Slow Down

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Are traditional school schedules and teacher classrooms too rushed and hurried to foster creativity and innovative thinking? Is the pressure to perform in a standards-based culture too high to promote deep and reflective thought? Do factory-model schools cultivate trust and relationships that drive honest feedback, teamwork and the co-creation of solutions?

And the implication is that the real or perceived societal pressure we feel to get more and more things done, and process more and more information, can be an enemy to real love and true learning.” – Four Reasons to Slow Down by Jon Bloom

Learning takes time and patience and this conflicts with how our society and our public education system often operate.

“In an ideal world, the school day would reflect kids’ changing needs and rhythms. There would be time for free play; school would start later to allow time for students’ much-needed rest; the transition time between classes would be longer, allowing time for kids to walk down the hall and say hi to their friends and plan their next moves; kids would have the opportunity to step away from school “work” in order to regroup and process what they’ve absorbed. “The actual encoding of information doesn’t take place when you’re hunched over a desk,” she said.” – Why Kids Need Schools to Change by Tina Barseghian

Deep and thoughtful learning that generates creative and innovative ideas and solutions requires the time and patience to:

  • think
  • reflect
  • dream
  • hope
  • discuss ideas
  • ask questions
  • seek answers
  • encourage others
  • build relationships
  • generate new ideas
  • test theories
  • create solutions

“The necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 ‘leadership competency’ of the future.” – The Creativity Crisis by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman


This leaves me wondering about the learning and creativity within my school…

    • Do students know how to be creative? Can creativity be taught?

Creativity can be taught,” says James C. Kaufman, professor at California State University, San Bernardino.” – The Creativity Crisis

  • Are teachers designing learning experiences that promote deep learning and creative output?

“What’s common about successful programs is they alternate maximum divergent thinking with bouts of intense convergent thinking, through several stages. Real improvement doesn’t happen in a weekend workshop. But when applied to the everyday process of work or school, brain function improves.” – The Creativity Crisis

“When students display creativity and innovation in PBL, they are able to generate and refine solutions to complex problems or tasks.” – How Can We Teach and Assess Creativity and Innovation in PBL? by John Larmer

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Encourage Reflection & Action


As the instructional coach, I wonder what I can do to support deeper thinking and creativity within every classroom and online learning environment in my school. Maybe I should procrastinate and be unhurried! 🙂

“We’re always asked to be faster and more precise. But what can we learn from slowing down — even procrastinating? This hour, TED speakers explore why taking it slow is crucial…for all of us.” – Slowing Down from the TED Radio Hour

This radio program and Grant’s article, Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate, illuminate the idea of slowing down in order to come up with creative and innovative ideas. By slowing down and taking time to reflect on a problem, we give ourselves time to come up with different solutions. Sometimes, our initial solution or answer is not as good as those ideas we come up with after taking in and wrestling with and testing lots of ideas.

“But while procrastination is a vice for productivity, I’ve learned — against my natural inclinations — that it’s a virtue for creativity.” –  Grant

“It was only when they first learned about the task and then put it off that they considered more novel ideas. It turned out that procrastination encouraged divergent thinking.” – Grant

““You call it procrastination, I call it thinking.” – Aaron Sorkin

I had never heard of the Unhurried movement until I started researching for this blog post, but the principles definitely align to being patient and engaging in discussions in which you truly listen (skills which I’m practicing). I love the philosophy of this approach which challenges us to relax and focus on listening instead of talking in a frenetic volley that is laden with interruptions.

The Unhurried Approach “applies to any process that requires the participation of human beings. We use Unhurried as a guiding principle in our work with people.”

I hope to apply the principles for being unhurried at work and plan some opportunities for Unhurried Conversations for teachers and students. In order to support deeper thinking and creativity within every classroom and online learning environment in my school, I will…

Photo Credit: flickr
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Cultivate Creativity

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Some condemn schools for killing creativity. But, this week our high school celebrated creativity through a Holiday Café in which students and staff alike stayed after school to share their writing; one student even sang for us. Two of our English teachers hosted the event in which students were encouraged to perform poetry and stories they’d written this semester.

We had a great turnout – a room full of students sharing a part of themselves through a piece of their own writing over hot cocoa and coffee. So many talented kids at WCHS! I’m happy to say I also mustered up the courage to share a poem I wrote earlier this year. Putting your art out there for the world to see or hear takes a lot of courage so I applaud these kids for being brave and stepping out to share their writing.

“We are educating people out of their creative capacities.” – Sir Ken Robinson

“Our task is to educate their whole being…” – Sir Ken Robinson

Now, I’m left wondering how we might continue using creativity to improve teaching and learning at our school. How can we cultivate creativity across classrooms? How can we teach in ways that inspire students to be creative and innovative instead of passive and disengaged?

Innovate or Replicate?

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Innovation: Something new and uniquely useful – Asymco  1) the introduction of something new 2) a new idea, method, or device : novelty – Merriam-Webster

Transform: to change in composition or structure; to change the outward form or appearance of; to change in character or condition : convert – Merriam-Webster

If you hear anything positive about public school systems these days, it probably includes the term “innovation” or a derivative thereof – districts of innovation, innovation labs, innovative schools, innovative practices, etc.  Are innovative practices best practice? Once a practice has been deemed innovative, how long should that practice be identified as innovative?

After reading Kristin Anthony and Tim Klapdor’s posts this morning, I wonder if it’s innovation that’s taking place or is it replication of the innovative acts of others. Does it matter? If kids are making the necessary gains, do we care whether or not it’s innovation or replication?

Real innovation requires change… That’s where the complexity lies – it’s not about coming up with something new, it’s about convincing people to change. To let go of traditions and to trade in status, comfort and power from the old model to embrace something new and different. It’s for this reason that true innovation is exceedingly rare. – Tim Klaptor

Klapdor proposes that innovation requires change therefore time and retrospection is necessary to determine whether or not an act was innovative. In other words, you can’t just say you’re going to innovate; that determination is made later when the results are evident.

Innovations are therefore the most demanding works because they require all the conditions in the hierarchy. Innovations implicitly require defensibility through a unique “operating model”. Put another way, they remain unique because few others can copy them. – Horace Dediu

If uniqueness, change and reflection are necessary components of innovation, is your district or school actually innovating practices and transforming the system? Can novel, inventive or creative actions within a traditional education model lead to deeper learning?

If you read Dediu’s post and some of the accompanying comments (so many I couldn’t read them all!), you’ll see that several folks disagree with his take on innovation. Whether you agree or not, perhaps the focus should be on answering questions like these.

  • Why does innovation matter in public schools?
  • How will defining innovation lead to better school systems?
  • What steps can schools take to design actions that have the potential to be innovative – new, unique and a way to sustain necessary change?
  • How can we keep the focus on creating intentional, well-designed learning experiences instead of feeding a societal desire for something NEW?

What do these ideas on innovation mean for P-12 educators? I was almost convinced that this discussion/debate was not relevant until I read Dr. Max McKeown’s post on innovation and determined that some key elements he mentions will support guidance on this subject.

Based on my knowledge and experience as an educator coupled with the information outlined in this post, I believe the following might be useful during planning and implementation phases. Of course, I haven’t created a comprehensive guide to planning for innovation by any stretch of the imagination here, but this process might help start (or continue) a conversation and dialogue with your colleagues about innovation and system transformation.

  1. Define Innovation: What is innovation in P-12 education?
  2. Establish Need: Why do we need to innovate?
  3. Create a Vision: How will we innovate?
  4. Choose an Innovative Focus: Which area(s) do we need to focus on based on the evaluation of our need?
    • Process Innovation – new ways of doing something in the areas of instructional practices, professional learning, etc.
    • Organizational Innovation – new ways of people working together in the areas of teacher and leader collaboration within and across districts, professional development, etc.
  5. Measure Progress: How effective is the innovation?
  6. Adjust: When will we make adjustments and changes if we see that our actions aren’t producing the results we anticipated at the rate we need?
  7. Iterate: How often will we measure progress and make adjustments throughout the school year? How often will we cycle back to step 1?

After examining these ideas for some time today, I believe that the semantics of the term “innovation” matters little to the work of systems change for P-12 public schools. It doesn’t matter whether or not your school’s innovation efforts are categorically innovative as long as academic outcomes are improving at the right pace and kids are happy, socially successful and safe. Whether your efforts are innovative, inventive, creative or merely novel doesn’t really matter as much as designing a system that engages your kids in a meaningful, productive, thought-provoking and empathy-centered curriculum.