Travel Knowingly: The journey towards discovering your organization’s Element

In November a group from the Ottawa Carleton District School Board attended the Creativity World Forum (#cwf2010) in Oklahoma.  The OCDSB’s “Lead the Way” initiative is concerned with rethinking notions leadership in order to recognize, celebrate and encourage creativity and leadership on a grass-roots level, thus creating the conditions for greater creativity and innovation across our District.  While in Oklahoma, we heard from Sir Ken Robinson (a livescribe recording of one session is here). I wanted to share a recent @sirkenrobinson response to a question posed using the hashtag #askSKR on twitter because it made me reflect on the “Lead the Way” project and the most enduring and sustaining connections made during our trip to Oklahoma — those made amongst the OCDSB group members as we got to know each other better during the forum.  Have a view (4 minutes well-spent):

In this short video, Sir Ken offers us plenty to ponder with respect to our own journey to finding our element, and I also found myself thinking about “Lead the Way” as a collective journey to finding our District’s element.

A District Wide Element – Some Navigational Tools

Its really a two-way journey, as I see it.  The first is, its an inward journey.  If you are interested in finding your element, you have to spend time with yourself.  You have to reflect, you have to look inward ….  You have to spend time with your own dreams ….  Whatever process aids your reflection, that’s a key part of this journey to your element — it is to look inward and to be with yourself and to find time to reflect on your own interests, your own passions… the times when perhaps you felt most centred…         – Sir Ken Robinson, askSKR#6

In some earlier posts, I reflected on my experiences at the Creativity World Forum — “the future is unwritten” , Creativity World Forum and Sitting on the edge of a paradigm shift.  All of these are examples of my own inward journey.  In many ways, the “Lead the Way” initiative at the OCDSB began as an inward journey, and continues to have that quality too.  Five years ago a survey was conducted to determine a new leadership narrative for the District.  The survey revealed that there were many employee groups within the District who felt that their experiences were not reflected in our old articulation of leadership.  Clearly it was time to “change the conversation” in order to uncover the conditions within which our District might find its element.  Our new leadership narrative followed the survey:
Leadership is exemplified by people who are able to impact those around them in a positive way.  Our leaders are energetic, empathetic, motivated, trustworthy, knowledgeable and good communicators.  Our leaders share a common vision in their commitment to all students.  Our leaders understand that their role is one of support.  They lead by example, they seek input, and they listen.  As an organization, we encourage and foster these qualities.  In challenging and prosperous times, we are defined by the relationships we build.

Last spring the OCDSB hosted an appreciative inquiry event — “Make a Positive Impact” — another part of our inward journey.  We sent individuals, including parents, community partners, and staff from a variety of employee groups from across the District out on buses to visit sites and schools looking for what it is that we are already doing really well to support learning.  I truly believe that adopting an appreciative inquiry lens enables us to get to know the best of what we are as a District, especially as it pertains to discovering our District’s element.
In his short video, Sir Ken also discusses the other side of the journey towards finding your element:

The second part of the journey is an outward journey.  I don’t mean this is sequential … but the second part of the journey is outward.  It is to try things that you didn’t try before.  If there are things you always wanted to do, then what are they and what would prevent you from doing that?  And its not just to try things at random, but to travel knowingly — to try new experiences, but to evaluate them and to reflect on them at the same time.     — Sir Ken Robinson, askSRK#6

I am really excited by some of the “outward journey” things happening within the OCDSB recently.  Each “Lead the Way” event evolves slightly so that we are constantly experimenting with format, space, content and participants.  The most recent event last night, designed to celebrate Administration and Support Staff (Office Administrators, Educational Assistants, Custodians, Library Technicians, etc…) was a huge success with over 200 participants coming together in a festive atmosphere to share stories, learn about creative initiatives from across the District, and to catch up with old friends.  Above all, the evening was about relationships — the foundational piece of our organization.

The “Lead the Way” events are also an integral part of our outward journey as an organization because the key components of the events are the displays and presentations highlighting creative and innovative practices from all across the District.  They reveal individuals and groups moving us forward by trying new things — new approaches to encourage learning at its very best.  As participants in the events hear about these practices, a field of possibilities is opened up and we are asked to consider, (to echo Sir Ken’s words) “what would prevent you from doing that?”

And that process of looking outward and looking inward, I believe, has the elements that are needed to discover your element.  — Sir Ken Robinson, askSKR#6

the future is unwritten

A run-down of the best moments of the World Creativity Forum #cwf2010

The #Popupschool

Poster from Claes Oldenburgs The Store

Poster from Claes Oldenburg's "The Store"

This was by far my favourite thing at the CWF.  Taking their cue from a movement largely associated with the arts’ community, students from London, UK and Oklahoma, USA established a temporary learning environment at the CWF.

The Pop Up idea is not new, going back at least to the sixties when artists opened temporary shops to showcase and sell their pieces directly to the public, rather than dancing with inevitable bureaucracy involved with securing a showing through an established gallery.  The Pop Up movement explores ideas of agency, creativity and community.  By establishing temporary shops or galleries in unused retail spaces, artists take advantage of conditions brought about by recession and regenerate community by infusing it with culture. Click the poster advertising Claes Oldenburg’s “The Store” to visit the MOMA page discussing his popup shop established in December, 1961.

#PopUpSchool Magazine

#PopUpSchool Magazine

Tucked into a corner of the showcase area at CWF, The PopUpSchool stood in rather stark contrast to the decidedly corporate-flavoured neighbouring booths.  The PopUpSchool is learner-driven, purposeful, participatory and connected.  It disrupts traditional notions of school as bricks and mortar.  Along with the students’ presentation to delegates on Wednesday morning, the PopUpSchool was, to me, the most imaginative and inspiring aspect of a Creativity World Forum that my colleagues and I dubbed, “#whitemeninsuits”. (I’ll have to review my recording of David Pogue’s talk, but I am pretty sure that the preponderance of talks given by white men in suits with delegates sitting in rows consuming powerpoint presentations at a forum dedicated to celebrating creativity, imagination and innovation qualifies as irony)  Please take some time to navigate around the PopUpSchool’s online magazine, where students documented their experiences at the CWF.  Super stuff, indeed!

The Barefoot Water Walk

Wishing Well Barefoot Water Walk

Wishing Well Barefoot Water Walk

Organized through a facebook page, the Barefoot Water Walk was not part of the official CWF program.  Wishing Well founder Ryan Groves and TOMS Shoes‘ founder Blake Mycoskie partnered to host the walk, whose participants were invited to stay and listen to the keynote address, thus expanding the walls of the CWF to include over 100 folks, mainly students, who otherwise might not have been part of the experience.  I appreciated this especially because, although many of the keynote addresses focused on the role of education in supporting the development of creative capacities, the youth voice was largely unheard, apart from the #PopUpSchool and the Barefoot Water Walk.  Disruptive!

Pranav Mistry

Of all the speakers at CWF, Pranav Mistry was the one who blew my mind.  I had not viewed his TED Talk prior to arriving in Oklahoma, so the Sixth Sense technologies that he discussed were new to me. Aside from watching Mistry demonstrate things that I would never have imagined possible, I was impressed with his interest in making these technologies accessible to the general public.  On his website there is a “coming soon” section that promises to include instructions for those DIYers who would like to make their own versions of the wearable gear.  Below is a snippet of his talk at the Forum where he demonstrates Sparsh:


Before heading to the CWF, I had the chance to chat with Haley Simons from Creative Alberta.  We connected via twitter, where folks can follow @CreativeAlberta for developments in Haley’s quest to establish Alberta as an International District of Creativity.  Haley is a passionate force to be reckoned with, to be sure.  Our Ottawa Carleton District School Board team included Chair of the Board Cathy Curry, Superintendent of Instruction (a.k.a Noodling King and unofficial Minister of Creativity) Peter Gamwell, Chair of the Ottawa-Carleton Assembly of School Councils Anne Teutsch, and 8 others from a variety of departments across the District.  Thursday before we departed for the CWF, we assembled to skype with Haley and some members of the Edmonton Public School Board.  It felt like the beginning of an East-West partnership and I know that we will connect again very soon to continue the conversation.

Creative Tallis online

Creative Tallis online

I also connected with Jon Nicholls, from Thomas Tallis School in London, UK.  The students from his school were the driving force behind the #PopUpSchool and I was very interested in the partnership that had been established between Thomas Tallis and Howe High School in Oklahoma.  You can read about their partnership here.  Over lunch with Jon and his colleague Soren Hawes, we made plans to connect their students with our grade 8 classes at W. Erskine Johnston PS.  More on this as the project develops, but suffice it to say that I am excited for our students to expand their learning through a project that will be both fun and meaningful.

First Day Back

gamesI missed my hubby and my two kiddos, Dono and Violet, terribly over the 5 days I was in Oklahoma City for the CWF.  It wasn’t until I returned to school on Friday that I realized I had also missed the staff and students at W Erskine.  I was quite touched when students told me they had missed me and wanted to know all about the Forum.  As exhausted as I was from the “go-go-go” of the CWF, I also felt energized by some of what I had seen.  I found myself having a most incredible first day back.  I joined a Grade 8 math class in the computer lab to play around with Geometer’s Sketchpad and yes, Dave, you did catch me smiling about MATHEMATICS. We then devoted our writing workshop to exploring games – brainstorming game genres, listing games we have played and then following up with a short writing assignment to explore the common features of games we like with one of the following prompts:  “A game is great when …” or “The new game I would invent is …”  This is the beginning step in our new partnership with the students at Thomas Tallis, but I haven’t told the students yet… shhh… They are going to eat it up, that much I know.

We wrapped up the day by viewing Pranav Mistry’s TED Talk together and it was a real thrill to watch them as they freaked out at exactly the same parts as I had when I watched his talk in Oklahoma!  When the bell rang, I was swarmed by students wanting the URL for the website to find the talk.  As one student wrote it down, others asked her to “facebook it” to them.  Love it!

As Joe Strummer said, “the future is unwritten”. I think that summarizes what I am taking back from the Creativity World Forum in Oklahoma. A renewed sense of the possibilities that are out there if we seek them out.  Oh, and I never did find Wayne Coyne — apparently touring in Japan.  Dang!

Creativity World Forum #cwf2010

cwf2010This week I am fortunate to be part of an 11-member delegation from the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) attending the Creativity World Forum (#cwf2010) in Oklahoma City.  The story of why we are here and the journey thus far is an interesting one.  You can read a bit about that journey and the Lead the Way campaign here.  At the heart of the Lead the Way project is the understanding that all individuals within our organization has creative and unique capacities and ideas that need to be recognized, valued and tapped into.  By encouraging individuals and groups to explore and expand those creative capacities, we create a culture of engagement where people feel valued and engaged in ongoing learning.  The benefits to the organization are myriad and, although Lead the Way is now in its’ fifth year, we are really only at the beginning stages of realizing the potential for this approach.

What about Student Achievement?

As a public school board, the OCDSB is committed first and foremost to supporting student achievement across the District.  This is precisely the driving force behind the Lead the Way project.  As witnessed by the unanticipated interest — registration for the CWF is double what it was anticipated to be — people from across the globe and in a variety of industries are recognizing the critical role that creative and innovative thinking plays and will continue to play in this century.  Last spring, the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto explored the necessity of adopting an artistic mind-set for business leaders today, as well as the importance of developing that mind-set in leaders of tomorrow.  In the opening article, Rotman Dean Roger Martin discusses the role of an ‘artistic alternative’ in response to today’s complex world:

Effectively dealing with the challenges of the modern world — rather than with the narrow sub-segments of them — demands artistic capacity.  Without the explicit development of qualititative thought, sophisticated mental operations like judgement in the face of uncertainty, coping with ambiguity, balancing consequences, and responding effectively to surprise will remain ellusive.  No matter what we do for a living, we need to go beyond using our knowledge as a recipe and aim higher than crunching quantitative data to produce single point answers. (Rotman Magazine, Spring 2010, p. 7)

The point is simple.  In a complex world, the approach Martin coins as the ‘artistic alternative’ enables individuals to tap into their own perhaps previously undervalued capacities to understand, process and respond using a fuller set of senses.  The creative response is critical in the complex world.  If we, as an educational organization, are meant to support student achievement, we must cultivate the learning environment that will foster the artistic mind-set.

Not a top-down strategy

Rather than seeing this as an urgent call for another top-down initiative, our project has been, and must continue to be, somewhat grassroots in its approach.  Instead of developing a creativity policy and an accompanying set of procedures, Lead the Way is constantly looking for avenues through which all individuals in our District — parents, teachers, educational assistants, custodians, principals, community partners, etc… — can tap into their own creative capacities.  Through recognizing current practices that model the creative approach, we hope that creative and innovative thinking will spread throughout the District, like a spark that catches and sets the whole place ablaze.  If individuals and groups across the District engage in creative approaches to the every day, our learning environments will be enriched and will provide the inspiration and motivation to keep the momentum going.  Students will benefit from seeing the adults with whom they work engaged in risk-taking through the use of innovative and unique approaches to learning.

Now, good morning, Oklahoma!  If I were Wayne Coyne, where would I be …