How long ago did you buy into the idea of divine inspiration? The lightbulb moment? Most people I talk to believe creativity and inspiration are the same thing, and that they simply...happen. If the Muse doesn’t visit you, you’ll simply never make a great work of art.
If you know me, you already know I have a different idea about creativity and inspiration. I think anyone can become more creative just as anyone can get stronger. No one builds muscle without exercise. No one gets inspired without creative exercise, either.
There are countless ways to practice the creative process and foster inspiration. I find the simplest way, though, is to begin with “Little c” creativity. Rather than Van Gogh masterpieces or Beethoven sonatas, little c ideas are the ones that simply enrich our lives. These come from your surroundings--from thinking outside the box. As Orin Davis says, Little c creativity is “the detour you figure out when a road is closed, the way you prop a door that won’t stay open, and the folded-up piece of paper you use as a coaster.”
Today, thanks to Covid-19, you can find examples of little c creativity everywhere. Countless people are finding ways to work from home, even if their jobs aren’t traditionally remote. Teachers have been forced to take their curriculums online--even ones who teach ceramics or band or chemistry. Parents have found ways to work while also taking care of their children. Collectively, we’re doing much more than finding alternative driving routes or propping open a door with folded to-do lists. Life hacks, work hacks, parenting hacks, cooking hacks, shopping hacks… These have truly exploded thanks to the coronavirus.
Sandeep Gautam wrote about little c creativity in Psychology Today, expressing his belief that “small c is the way we will inch closer to the enigma of genius.” If we don’t focus on little c and use those small successes to boost our confidence, we’ll never build up the grit--the positive attitude--required to push through to Big C.
Personally, I think for someone who doesn’t consider themselves artistic, little c creativity is a wonderful (non-threatening) starting place. After all, most people have used a shopping list for a bookmark. Maybe you’ve cut up t-shirts to make face masks. Encourage the growth of little c creativity by noticing the ways you innovate regularly: getting your team to use Slack instead of 200 group texts every day; the songs you make up for your kids; the dinner you cooked without a recipe.
It’s possible to inspire little c creativity as well as the Big C kind. Start by asking yourself open-ended questions. Be mindful of your surroundings (what do you hear? What do you smell?). Try a new coffee shop in the morning. Take a walk in nature. Banter with strangers to discover a new point of view.
If you can make strides in little c creativity, you’ll find yourself more confident around the creative process in general. You might be more willing to pick up a paintbrush or turn that lesson plan into a collage or cartoon diagram.
How has Covid made you more creative?
Like most American teachers, I've been involved in the Great Remote Learning Experiment. Because of the circumstances, though, I think last spring was more about surviving than thriving. Teaching six weeks of summer school, knowing from the start it would be remote, has provided better circumstances for gauging remote learning. Below is a bulleted list of things I’ve learned.
Spoiler: it isn’t all bad. In fact, some of it is hopeful. There are challenges and losses to remote learning, but also many gains.
Caveat: this is long for a blog post. But I think it will be helpful. Keep in mind that I currently teach high school students but do have considerable experience working with younger students.
Major lenses I have found work best for remote curricular considerations:
Choice - Responsibility/Agency - Parents - Schedule/time - Quality v Quantity
These are also linked in crucial ways.
Giving students choice during this time is extremely helpful. Details will follow below. I think the lack of student choice is a major gap in our traditional systems at the best of times. But Covid has required even more student choice, given that each student has unique access to materials, resources, and skill-sets at home. Here is a document I use to help students with this. Here’s a link to my Teachable Course on the subject.
I can’t watch over students every minute and usually can’t even see what they’re doing, so they need to take more responsibility to engage and inspire themselves. When I explain that a process or project should take an hour, it’s really their responsibility to spend that time and focus. Again, this is something our traditional systems should do a better job of cultivating. Numerous students have shared some fears about choice and responsibility. This is new territory. It's also why parents are more pivotal than ever before. We need parents to be checking on their children to help motivate them to do the best they can. I’ve had far more conversations with parents than I usually do. We need to welcome parents into the class in new and improved ways.
Shifting to structural considerations, a good amount of focus should be given to schedules and what we think of as “class-time.” I had a parent suggest that “homework” was too much a part of the grading process. My response: “It could all be considered homework when it’s all being done at home.” I do think considerations for these definitions is helpful. We need to consider how much longer it takes students to navigate a remote learning environment (note, it takes longer). We must move away from the quantity of curriculum towards quality curricular experiences. This inevitably brings us back to CHOICE. For help with the “homework” definition, I suggest typical synchronous activities as “in-class work.”
(Note: State school boards need to rethink credit requirements and the like.)
On to the bullets.
The Benefits of Asynchronous time:
Utilzation of the Asynchronous benefits creates important considerations for Synchronous Learning. My student surveys focused a good deal on this. How can we use synchronous (Zoom Meetings) more meaningfully if a lot of instruction is being done through Edpuzzle and pre-recorded videos? The answer:
Challenges of being Completely Remote:
Building structure and community:
Your community plan should include:
SEL and Growth Mindset:
I translated a bunch of my assessment handouts, critiques, and worksheets into a SEL and Growth Mindset frame. I think it was really helpful.
Honestly, I found a lot of benefits to remote learning, but that’s likely because I’ve always promoted student choice and taking responsibility for their own learning. That’s messy work that focused itself this summer in new ways. I’m impressed with the level of work I received from intro level students. It was a rough ride at times, but learning always is. I think there are many benefits from having our learning and teaching community dive into this work in a planned and more cohesive manner.
Based on meetings with other summer school teachers I have a renewed sense of hope. Most agreed with the schedule and choice reforms I’ve been advocating for because it’s clear how this will allow students to succeed remotely. Some even suggested that specific classes might work better completely asynchronously. We should not expect this to work with 8 period schedules at a time. These changes, if done correctly, could benefit students and learning for years to come.