullet points in appraisals, micro-levels of accountability etc. Teaching has become one of these most boring careers... Teachers also, are becoming "...disconnected from a sense that they/we can be active participants in their own lives" also.

Creative kids are messy kids. Creative classrooms are messy classrooms. When we consider that innovation drives much of our global development today, the heat that's given to the academic edge is just 'not on'. Or is it? While play based learning, and maker, creator ethos is gaining some traction within our schools - the stifling factor lies in the hands of Board of Trustees and Principals. The go-getters have messy schools - those who don't, call for 'more structure' to lessons - and the classrooms are 'tidier'. But then - isn't there a certain level of 'knowledge needed' in order to be creatively smarter? Of course...and it's not all about the artistic edge.

Creative programming sees student involvement in the design. The tidy schools seek to see 'Long Term Plans' by the end of the first week of term. The creative teachers are taking CRT days within the first week - endeavouring to put the student in the middle of their story. The shattered teachers just tick the boxes - direct the programming and the kids just have to fall in line. The spark is lost - the boredom kicks in and the kids play up. The creative teachers will equip kids with the knowledge that is necessary to build their own programme - it doesn't come naturally - and it's not the kind that requires a paint brush, or colour.

In the most watched TED talk of all time, educationalist Sir Ken Robinson FRSA claims that “schools kill creativity”, arguing that “we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather we get educated out of it”. Yet to Robinson, “creativity is as important as literacy and we should afford it the same status”. To be slightly contentious, they go hand in hand. Agreed - we can educate the kids out of being creative - by over emphasis of language features in writing, or roadblocks in reading ('Sharp Reading' factors) - but it need not be so black and white.

Tim Leunig, has a slightly different slant to all this - and he's a character who can resonate well with us. “True creativity” he argues, “is based on knowledge which in turn is based on literacy”. Our schools, where children develop the literacy skills on which all further learning depends, are therefore not killing creativity, but cultivating it by providing the “foundations young people need to be properly creative”.

Knowledge leads to inventions / innovation. Literacy skills done well will enable creativity - but harping on about language features and genres will not. Creativity needs to be applied in context. To think creatively in writing - such creative factors need to be addressed then - similarly in maths, science, construction, engineering, horticulture etc.

Learning to communicate effectively, engaging civilly in discussion and argument – have been, and should remain, at the forefront of our education. When we're so hung up on individual attainment, scores and stats - that's where all this goes terribly wrong. That's what kills creativity. Discussion, arguments, reflective analyse, negotiation and compromise etc - aren't featured the nightmare that it standardisation.

If the maximum number of children are to be given the greatest possible chance of realising their creative potential, schools need to provide a rich and broad curriculum that includes the visual and performing arts.

Having recently identified that class for some students starts at 8.15am - 45 mins prior to school - just to learn keyboard skills, it was suggested we form an options section to our week - as if 45 mins a week, was all that was needed. It completely overlooked the crowded curriculum and the ridiculousness of the academic emphasis of our programme. If really creative and daring - I'd replace a 'maths' session for a keyboard session. Music is maths - after all! Based on the thinking in the school - the level of interrogation that'd kick in then, would go to a whole new level.

If the government - and its schools are serious about cultivating real creativity across the curriculum, they need to remember that creativity describes a whole gamete of similar, but different processes. The central place of each subject needs to be understood before any starting point in curriculum design is entertained. The UN presented a key focus in 2015, with 2030 as goal: aka the Sustainable Development Goals. Imagine if we creatively took a look at this - imagine how creative our students would become naturally, with an authentic focus that's real to them?

The really smart way to handle this, is to leave it to the kids as well. Not entirely - but as well. As the video below provides in one of its snapshots - don't underestimate the kids, when leaving them to work together...creatively.

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