Creativity as Disobedient Thought

Today we were lucky enough to have Professor Welby Ings speak to us as an end of year inspiration. This post will try to (briefly) cover the hour and a half master class on Creativity that we were treated to. (For an 18 minute version see Welby Ings’ TedxAuckland Talk here).

Learning outside school is not within traditional houses of thought (subjects) that schools put in place. For example when learning to drive we are not taught completely separate aspects of this without thought to the connections that exist. The hierarchies of disciplines that exist in schools are bollocks but unfortunately embedded in people’s minds.

Too often in schools we require students to perform rather than think. This results in students learning to follow complicit rituals rather than learning to really think for themselves. This exists in most forms of education until you reach PhD level where you finally set the question, answer it yourself and receive no specific mark for it. Marks are a substitute for not giving feedback. When you go for a Doctor’s visit we want the diagnostic – i.e. what is right or wrong with us – but in education people want the comparison with others – a grade such as a B+ – rather than the diagnostic feedback which has much richer value. If we don’t teach people to think then dominance and fear can reign unopposed.

Creativity is not the arts it is an ordinary everyday thing. Initially, creativity was considered the thinking of the Gods (they could create, we could just maintain) but then the Romantics came along. As the Romantics were mainly poets and artists creativity got caught up there in people’s minds for a long time. Creativity is essentially looking at existing systems and working out how it could be moved beyond. Welby’s advice is to ignore logic and think disobediently – this is creativity! Such as this incredibly creative ad made for the Guardian as they realised they had to retain appeal for those who no longer read the newspaper (i.e. most of us):

Doing the ordinary brings safe, known rewards. To be extra-ordinary we need to be extra ourselves – take risks and be prepared to fail. This means we must attempt to trade beyond experience, rethink the possibilities in new ways. In New Zealand we have the myth of the Number 8 wire culture where we see ourselves as being able to do extraordinary creative things but we actually don’t develop creativity well in our schools. Constant, comparative testing dominates rather than high trust, diagnostic testing that allows creativity to flourish. In Welby’s words: So much time weighing the sheep that we don’t stop to feed it.

Emotion and the heart have a lot of power in learning (and teaching – think of those teachers who really are passionate about their role as a teacher) but we don’t often acknowledge this. Teens have incredibly strong passions and feelings, why do we push learning away from these? The subjective is a very strong motivator for people so we should look to use this in learning. Look for the relationship between the emotional self and the problem being investigated (sounds a lot like the empathy stage in Design Thinking to me!).

Independent learning is often neglectful from teachers – we must pay attention to learning trajectories not just the outcome. Learning as co-creation. When it’s really successful the success is not attributed to us as teachers which can be hard for some to deal with but this is the way it is. A great teacher will be on students’ shoulders or up to 3 steps away so we can help guide the learning path in cocreation with students.

Effective group-work uses individual genius in an environment that is cocreated. We don’t have to assign students in groups as they will do it naturally to reach their goals. Learning is greater in social situations because we are more at risk emotionally.

The big question from all of this:

How do you encourage creativity in your school?

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