Smart Review | Make, Learn, Succeed: Building a Culture of Creativity in Your School

Do you consider yourself a creative person?
When I ask students this question, particularly adult learners, nearly everyone answers very decisively.

The existing paradigm–which is slowly being eroded by research–is that you either are creative, or you are not.

I remember this from my own childhood very well. My next door neighbor’s mom was super “creative,” in that she was what I now call “crafty.” My own mom would always shake her head and say that she just wasn’t that “type of person.” Disheartened, I remember thinking that I felt creative, but what if it was somehow genetic? Would I turn into an uninspired adult one day? As you can imagine, this scenario plays out all the time in classrooms across the country, as teachers face students who have predetermined if they are creative or not, based largely on the cues the adults around them provide.

Can Creativity and Critical Thinking Co-Exist?

Through the years in my Project Based Learning classroom, I’ve struggled to convince students that they could be creative, especially in a testing obsessed school culture. I’ve sometimes doubted my proclivity towards creative endeavors as opposed to more nuts and bolts academic curriculum, but I always come around to the same conclusion, aptly explained by Mark Gura, the author of Make, Learn, Succeed: Building a Culture of Creativity in Your School: “Effective learning challenges, by the way, are very often those intended to push the envelope of student understanding and ability.”

Creative work is intellectually stimulating, and with appropriate direction can result in the highest order of critical thinking.

The trick, of course, is to allow your own creativity into the room, providing a model for students who, like my younger self, might not see creative expression at home.
Published by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the book’s 210 pages are conversational and inviting, much like talking with a favorite former professor. This tone is quite fitting given that Gura’s career in education has spanned three decades and includes classroom teaching, administration and currently includes online higher education graduate classes. If you are looking for a mentor then this book will speak to you as it did to me. I felt, more than anything, validated that my “hunch” that creativity is a 21st Century Skill. Additionally, I realized pretty quickly that the work I do in what I consider a creative classroom is actually just the tip of a very big iceberg.

Real Teachers, Real Reflection

This book reflects the vast experiences of its author, allowing the reader a wide lens perspective on a topic that is very difficult to truly see and understand. What separates this book from others I’ve read is that it is structured in a way that allows the reader an almost cinematic view of the topic. Gura systematically provides a wide view lens concerning the biggies like “What is Creativity… And Can It Be Taught?” and “From Creativity to Innovation and Problem Solving,” and then zooms in to capture the details teachers want to know. He does this very effectively through interviews with real, in the field practicing teachers who are able to pinpoint the concerns that impact creativity in the classroom.
Perhaps my favorite of the interviews is with Tim Needles, a visual arts teacher and blogger. One of the difficulties of students being “creative” is how to also teach students content through the process. He explains, “If you challenge students to be creative directly, they may freeze up. But ironically, I find that some of the best students in the class are the most intimidated at the idea of being required to be creative.” This is not the only place in the book where Gura captures the pedagogical and practical considerations; additionally, he provides specific, ready to use examples and strategies which push students to be creative, but the methodologies he shares are academically sound and take the pressure off the child.
Another aspect of the book that is really enjoyable is also a reflection of Gura’s vast experience; he moves between stories about Archimedes “eureka” moments to the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow website, to referencing a YouTube video of Adele talking about creativity. As a mom and creative person, I look forward to chasing down Gura’s references and digging even deeper into this topic. As a teacher, this is a book that I will revisit over the summer with my curriculum in hand. I’m confident that incorporating some of the ideas will lead to an enhanced culture of creativity, and as I begin Project-Based Learning, I’ll alter my approach to introducing the topic of creativity

Anyone Can Be Creative

If you answered decisively when you answered the question “Are you creative?” then this book is for you, no matter how you answered. You’ll learn that the answer to that question isn’t dependent on genetics or some special calling, but instead an exciting possibility for anyone, even if you answered no–or rather, especially if you answered no.
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Amber Chandler

Amber Chandler is a middle school teacher at Frontier Middle School in Hamburg, NY.

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