Schools and Creativity


Sir Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms

It’s time to go back to the drawing board. The critical time has come for a much-needed overhaul of the education system to take place. The education reform movement has created a period of disillusionment for parents, students, and educators. Rather than praise, the education system has taken some very hard hits from all arenas in an attempt to figure out what works best for students. Ironically, we are not reforming education, instead we are moving towards a more standardized view of what learning means. Rather than reform we conform.

Educators are being reduced to a label in regards to yearly evaluation practices and as a result our teaching practices are being watered down. The expectation to be excellent is defined by results on yearly student exams in only reading, writing, and mathematics. There is so much more to school than these three academic areas, albeit important ones. I find all of this so puzzling. Within the existing paradigm of education, is there a way to change the culture of the learning organization to value creativity without functioning exclusively away from learning standards? It may seem unlikely to foster creativity and innovation in a world surrounded by assessments and standardization but I like to think that anything is possible.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em

The purpose of schools should be to prepare children for their future, whatever it is that may be. The future being indiscernible makes an educator’s profession challenging, but not impossible. Educators need to enhance their students’ strengths by providing opportunities for social, emotional, mental, and academic growth. Classrooms and schools need to place value on all kinds of knowledge because there is no one single form of intelligence nor do we know what kinds of knowledge and skills will be valued in the future. It is up to us to understand who our students are on a personal level and what motivates, excites, perplexes, and challenges them. In order to do these tasks correctly we can use digital resources to help us know our students on a more personal level.

As adults we need to recognize that technology is a massive part of our lives whether or not we want it to be. It is almost impossible to avoid using some form of technology on a daily basis. Jeff DeGraff in his article “Digital Natives Vs. Digital Immigrants” defines the generational gap that exists between these two groups. Adults are now being labeled as “digital immigrants” – people born before the advent of digital technology and their counterpart is being labeled as “digital natives” – the generation of people born during or after the rise of digital technologies. While there are major difference in the belief and value system of these groups there is a tremendous lesson to be learned when both groups are open to learning from each other.

Yong Zhao, a scholar on technology and globalization in education offers some staggering statistics based on children’s use of media tools on a daily basis. Today’s young people (8 to 18 year olds) spend on average 7 hours and 38 minutes a day with media: watching TV (TV, videos, DVDs, pre-recorded shows), playing video games, listening to music, talking on the phone, and chatting with friends online. Alternately, children spend 25 minutes a day reading books, 9 minutes for magazines, and 3 minutes for newspapers. Zhao believes that as parents and educators, rather than trying to minimize the exposure children have with social media and technology tools we should embrace and understand their curiosity and happiness with all forms of technology.

If children can create pathways to better understand academic material through the use of technology then as educators we need to re-examine our skills and practices to meet the needs of our students. To accomplish these goals, as adults we need to make ourselves accessible to our students and create with them a collective sense of an open understanding and learning environment.

Losing Our Way

I have recently been exposed to many conversations regarding the well-being of teachers who feel de-professionalized in their careers due to the new reform movement in education. Unfortunately, many teachers express that that their profession, that more often than not chooses them as a calling, has left them. A huge sense of fear has infiltrated our classrooms. Instead of trusting their own judgment I have witnessed many teachers second-guess themselves in their classroom practices. How can we restore the trust and faith in ourselves as teachers and in our practice of education?

Just as doctors are required to take the Hippocratic Oath before formally entering the profession to uphold ethical standards of treating patients, maybe teachers should also make a promise to act ethically and be true to ourselves when in the classroom. Both professions directly impact the lives of those they serve by the moral decisions made by the professional. Physicians are revered in not just our society, but many others. Why is it that teaching is not held in the same regard?

Perhaps Harvard scholar Jal Mehta has unearthed the answer in his studies on the need for the professionalization of teaching. Mehta’s analysis proposes that the current movement toward educational accountability is a manufactured crisis that has plagued the educational field over the course of the 20th century. “The implication of this analysis is that while we often analyze school reform in terms of the effectiveness of particular programs, in a broader view it may be that the organization of the entire sector is problematic” (Mehta, 2013).  Rather than managing top-down mandates from business and government agencies who have low regard for public education the teaching profession needs to be re-established as the pillars upon which our society is built.

In an article from The Atlantic – The Wisdom Deficit in Schools – Michael Godsey, a high school English teacher explains his internal dilemma with the restraints posed by the Common Core State Standards in his classroom. Godsey’s experiences in the most recent years of his teaching career summarize common complaints made by many teachers. It is as if the education field has been taken hostage and the need for a restoration of faith and trust is paramount to the welfare of the profession. Godsey explains the moral responsibility he feels to raise the bar for thinking practices of his students through the exposure to rich classical texts and experiences. Godsey identifies that the current pressures on teachers affects the educational practices that he has refined over the years of his career. The reform movement that has promoted standardization of teaching has caused harm to the field of education through the disempowerment and de-skilling of teachers. Throughout various examples provided in the article, I couldn’t help but feel similarly to Godsey.

My Very First Blog Post

Taking my first step.

I began teaching five years ago right out of college. I considered myself one of the “Lucky Ones” in that I was able to secure a full-time teaching position at a time when many of my college friends were struggling to get their foot in the door. I am blessed to be a bilingual speaker of English and Spanish and credit that skill to being a determining factor in being hired from a pool of thousands of applicants in the New York City school system.

I began teaching at the inception of the Common Core State Standards in NY and through the roll-out of No Child Left Behind. Unfortunately, I have to admit then that I did not fully understand the consequences that this federal initiative would have on my teaching practices. I was just a young teacher who couldn’t wait to start creating engaging lesson plans, putting up bulletin boards, conducting read-alouds, along with all of the rewarding activities that come with the job and of course ultimately affecting the lives of young children.

As the years passed I started to become more aware of how federal education mandates directly impact teaching practices, the philosophy of educational leaders, the well-being of teachers, and most importantly the welfare of students. I worked in a Bronx public school for two years and due to many reasons I left to take a teaching position in a small school in Dutchess County, NY. There I currently teach first grade in an inclusion classroom.

Fast forward to now, I feel that a veil has been lifted from my eyes and I am becoming more and more entrenched in the work of educators who are learning how to combat the educational reform movement. I am immensely impressed in the educators I meet who are willing to share their thoughts about how CCSS and the reform movement are affecting their teaching. I am still trying to figure out my stance on lots of issues and the platform from which I will grow my thoughts. So in this blog, I do not intend to share my personal and political views, instead I would like to reflect upon current educational issues. I also intend to share my thoughts on leadership and how best to lead in these times as I am learning so much information that I know will be useful to me in my future as an educational leader.

So here’s to taking the first step into the blogging world. Wish me luck!