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Inspiring Creativity and Innovation in K–12

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Encourage a culture of innovation and creativity. Innovation and creativity are imperative to educational success and require the contributions of teachers, students, administrators, and policymakers. Explore the four essentials for developing a creative, mistake-tolerant culture; investigate teaching and leadership beliefs and practices that undermine creativity; and discover strategies for successfully navigating challenges that your team may face along the way.

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Chapter 1: Why Creativity Is Vital

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Chapter 1

Why Creativity Is Vital

Sir Ken Robinson’s writing (2014) and wildly popular YouTube videos (thirty million hits and counting) make clear the importance of creativity for the future of the planet. Creativity is the first priority in talent selection by the Global CEO Study (Lombardo & Roddy, 2010), finishing higher in that survey than integrity and global thinking. Creativity is foundational to human progress, scientific endeavors, and educational success. In the best synthesis of the international evidence, Heather Hammond and colleagues (2013) and John Hattie (2012) find durable positive relationships between creativity and student achievement and conclude that successful nurturing of creativity depends on feedback that is accurate and active.

The fundamental question is this: Why do so many people enthusiastically watch a Ken Robinson video and devour research about creativity and achievement and then do absolutely nothing about what they learned? This book explores the challenges of creativity and offers practical advice for educators, school leaders, and policymakers. It is not enough to acknowledge that creativity is important; we must first understand why creativity presents such a challenge, particularly in an educational environment.

 

Chapter 2: Building a Creative Culture

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Chapter 2

Building a Creative Culture

It does little good to encourage student creativity unless leaders have first put in place the essential elements of a creative environment. This chapter suggests four such essentials and offers a Creative Environment Rubric (see pages 16–18), so you and your colleagues can begin a quest to save creativity at your school with some objective analysis. These four essential elements include:

1.  Mistake-tolerant culture

2.  Rigorous decision-making system

3.  Culture that nurtures creativity

4.  Leadership team that models and supports creativity

Mistake-Tolerant Culture

The first element of a creative environment is a mistake-tolerant culture. Although much has been written and said about the value of mistakes in pursuing creativity, the practical reality is that in most schools, mistakes by students, teachers, and administrators are systematically punished. The least effective creative environments require blind compliance with rules and expectations. Success in these environments is equated with avoiding mistakes. The clear, if unspoken, leadership theme is this: We’ve worked too hard to get where we are to mess it up with any new ideas. Alan Deutschman (2007), in the compelling book Change or Die, writes that over decades of research, a consistent finding reveals that many people would rather die than make significant changes in their lives. The best evidence for such an over-the-top assertion is that more than 90 percent of people who have had open-heart surgery, often due to behavioral decisions such as smoking and a sedentary lifestyle, only briefly change the behaviors that landed them under the surgeon’s knife. Within less than a year, they return to their old lifestyle. They would literally rather die than change.

 

Chapter 3: How Educators and Leaders Discourage Creativity

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Chapter 3

How Educators and Leaders Discourage Creativity

At the end of a long holiday weekend, the airport was crowded with frustrated passengers. Their planes were delayed, their kids were hungry, and the crankiest of all were not the babies but their weary and fractious parents. As I worked at a small table in the waiting area, I noticed that some clever airport managers had created a small putting green to occupy bored fliers. Three children had taken over the course. They were four, five, and six years old (I had overheard them introducing themselves by grade, age, school, and hometown). For a while, they tried to use the golf clubs to play golf. But the motor skills required to knock the ball into the hole soon grew too challenging, so the youngest suggested, “Let’s play hockey!” Soon, all three were wielding their new “hockey sticks” with delight. Some time later, another child suggested, “Let’s play soccer!” Abandoning their clubs, they started kicking a golf ball from one end of the course to the other. Eventually, a parent looked up to see what was happening and exclaimed, “My goodness! Look at how spontaneously creative these children are, even under these aggravating conditions!” Of course he didn’t say that. “This is a golf course!” he firmly intoned, “and you’re going to damage it!” Within seconds, the children had stopped playing, and they returned to looks of boredom and despair, no longer inventing their own games to relieve the anxiety of the situation but waiting as we all were for the flight to finally take off.

 

Chapter 4: How Educators and Leaders Can Encourage Creativity

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Chapter 4

How Educators and Leaders Can Encourage Creativity

As the evidence in chapter 1 makes clear, creativity is essential for students, workers, educators, and leaders not only in the creative arts but also in every domain, including education, business, health care, technology, and the nonprofit world. The primary challenge is how to transform our creative aspirations into practical actions. In chapter 3, we suggested practices and attitudes to be avoided. Now we come to powerful practices that encourage creativity. One of the most powerful practices that teachers and leaders can implement to promote creativity is providing feedback that is timely, accurate, and specific (Hattie, 2012; Hattie & Yates, 2014). This chapter offers a systematic way in which to offer this feedback, not only during classroom activities explicitly described to engender creativity but also during almost all activities. When feedback improves, student performance improves, which not only leads to improved creativity but also improved academic performance across the board. We have identified eight dimensions for providing effective feedback through creativity assessment.

 

Chapter 5: Adapting the Four Essential Questions of PLCs to Creativity

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Chapter 5

Adapting the Four Essential Questions of PLCs to Creativity

The relationship between creativity and achievement is very strong, a conclusion reached not only by Hattie but also by Professor Kyung Hee Kim of the College of William and Mary. In a landmark study, including more than three hundred thousand students over twenty years, Kim (2011) finds that creativity is declining among American students, particularly with regard to the creative skills of students in kindergarten through third grade. The period under study, 1990 to 2008, coincides with a stagnation or decline, depending on the data selected, in student achievement. While putative IQ scores have risen, achievement—at least as measured in local, state, and international assessments—has withered. Hattie (2012) finds that school programs designed to enhance creativity are associated with improved achievement results.

However, statistical relationships can be tricky to interpret, as we will discuss later in this chapter. Those who conclude that creativity is not a gift of the muses but available to virtually any student—a conclusion strongly reinforced by the research we reviewed on the subject—find that the work of Kim and Hattie reinforces our previous conclusions. Just as effective literacy and mathematics programs can improve results for all students, including those who have been underperforming, so can professional practices that encourage creativity, such as those described in chapter 4. But opponents of the “all students can learn” hypothesis may look at the same data and come to a different conclusion: clever students are creative, and creative students are clever—who is to say which is the education chicken and which is the performance egg?

 

Chapter 6: Creativity for Education Policymakers

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Chapter 6

Creativity for Education Policymakers

We cannot expect creativity in the classroom if we do not see it in the boardroom, state legislative chambers, or the halls of Congress. The following are five practices policymakers can implement to keep creativity alive in education.

1.  Inclusion

2.  Collaboration

3.  Debate, dissent, and discipline in decision making

4.  Accountability

5.  Forgiveness

The 21st century has seen the enormous influence of state and national policymakers on the classroom. In the early 1990s, a dozen states replaced self-defined standards of success by local school districts with statewide standards, backed up with state-mandated assessments. This coincided with the beginning of the decline in student creativity explored by Kim (2011). Shortly after the inauguration of President George W. Bush in January of 2001, a majority of both houses of Congress passed with bipartisan support the No Child Left Behind Act. This was the first legislative action of the new administration. It required that every state establish academic content standards and grade-level assessments to determine the degree to which each state was making progress toward 100 percent proficiency thirteen years hence. The logic was that the kindergarten students of 2001, with the benefit of the No Child Left Behind Act, would be motivated, from a combination of threats and incentives, to achieve universal proficiency. Eight years of No Child Left Behind were followed by Race to the Top, an effort to do with administrative mandates and federal economic incentives what the previous years of legislative mandates could not do. After many years of experimentation in education policy, we know one thing for certain: threats, mandates, bribes, and coercion accomplish compliance and even a degree of creativity, even if the highest and best use of that term is evasion and defiance.

 

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