Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay
As I begin #IMMOOC Season 4 and dive into the blog prompts designed to help me read, reflect, and share my insights, I initially glossed over the one for the book, Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning. I am currently reading this book, and since I’m always reading Innovator’s Mindset, I could draw from that column of prompts too, so I looked, and thought, and circled back around. Inspire creativity and innovation daily. Like every day. Like 5 times a week. Huh. Now, I teach high school, so my mind immediately panicked as it took that number and multiplied by the number of classes I teach. Gulp. Inspire creativity and innovation daily. Yeah. Right.
Crazy, But That’s How It Goes
There are not many words in education that scare people more as perhaps the words creativity and innovation. Educators love to say that they aren’t creative. I hear that all the time. Dave Burgess talks about it in Teach Like a Pirate, and George Couros talks about it in Innovator’s Mindset, and John Spencer and AJ Juliani talk about it in Empower. It’s funny how people develop their own perceptions on those two words. My reflection is going to be an echo for some of you, and that’s great. I’m not targeting educators who think the same as I do in this post, though. Nope. I’m coming straight for those of you sitting there, rolling your eyes, telling your computer or mobile device screen that you aren’t innovative OR creative. Yeah. Right.
Millions of People Living as Foes
Softball season starts for me on the same day as #IMMOOC Season 4, so you’ll have to bear with the diamond sports metaphors, because I’m going to throw some right up the middle with this first batter. I have heard all of my life the excuse “Well that’s easy for you because you are creative.” One by product of this has been my firm belief that I am creative. What may surprise you is how I view this. When I need to come up with something to say, write, do, and I want it to be good, original, and downright awesome, I think. I mull. I ponder. I discuss it with others, and then I think. I mull. I ponder. I keep doing this until the bat connects with the ball and I get a hit. That’s the idea stage for me. I spend a lot of brain power laser focused on the problem until I have the idea. I don’t quit. I come at it again and again, different angles, perspectives, times of day, and I think. Hard. I’m convinced that the problem with a lot of people who think they aren’t creative is that they give up in their thinking during this process way too early. They haven’t learned to be resilient when thinking about problems that need solving. I was fortunate enough to have two parents who exemplified how to keep at a problem until the ideas surfaced. I learned from watching them and from their encouragement. Not everybody is that fortunate. I get that, but it’s still no excuse.
Maybe It’s Not Too Late
Just like every author I mentioned above, I know that creativity requires a lot of work. Hard work. I work hard when thinking, and I especially work hard with my execution of the idea once I have it. I don’t always hit home-runs with my ideas. Some are singles, some are extra bases, and I do strikeout occasionally. It happens. When it does, I have also noticed that the world doesn’t end, so I get up out of the dirt, dust myself off, and I plant my feet in the batter’s box, watch the pitcher, exhale, load up, and get ready to swing again. You can do this too. Creativity comes in many different forms, shapes, sizes, etc. Just like the bats my players use, there are all kinds of brands, weights, lengths, and colors. The only thing that matters is what you do with them. Better yet, it’s that you DO something with them. It just simply doesn’t matter what bat you use. You can even borrow my bat, or someone else’s, and with it, you will get in your own batter’s stance, go through your own ritual to psyche out the pitcher, and your swing will also be different. A hit is a hit, though, so the end result is still awesome.
To Learn How to Love and Forget How to Hate
Now apply that to teaching. Take an idea, either yours or someone else’s, make changes here and there to fit your own classes, subjects, school system, and administrator. Ignore the critics. There are always people in the stands yelling at the batter. Block them out and focus on the pitch and the swing. Keep your eye on the ball all the way to the plate. Adapting an idea to fit your class or classes and making it awesome for your students is being creative. It’s innovative. Maybe you are like me and feel that while you can be creative, you certainly aren’t innovative. Well, that’s another scary word that as it turns out, isn’t all that scary. It’s necessary. Any time you take something and figure out a new use for it, a new purpose, a different way to use it or look at it, then you are innovative. If you can bend the bars surrounding your own mindset, just a bit, so that your thinking can slip through and expand and grow, then you’ll see how easy it can be to innovate.
I’m Going Off the Rails on a Crazy Train
Sometimes I am able to see two unrelated things, mash them together, and create something new for my students. That’s innovative. I haven’t always thought so, and I’ve been teaching for, well, a while. I have always worked hard at this too. In fact, I have an analogy to share that may help you put this in perspective. Last year during district softball, I happened to be standing near the portable batting screen used by my top two batters and the two varsity freshmen during warmups. The freshmen watched the older (by just one year) players go through their routine, working as a unit without much conversation. One would soft toss to the other who would swing and hit the ball into the screen. Hard. Steady. Rhythmic. Then they would switch and start again. My freshmen finally grumped, “Coach. How long is this going to take? We have to bat too. It doesn’t take us this long to warmup.” Knowing both of their batting averages as well as the two top batters, I asked, “How many reps are you each taking when you bat in our warmup time?” “Twenty-five each.” Loud enough for my two freshmen to hear, I asked my sophomore studs how many reps they were each taking. The answer stunned the two freshmen. Each girl did a minimum of 50 swings for each warmup (including the bunt and slap) but got in more if time and situation allowed. They didn’t mess around with those 50 swings either. All 50 were focused, smooth, powerful or quick or well-placed swings. Now I thought the freshmen would be suitably impressed. They weren’t, because they still didn’t see the correlation. “Good grief! Why do they take so many?” I looked at both girls and replied, “Because they lead the team in batting. Kat’s average is just over .600, and Allie’s is at .575 right now. Do you two know what your average is?” Neither did, and both were shocked that they were only batting around .200-.300. They looked back at the two sophomores still swinging and tossing away, and then they looked back at me. “Do we have time to do 50?” Yes!
Do you have the time to take more practice swings? Can you make the time? Creativity and innovation require a commitment. The more I thought about the prompt and building daily doses of creativity and innovation into my classes, the more I realized that I could do that and was already doing that in several classes. It would require me to take more practice swings, but I could and would do that knowing that the end result is a better average at the plate. My students deserve that. Your students deserve that. We can do this. Baby steps. Take a few more practice swings. Then take a few more. Ignore those yelling in the crowd. Block out everything that interferes with your concentration and swing. Get rid of the fear and self doubt. You’ve got this. The batting cage is waiting. Yeah! Right!