I’ve never been good at traditional New Year’s Resolutions. Somehow, coming on the heels of the most intense time of year—when holiday and end-of-semester craziness merge—by January 1 I’m more inclined to be grateful for survival than set new goals. But September is different. Even when I’m teaching summer term, the end of August brings a campus slow-down and a chance for reflection that usually finds me ready to start anew. Like many educators, my New Year starts in September.
I’ve written before about suggestions for a more creative school year. Perhaps some ideas there will speak to you. This year I have five more resolutions for supporting creativity in those I teach. More than specific activities, this year I want to think about some of my core goals.
1. Teach for curiosity. Creativity starts with wondering. It starts with exploring the world. And the truth is, there isn’t a lot of room for wondering in many classrooms. As teachers, we feel compelled to direct students to required topics, focus their attention on the “essential” (sometimes translated as “most likely to be tested”) information, and make sure they reproduce information accurately. Of course students need to learn important information. But the truth is, that cycle—someone tells you what to learn, you learn it, and then you reproduce it—isn’t terribly useful outside classrooms. So, at least occasionally, let’s teach that wondering is wonderful, and questions matter. Let’s think about problem finding as well as problem solving. You can read about problem finding here, or explore past posts that include problem-finding activities.
2. Be an advocate for play. There’s been a lot of recent talk about play, and for good reason. Play is the place children (and adults) learn to navigate relationships, solve problems independently, and develop resilience. And playfulness—the ability to play with ideas in an informal and joyful manner—is foundational to creativity. But time for play—especially unstructured free play—has been declining since the mid-20th century. Play needs advocates. Those of you who are teachers have at least two roles here.
First, we need to incorporate playfulness and imagination in our class activities. This doesn’t mean teachers need to be stand-up comics. It does mean we need to look our curriculum and ask, “How could we look at this in a new way? How could students express this understanding in a way that would allow for imagination?” What would happen if we applied this concept in a different place or time period (perhaps even a fantasy space), explained it to an alien species, or changed our assumptions? What if. . . ? Experiences that allow students to explore ideas in new and playful ways can deepen their understanding.
Second, we need to advocate for recess and homework policies that leave space for play. Taking a break is not a luxury for children—or adults. It is essential for healthy learning and development. Don’t let play vanish from your school (or home). The Institute of Play may give you one place to start. You might start by examining some of their projects or other research on the importance of play.
3. Make a place for the arts, and advocate for more. I recently read a very interesting article with a very depressing title, “Can Kickstarter Save Arts Education?” Kickstarter? Really? What next? Do we start having car washes to save math or seek crowd-funding to preserve science or literature?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this—why put money into the arts, particularly here in Michigan, where our slow economic recovery (and, from my perspective, some very unwise state policy decisions) means school budgets have been cut to the bone and beyond? Will arts involvement improve your test scores? Will it get you a job? There are arguments to be made for the role of the arts in child development, and in strengthening achievement, graduation rates, and school involvement. There are ties between various types of art education and verbal and visual spatial skills. But the truth is, the evidence is mixed and incomplete. There is no guarantee that involvement in the arts will keep students in school or improve their math scores.
But those are not the only reasons for arts education. There is a reason all cultures—across the globe and across time—include the arts. The arts provide another way to process the world, a glimpse into the experiences of other human beings, and a safe space for imagination. Long after the next standardized test has come and gone, arts will remain. Let’s not lose track of that. If we want to give students something lasting, the arts can do it.
In the next post I’ll share my final two resolutions:
Value individual voices
Help the world make sense.
Want to join me in my quests? Or better yet, what are your resolutions for a more creative school year?