“One of the real challenges is to innovate fundamentally in education. Innovation is hard because it means doing something that people don't find very easy, for the most part. It means challenging what we take for granted, things that we think are obvious. The great problem for reform or transformation is the tyranny of common sense; things that people think, "Well, it can't be done any other way because that's the way it's done."(Ken Robinson, 2010)
My exploration of creativity has led me to review the current model of education. I want to develop a better understanding of why education is in the general unimaginative state that it is. I feel that looking back at history gives me a starting point that helps me delve deeper into this area. My belief is that schools need to adopt an overall upheaval of their curriculum to focus more on harnessing the creative potential of their students. As a teacher, I want to empower my students to recognise that they are creative beings and make them look at the world with a dynamic creative lens.
My two driving questions are:
Why is education in it's current state?
What has led us to this point in education where people are calling for an educational upheaval, a complete transformation, an education “revolution”?
What are the roots of today's education?
It is important to ask questions of education because it helps you realize what is relevant and what is not. “Purpose” should underpin education and that’s what it has done in the past. The problem with education today is that it hasn’t broken away from the education system that was shaped by the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution, by the way, occurred from 1850 to around 1950. To point out, we’re in 2013. This is over 60 years since the Industrial Revolution came to an end.
Industrialists placed emphasis on:
“Instilling in children of all social classes the values and character traits, such as working hard and obeying authority, necessary for employment in industrial settings. To account for this, schools became highly formalized, hierarchical structure designed to sort students who were eligible from those who were not. An overt curriculum of reading, writing, arithmetic, and history was overlaid on a covert curriculum of punctuality, obedience, rote, and repetitive work.” (Tanner & Lackney, 2006, 6)
The purpose of education of this time was to produce students that were well prepared to enter jobs that required these sorts of skills. Consequentially, school buildings were built to facilitate this purpose and therefore lacked versatility in its use and variety of learning spaces. By the end of the 19th Century came a progressive movement, which emerged in Europe and the United States.
Several scholars were prevalent during this time - Friedrich Froebel in Germany, Maria Montessori in Italy and John Dewey in the United States. Froebel placed importance on the important role of play in developing children’s understandings. Montessori’s fundamental concept was that children have a passionate love of learning, of work, of order and self-discipline, all of which can become permanent, self-enforcing traits if the child is properly encouraged (Abbey Montessori School, 2012). Dewey believed in an integrated curriculum that placed student inquiry as the driving force behind what is being learnt. This student-centred approach has children as active participants in their learning (Brewer, 2007, 42).
It is amazing that these pioneers of education remain so relevant today. John Dewey said that, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow” (Dewey, 1944, p. 167). This quote is just as significant now as it was over 50 years ago because a lot of teachers are still teaching their students in an irrelevant way. It’s not to say that what Dewey suggests and where the direction of inquiry-based education is a simple transition. Teachers are still attempting to effectively incorporate an inquiry-based curriculum to relate it more to children’s experiences, integrating the curriculum, teaching critical thinking and problem-solving skills, stimulating creative thinking, supporting cooperative learning, providing hands-on activities and supporting collaborative decision making by the teaching staff (Tanner & Lackney, 2006, 9).
Stephen Heppell wryly observed that, “We have spent the last 20th Century perfecting 19th century learning.” (Whitby, 2007, 2). So the resonating question for me is why has education generally remained stagnant for so many years and why is there such a drive for creativity to take prominence in schools today.
Why are we here?
I imagine that many teachers have considered why they teach the way they do. They have a set pedagogy that they firmly believe in. I’m sure there are also teachers that look to continually learn and grow professional. They are lifelong learners that take their understandings of education further and in different directions. But I wonder how many teachers question the foundations of the education system that they teach in? Why they teach their students the way they do? Whether it’s done didactically (you should have changed) or through a constructivist-based method (there are still changes to be made). It makes sense that a teachers role is to teach students in a way that engages their curiosity. Teachers should believe in a system that views the student as having THE voice in what and how they learn. Teachers should have the job to inspire, motivate and develop passions within students. But with educational reform there is an enormous problem that involves parents, teachers, administers, the general public and governments. Our experience of education is based on an outdated system that has its roots planted in another century. It’s what we and others know. It's what makes many comfortable. But it is not right. It's time for change.
The point of this post is for us to look where current educational structures have come from. To question the current structures at your school. To get you to question your pedagogy and the way you teach.
Question education today.
Abbey Monessori School (2012). Montessori in a Nutshell. Last Accessed: 27/11/12.
Brewer, J.A. (2007). Introduction to early childhood education. Boston: Pearson
Robinson, K. (2010, February). Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution! Last Accessed: 28th November, 2012,
Whitby, G. (2007). Pedagogies for the 21st Century: Having the courage to see through fresh eyes. ACEL 2007 International Conference: Sydney, Australia
Tanner, C.K. & Lackney, J.A. (2006). Educational Facilities Planning: Leadership, Architecture, and Management. Pearson: Boston
Monday, 19 November 2012
It had been a long time since I had felt so inspired and uplifted. A moment that made me truly reflect on my professional pedagogy and teaching practices. It occurred when I was watching Ken Robinson’s presentation on TEDtalk. His topic was “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” The presentation talked about how schools did not harness creativity in children and that school systems had become out-dated.
The statement that stuck with me was when Sir. Ken Robinson (just Ken seems improper) stated that, “I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity". This view had an immediate impact on me. For the first time I have started to deeply question the core structure and purpose of education. I have taught for eight years and earned my Bachelor of Education at a highly regarded university but I never questioned "the system". I went through the system as a student and slipped into the same system as a teacher. I realised that I had never questioned why education was like it was. Suddenly, certain elements of education seemed ludicrous and irrelevant. In that moment the lens which I used to viewed education changed. I was questioning the core of how, what, where, when and who I was teaching?
My understanding of education was stripped bare. Schools had operated in the same way for many years and I was finally asking why? Suddenly I felt overwhelmingly ignorant. How well did I know my students? Lambert (in his article: 21st Century Learners - and their approachs to learning) suggests that students live in a world of rapid communication, action, mobility and change, of intricate social activity and a huge potential for new knowledge.
How do schools cater for these students in school? How does the curriculum that is taught reflect the needs of these students now and in the future? Do administrators and schools ‘stand back’ and reflect on this world students live in and how we're setting them up for the ever-changing world of the future?
This is a world that is hastily changing, connected, adapting and evolving. Therefore, the style and approach to teaching has to change and overall the learning priorities to change to suit the 21st century. With this in mind I think back to Robinson’s quote. The student is evermore being looked at as an individual with a unique learning identity. Students have different abilities, knowledge, understandings, interests, learning preferences among others.
But with all this in mind I believe that all students have a ‘capacity’ that is limited only by what their experiences allow. That might be in the form of the environment that they learn in, either inside of school or outside of school; the people and teachers they interact with; or importantly their self-perception. Bearing in mind that people are unique in so many ways, I would argue that ‘human capacity’ lies in someone’s opinion of themselves. If you believe in yourself then no matter what your abilities, what your skills are, what your knowledge is – you can achieve a lot more.
This is the point where I realise why creativity is so important.
A story from Ancient India
When they are very small, elephants are tethered to large wooden stakes driven into the ground. These stakes are ample to hold a small elephant, despite its attempts to tug and rip the stake from the ground. As the elephants tire of the struggle to break free they learn the limits of their stake and cease to try to resist. These elephants grow into enormous beasts, many times the size and weight they were when they were first tethered. They could break the stake like a matchstick…but they never do, for they have learned their perceived limits.
(From Best & Thomas, 2008, The Creative Teaching and Learning Resource Book)
I come to a conclusion
I perceive that creativity has as much to do with attitude as any specific activity. Simply, if a student thinks of themselves as a creative thinker than the end product will be more creative. This will impact on the person that they develop into and the life opportunities that will appear in the uncertain future.
With all this in mind....I’m going on a journey. A journey to discover creativity.
What it is? Where it comes from? How to harness it? How to empower students with the knowledge that they are creative beings?
So my first step is: Go to the source – My students.
I asked several students from Prep to Year 3 some questions about their beliefs about creativity.
After asking these question with the students more questions began to flow. They were articulating a challenging concept in such amazing and dynamic ways.
Enough from me - here is one such example.
You know now why I'm on this journey.