Perhaps it sounds a bit nutty, but I believe two of the most mesmerizing sights are that of an indecisive squirrel scurrying to cross a street and a passionately creative teacher immersed in her craft. In fact, I believe these two actions are nearly identical in nature. Throw out, of course, the furry tail and rodent-like incisors, and a shell of curiosity is cracked to reveal a common pattern of fearless originality.
Let’s take a look at the six steps taken by an indecisive squirrel and a creative teacher.
“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!” –Dr. Seuss
What is the impetus for a squirrel’s gutsy and multi-directional traversing of a road? Who the heck knows. One thing is for sure. A seeming impulsivity to act on an idea or thought is shared by both an indecisive squirrel and an innovative educator.
The ignition point for a teacher’s creativity can stem from nearly anything. A commercial. A song. A movie. A late night talk show. A novel. A vehicle. A sport. A website. A board game. An app. A night out with friends. A theme park. A camping trip. A workout. An impromptu conversation. A student’s comment. A “just about anything” can serve as the impetus to classroom creativity if an educator remains open to the possibilities. Like Dr. Seuss says, just think.
The First Steps
“You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.” –Steve Jobs
Have you ever been traveling down a two-lane road only to witness a squirrel nervously and sporadically take its first steps to cross a road? It’s almost as if you are a rolling audience to a furry version of a James Brown or M.C. Hammer dance. If so, then surely you appreciate the energy and lack of complete confidence it exhibits as it musters up the courage to continue the journey.
Most teachers act the same when embarking on a creative endeavor. In the beginning, the self-checking questions abound. “Do we have time to implement this creative activity in class?” “Will students be engaged and learn with this lesson?” “Will students rock out the lesson plan only to be assessed in a totally different (and boring) manner by a standardized test?” “Will my administrators think my cheese has slid off its cracker if they walk in to witness such ‘learning noise’ and excitement for an assignment that does not stem from a worksheet and textbook?”
As Mr. Jobs so clearly states above, if the fire is present during the first few steps, all these potentially stifling questions will turn to ashes as your creative classroom adventures ignite with passion.
“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” –Erich Fromm
Just like the squirrel who is already too far in the road to turn back and risk the danger of being flattened or nearly worse than that… returning to the same stagnant place, the creative teacher must recognize the point-of-no-return with any imaginative projects. Abort after too much time invested, and the students will resent your decision. Make large, rash and assignment-altering changes after the point-of-no-return, and you risk losing the students’ trust the rest of the school year.
Let Fromm’s comment push you forward as you ultimately break free and let go of all but one certainty…knowing your students will complete a lesson worth remembering.
“Creativity is an act of defiance.” –Twyla Tharp
Okay, surely you have seen “The Dance” performed by the road-crossing squirrel. If so, you are giggling to yourself already. You know what I mean. That little herky-jerky, side-to-side choreography of moves enacted by the squirrel somewhere around the center line of the road. To be honest, no one knows what the squirrel is experiencing at that time, but one can imagine long enough a squirrel so exuberant at having survived the temptations of the point-of-no-return that the only form of expression worthy of such liberation is that of a traffic-dodging, look-at-me-working-it-on-the-double-solid-center-lines asphalt disco. Pretty nutty, huh?
The innovative teacher, also having broken free of any doubts, performs “The Dance” too. Sure, these spirited moves might not take place in the middle of the road (if they do, I’m not judging), but they do take place. Think more of a classroom “dance” in which the teacher, wide-eyed and full of smiles, appears to glide from station to station, student to student, and team to team as she does her best to guide her pupils’ inventive concepts and to manage the good stress of facilitating such an enthusiastic classroom.
As Twyla intimates in her quotation above, the creative teacher defies the traffic of standardized, multiple-choice testing and a “teach-as-I-was-taught” mentality by dancing right in the center of where all action originates. The heart.
The Mad Dash
“Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity.” –T.S. Eliot
The mad dash occurs near the very end. And anxiety is its theme. Just like the squirrel who only has a few feet left to safety, the creative and risk-taking teacher feels one last rush of “What ifs.”
“What if all this time has been wasted under the guise of fun and busy-ness?” “What if the discouraging and negative comments from my colleagues were right?” “What if clueless parents attack this innovative process?” “What if…” “What if…”
But, what if the resourceful educator has an understanding that anxiety is actually serving and assisting creativity? You know, kind of like that final rush of adrenaline in the squirrel as it dashes to the other side knowing all too well that another predator of rolling rubber is just feet away. Doesn’t that make adrenaline its temporary friend?
It’s no different with anxiety and creativity. They go hand-in-hand.
“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry.” –Albert Einstein
Ahh, thank goodness. Finally, the finish line and all its rewards. Peace. Contentment. Celebration. Validation. All justified by the students’ projects, presentations, and personal representations of knowledge acquired.
Of course, there will be more roads to cross. More traffic to dodge. More tough nuts to crack.
That’s okay, though. Just like a squirrel whose nest resides in a tree, the creative teacher rests high above all others and has a vantage point that many may never try to imagine.
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