My daughter turned six in January.
Like most kids, she loves the whole experience of birthdays – inviting friends, having cake and cards, and especially gifts (“Can I invite three more friends? Then they’d each bring a present too!”). She loves gifts, both to give and to receive. She’ll spend hours creating things to give other people, and when friends come by she’ll happily send them home with one of her favorite toys.
The other reason she is excited about being older is school. She started kindergarten this year, and she is loving it. She’s discovering her gifts for storytelling, she enjoys the kindergarten activities, and she loves creating things. She likes creating stories. She fills notebook after notebook with drawings and “curvy lines” representing writing, and she will sit us down in the evening and tell us he “stories” she has written. As I watch her develop I can see her skill with letters, numbers and words increase in parallel to the development of her creativity. As she becomes fluent with the written word, in the same way that she is with the spoken word, she will incorporate writing into her creative storytelling as well.
All this is happening without sacrificing either academic growth or creative development.
But in my role as a secondary school VP, the situation seems different.
The enthusiasm, creativity and optimism that I see in my daughter seems more buried in my students. Do they feel that same joy in learning, the same natural flow of growth that my daughter and her kindergarten peers experience?
In secondary school I see even our most successful students “walking a tightrope” between meeting the demands of the requirements of courses and graduation criteria on the one hand, and the development of the essential skills of creative and critical thinking and growth on the other. Many other students don’t even bother trying to find creativity and personal interest in their schoolwork, they just try to get to the end of the school day, and then do the things that stimulate their interest outside school.
Sir Ken Robinson asserts that in the early years of school nearly all children qualify as highly creative individuals, but that by the time they finish school very few would meet that same criteria.
I want my daughter to be as enthusiastic and creative after ten years of school as she is right now. Part of the challenge is that as secondary educators we believe that rigor and content must come before creativity. But without creativity there is no growth, no progress, no science, no iPhones, no social change, nothing that makes human society a great place to live. Without creativity our students don’t engage as much in deep, authentic learning. Our challenge as educators is to find a way to redesign our system so that we develop creativity and foster student interest, while at the same time we keep the rigor and the quality content.
Are we creative enough for this challenge?
As I read the first part of your post, about your daughter’s birthday, a huge smile came across my face and I nodded in agreement. My eldest is now in Grade 2 and I remember those days very well – everything a journey, a treasure waiting to be found. The excitement on her face was always infectious (as it still is in Grade 2). She loves school!
My second child starts Kindergarten in September. He will do fine, but I’m not so sure he’s going to have the same level of enthusiasm as my daughter did that that same age. We’ll see.
I worry about all my kids though, as they get older and move up into the higher grades. Will they still like school? Will they be challenged? Will they be challenged to be creative? To be individuals? Will they be encouraged to explore their passions?
What if they are not?
It’s a real challenge being a parent and also an educator (and leader in education).