Sunday, 18 October 2020

The Role of Creativity in Schools

A lot of school subjects teach students to seek out “The Right Answer.”


But when we engage in a creative project, “The Right Answer” doesn’t exist yet. It’s our job to create it.

So what if all that time we spend creating, leads to something that is essentially useless? What if we don’t find an answer to anything? Was that time wasted?


Creativity is scary


There is a certain safety in knowing that ‘The Right Answer’ already exists somewhere in the world. Even if we don’t know what it is yet, it’s reassuring to believe that our choices will definitely lead somewhere.


Not only that, but for the majority of subjects at school, there are books for us to reference and teachers to help guide us.


This path, that has already been laid out for us, with rewards that appear guaranteed, seems much more secure. So secure in fact, that it can quickly render what we think, want or believe as irrelevant. 

When we take the less secure path and set out to create something new, we travel a road that no one else has travelled before. It is unique to us and no one will be there to guide us. 



The truth of taking this direction is that we could put hours and hours of time and effort into a project, only to find out that no one cares. 

All that time spent finding out what makes us unique, forming our own opinions and making decisions based on how we feel will seem wasted.


Sure, we might have made something new, but is it useful?


At this point, anyone would be forgiven for taking a path which appears to offer plenty of certain answers and abundant rewards in comparison.


This process is made even scarier when we have taught people to define their worth by their outputs. When it is not the process that we underwent, but the grade that we received at the end that anyone cares about. 


This leads us to begin to form a belief that we don’t have the right answer, others do and we stop taking risks, making choices for ourselves or believing in our own innate, unique value unless it is immediately recognised by others. 


The problem is, that even though it is scary, being creative is important, not just for our own well-being, but for our society. We must learn to trust our own choices and to take risks. However, a journey such as this, with a much feinter glimmer of hope at the end, requires courage. 



Where does courage come from?


Courage is born as soon as someone makes that choice to do the scary thing.



That choice though, needs to find its motivation from somewhere. If it’s not from seeking a reward, where does it come from?


Here are a few things that will help a person to make the brave choice to exercise their creativity, without the promise of a reward at the end. 





Enjoyment of a task can be a huge component of motivation. If we think of motivation as energy, when we enjoy a task, we generate more energy from it than we put in. 


An interesting component of enjoyment is that we actually enjoy an activity less when we are rewarded for it. The feeling of recognition is incredibly satisfying, but if we feel as though we are doing something solely for the reward, the enjoyment of the task is sullied. 


This is because the motivation for doing the task is moved from within us to outside of us. 


As a result, we feel like we are doing the task because someone else has asked us to and therefore, we enjoy it less. 

When we choose to do something, simply by virtue of it being our choice to do it, we enjoy it more.



If we are doing something creative, it is up to us to make all the choices. We choose the path, we choose how we spend our time, what we focus on and why, all to serve our own internal motivations. 


This process is incredibly satisfying and will encourage people to do it again, even if they don’t produce anything of value at the end of it.





A strong sense of purpose is another effective motivator in the face of fear. 


When we reach the end of a creative endeavour, we’re faced with a difficult question.

“Who cares?” 

With this, we are offered an opportunity to question the choices we made and better understand the purpose of our creation.


The purpose of our creation may be simply that we enjoyed the process of creating it and so we don’t care what others think. We'll do it again anyway. 

Or we may decide that we want others to care about what we create.


And so begins the search not for, “The Right Answer,” but for, “The Right Problem.”


This is a process of asking questions. 


Either way, it is in better defining the purpose of an activity that we’ll find the strength required to defend its role in our lives. 





Beliefs are the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves and the world around us. 



Through the scary process of creativity, we will experience many failures. We will set out to create things that we think others care about and they won’t, because it doesn’t work, or we didn’t communicate ourselves well enough. 


When faced with this failure, we write ourselves a story of what will happen next.


We will either tell ourselves that we have failed, we are failures and that we should stop trying…


Or we will tell ourselves that this is merely a hiccup and one day we will achieve what we set out to accomplish. 



I believe that it is not the end goal, but the process that is most valuable to us. However, in the face of terrifying circumstances, a belief that we will succeed in our goal will help to encourage us to keep going. Those that do not believe they will succeed, will not. 

How can we help?


We can help by giving students the space they need to be creative.


We can enhance their enjoyment by not interfering.


Ask questions and encourage, but allow the solution to be their discovery. When we interfere and offer suggestions, it can seem as though we have the answers and that they do not. When this happens, students stop making free choices, deferring to the opinion of others, and this reduces the pleasure of the activity.


We can help them to find their purpose through honest communication.


When it comes to purpose, we draw the greatest sense of validation and worth from helping others. So show kids how satisfying a thank you can be rather than a well done. Teach them about compassion and empathy by initiating discussions and communicating with them honestly and openly.


We can help them believe in themselves by showing that we believe in them.


The greatest signifier of what we believe is how we choose to use our time. By simply giving students the opportunity to be creative at all ages, we tell them that we believe this process is worthwhile and that we trust in their capacity to make constructive choices.


Ultimately, we should remember that it is the process of creativity that has the greatest value, not the output.


It is the process that teaches kids that they can be happy, by finding what they enjoy and making the time for it. It is the process that will help them to find a purpose and establish a sense of identity. It is the process that will teach them to establish positive beliefs that give them the courage to make their own choices.



What we don’t want is people going through their lives without knowing what problem it was they were trying to solve in the first place.


Friday, 10 February 2017

Me and the 7 Me's

If you're reading this you have almost definitely learnt a language at least once.

As an English speaker, who has spent most of my life thinking I could leave the language learning to everyone else, I had forgotten all of the trials that come with it. The frustrations of not being understood and the tiredness that comes from struggling to understand. 

However, if you've ever been an adult trying to learn a new language, then you can probably sympathise with the toddler that points to the plate and shouts "SPOON!" only to be laughed at.

In my late twenties I started learning Spanish and I discovered that a child learning to speak and an adult learning a new language have a lot in common. Both mimic and imitate those around them, neither is capable of saying anything particularly interesting and yet both of them are probably much smarter than the contorted sounds they make imply.

Yet, there is one issue I find myself facing as an adult, which I didn't have as a child. The pain of having already done this once.

I didn't notice it until I no longer had it but I've been living in a very warm and cosy comfort zone in my first language. In English I'm not just speaking and saying words, I'm effortlessly communicating who I am. I use hundreds of little nuances to express my personality. It's fun, I like it and unfortunately the thought of collecting these nuances all over again sounds like a real pain. 

But I didn't get to choose these nuances the first time round, this process was entirely subconscious. 

What I say and the way I say it is mostly the result of a combination of habits that I've learned from my surroundings.

So, although I no longer have all these quirks to hand, I've actually been given a unique opportunity. An opportunity to do away with these pointless old habits of the past. Things like repeating what someone has just said to me back to them, simply to prove I've been listening. 

This time round, I can consciously decide how I wish to present myself in this second language, which habits and nuances to adopt. 

In turn this selection process might allow me to form a whole new personality!

So move over Andrew Hammond, English speaker,

 and enter Andrés Jamón! Spanish speaker! He's confident, he's tanned and he has amazing hair!

Or at least, that's what I'd like to believe. The truth is probably much less flattering.

I've spent some time considering how people may perceive me in Spain and I've narrowed it down to seven characters. Seven new versions of myself that have been brought to life by being surrounded by people I don't fully understand yet. 

Which of these people am I glad to become and which will be tossed to the side?  

Allow me to introduce you to the 7 new me's:

STUTTERY - In English I consider myself to be quite confident. This same confidence, however, quickly gets me in trouble in Spanish when I leap into a sentence completely ignoring the fact that I have no idea how to say what it is I want to say. 

I suddenly feel the pressure of having called for everyone's attention only to make them wait while I struggle to speak. The confident man is gone and in his place is a confused and frightened little chap who realises that he has nothing worthwhile to say, but does appear to garner some sympathy.
SMALL TALKY - In English I generally try to avoid small talk. I will either aim to steer the conversation down a direction that I find more interesting or I will look for a quick getaway. 

Yet I've discovered that in Spanish, without the vocabulary or nous to do anything else, small talk is my wheel house! I don't perform well in groups so in a party setting I will trap you in a one and one conversation about what I had for breakfast or where the library is.
BRUSQUEY - Being an awkward Englishman who is at times slightly afraid of his own opinion I tend to use way too many words to express myself. It will take me a long time to say what I mean and when I finally arrive at what I want to say I will balance the point I've made with a counterpoint showing I understand both sides. 

In Spanish this is not possible. Things are either good or bad, funny or sad, I like them or don't like them. There's no nuanced middle ground and no explanation.
QUIETY - I will usually talk to fill awkward silences. If a group of friends get together that don't know each other I will manage the situation by speaking loudly to everyone at once and trying to find some common ground. If that doesn't work I will just keep talking. 

However, in Spanish, awkward silences are a friend to me. They mean I am not panicking, fumbling with verbs and conjugations or trying to guess if the right response to a question is "si", "no" or "Miercoles". If I'm sitting in silence, please don't spoil it by trying to get me to talk.

SMILY -  When I'm sitting in silence and unable to contribute, it appears a smile is able to do the job I used to use 1001 words for in the past. In order to make people feel comfortable with me and to go away thinking that I'm a nice person, it turns out it's much easier if I keep my mouth shut. 

Meeting some Spanish relatives of my girlfriend the first few times was tricky. I was only able to say a couple of words so all I did was smile and with that they went away saying what a nice guy I was. If only they knew... maybe I should rethink this whole learning Spanish thing altogether so that they never will.

HONESTY - Much like Brusquey but with a more vulnerable edge. I'm now at a point where I'm trying to make friends in Spanish. I've run out of small talk and I've found that, seeing as I'm not able to be funny or interesting, I better at least be honest. 

It's made me realise that when trying to make new friends in English I might use a whole host of techniques, when in actual fact all you want is to make a connection; to understand and to be understood.

LISTENY - A combination of all of the above and probably the most useful thing I've learned. Since being a part of many, many, many conversations that I've not had the capacity to contribute to I've learned that what I was trying to contribute doesn't really even matter.

If I'm just sitting there waiting to be able to make my next point I will be waiting a very, very long time and completely miss the rest of the conversation, which will have completely changed subject by the time I'm able to interject with my slow and bumbling point that no one cares about. 

It's better that I just sit and listen. It's amazing how little I'm missed.

It's clear to me now that in English I feel some responsibility to talk more than I need to. So what is my conclusion from learning a new language? Talk less.

Around 95% of the things I want to say while sitting quietly during a conversation in Spanish are said by someone else anyway. So why bother? I've decided to stop trying to force every useless, inane thought I have into the conversation. Instead it's better to save them all up and write them down in a blog.