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Thoughts on Creativity: A View from the CFT Faculty Cohort

November 4, 2011

The Drew Charter and Westminster Faculty Cohort, a group of twelve teachers that meet twice each month for two years, is studying the creative process.  We are operating under the premise that in order to become a creative teacher, it is necessary to get in touch with our own creative talents.  How can we help students become creative thinkers, creative problem-solvers, or expand their own creative talents in our classroom if we are not prepared to wrestle with our needs and desires to be a creative person?  The journey towards leading a creative life is nurtured by creative people who mentor us.  Students’ teachers can be their mentors on this journey towards leading a creative life.  Who are a teacher’s mentors on their journey towards leading a creative life?

In her book, If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland writes:

everyone is talented, original and has something important to say.

She goes on to write:

everybody is original if he tells the truth, if he speaks from himself.  But it must be from his true self not from the self he thinks he should be.

In the writing process, Ms. Ueland believes that original and creative ideas come from within, from the true self that is within each us.  She believes creative writing is something we can all do if we employ strategies to write from our heart.  She also believes that the joy and imagination required to write creatively leaves us when we are young because we get schooled in methods that emphasize obligation rather than creativity.  I think this quote sums up a theme she revisits in her book:

For when you write, if it is to be any good at all, you must feel free, free and not anxious.

In the faculty cohort, our goal is to “free teachers up” to experience creative moments in themselves and collaborate with other teachers who hopefully will become mentors to them on their journey of discovering what it means to be creative.  Thus far, I think we are having success with our work.

At a recent cohort meeting, we spent the day at the High Museum.  One activity was wandering for an hour and a half in the Picasso to Warhol exhibit with an audio tour, sketchbook, and camera.  It was a fascinating experience for everyone.  One painting that we focused on was a Henri Matisse painting from when he was 82 years old, Stained Glass Window.  At a follow-up cohort meeting, we did a series of art activities that came from a Project Zero workshop at the High Museum in the summer of 2011, one of which was a collaborative project in the style of Matisse’s Stained Glass Window.  (see the images below)

Christmas Eve by Henri Matisse

Cohort's Collage for a Stained Glass Window

Cohort members brainstormed their ideas to the prompt, What is Creativity?  While that is a complicated question to answer and one that experts have written about, we thought it would be interesting for our cohort to see what understanding we bring to the question. Here is a list of the ideas we generated.  Many ideas were generated when thinking about qualities that a creative person possesses and a few more about the creative process itself.

  • someone who is a free-thinker
  • someone who is able to to use what’s around and improvise
  • someone with the ability to express oneself in new and interesting ways
  • someone who is a risk-taker
  • someone who believes making mistakes is OK
  • someone with the attitude that anything is possible
  • someone who is not restricted by boundaries
  • someone who is uninhibited
  • creativity in music, someone who can inspire people with music
  • valuing and appreciating new ideas build creativity
  • originality is not as important as being inspired
  • creativity is like a pendulum swinging back and forth between inspiration and action
  • someone who is open to and appreciates creative forces
  • someone with an imagination, who can envision new things
  • someone who is passionate
  • creativity and music
  • is creativity the same as imagination?
  • creativity is doing something new or different
  • creativity needs action
  • creativity can be taught-a person can be made more aware of the creative energy within
  • taking what your taught and expanding it to new areas of thinking
  • creativity is inhibited by evaluation
  • creativity is part of doing something–every discipline involves uses or relies on creativity
  • conviction-step out to make it happen

We continue to explore our own creativity in a variety of ways.  An art teacher from Westminster, Sandra Curtis, gave us some introductory drawing lessons from Drawing On the Right Side of Your Brain, by Betty Edwards.  All of our work outside cohort meetings is being assembled on a Drew/Westminster NING site where we post discussions, blog entries, photos from class lessons, and videos connected to our topic.

One relevant TED Talk that the cohort has found interesting is from Tim Brown, founder of IDEO, on creativity and play.

The more we explore the creative process through art, writing, gamestorming activities, and discussions about our classroom lessons we’re discovering that we have a lot to learn about creativity.  One of our goals is to use the knowledge we gain in year 1 of the cohort to build an action research project for year 2 in which we apply what we’ve learned about the creative process. In the meantime, cohort members are using ideas from our work as a springboard for lesson plans with students.

Stay tuned for more postings regarding the Drew/Westminster Faculty Cohort.

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