a new mindset

Shannon's Freedom by Louise Martin

Shannon's Freedom by Louise Martin

One myth is that only special people are creative.  This is not true.  Everyone is born with tremendous capacities for creativity.  The trick is to develop these capacities.  Creativity is very much like literacy.  We take it for granted that nearly everybody can learn to read and write.  If a person can’t read or write, you don’t assume that this person is incapable of it, just that he or she hasn’t learned how to do it.  The same is true of creativity.  When people say they aren’t creative, it’s often because they don’t know what’s involved or how creativity works in practice.   — Sir Ken Robinson

In an earlier post, “Did you play today?”, I discussed an article from last spring’s issue of the Rotman Magazine (Rotman School of Management).  Here I am going to share thoughts related to another article from the same issue — “Aesthetic Intelligence:  What businesses can learn from the arts”, by Constance Goodwin and Rochelle Mucha.  Although the authors are concerned with businesses in general, my focus will be on what the article offers to those of us in the field of education.

Aesthetic Intelligence (AI)

If they want to produce students equipped with the skills they will need to navigate the information-rich world we currently live in, schools will need to become places where inquiry, creativity and innovation are expected and encouraged.   Suggesting we have much to learn from the arts, where improvisation, flexibility, collaboration and play are integral processes, Goodwin and Mucha propose an artistic mindset, “Aesthetic Intelligence”, in response to the complex, technology-saturated world in which we live.  Aesthetic Intelligence includes the following elements: Presence, Auhenticity and Synthesis.  For the purposes of this post, I will focus on the concept of “presence”, but the entire Rotman article is well worth a read.

Think, Feel, See

Being present entails a capacity to be available to engage, to be ready for accidents and for the unexpected.  Being present means being conscious of self, others and the environment.  — Goodwin and Mucha

When the pace becomes frenetic, being mindful and staying in the moment at all times can become a challenge.  Feeling pulled in myriad different directions can create a situation in which we flip to autopilot to get through the day, essentially removing ourselves from the activities and people around us.  Working with students, we need to attune ourselves to their needs to be fully present to them throughout the day.  Students know when we are there for them — they feel cared for and valued.

Survey Results from "Learning about Teaching" Tripod Survey

Survey Results from "Learning about Teaching" Tripod Survey

In the recently released, “Learning about Teaching: Initial Findings of the Measures of Effective Teaching Project” funded by the Gates Foundation, students were shown to know the factors that led to effective teaching.  Not surprisingly, students who scored in the 75th percentile on assessments of math, science and agreed with statements such as “My teacher in this class makes me feel that s/he really cares about me”, “My teacher really tries to undestand how students feel about things” and “My teacher respects my ideas and suggestions”.  Being present requires us to be flexible in our thinking, open to experiencing the unexpected and learning from our mistakes.  When students see us being present with them — thinking, feeling and seeing through interacting with them, they will feel safer to take risks, experiment with new ideas and learn through making mistakes.  Likewise, when we are present with our colleagues, we make possible greater collaboration and risk-taking to expand our teaching practices.

Throughout the day, I am always conscious of ‘fazing out” or tuning out for a bit, usually in the mid-afternoon.  There are many things that I can do to address this:

  • Ensure that I eat something healthy at appropriate times, instead of allowing my body to crash because I got too busy earlier in the day to eat.
  • Schedule myself a “check-out” break so that I have a few minutes to faze out and shut down to rest and refresh.  I blogged recently about the importance of play at work, and a bit of diversion in the late afternoon, which coincides with our second nutrition break, is a welcome break.
  • Get into the classrooms when I am noticing myself checking out.  I always find it refreshing to step into the classroom or out onto the yard to interact with kids.  Without even noticing it, I find myself re-energized and ready to be more fully present afterwards.

Next time you are slipping into robotic response mode, find out what it is that helps you re-connect and become more fully present at work.  Through being present with each other, responding authentically and taking risks, we create an environment for students, staff and ourselves to develop our creative capacities.

a note regarding the image:  This painting is the work of Louise Martin, who teaches primary French Immersion at a school in Ottawa’s west end.  When I worked with Louise, she reminded me of the importance of being present with students and staff.  We had many wonderful conversations and she created this painting, which my husband bought for me for Christmas 2 years ago.