Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Creativity Rut

It's easy for teachers to get caught in a rut. Especially creatively. There's only so much mental strength we can give to thinking outside the box. And for as much time as we spend Pinning and Retweeting these amazing ideas we see in others classrooms, those acts alone don't motivate us. It's true -- many of us are passionate about new ideas and innovating and providing inspiring learning activities...we even do tons of research to find those ideas. We just never trust ourselves enough to put them to action. Think about it many times have you had an amazing idea for something to happen in your classroom, but you never actually took the time to carry it to actuality?

The trick is action. The name of the game is finding time to practice so you can start trusting yourself to try new things. So you can build some confidence with new ideas. And so you can just flat out change the culture of that place you have been stuck for so long. When you start learning some new things and put some new ideas to practice, you'll start getting consistent results.

So what does it take to actually get creative in your teaching? I don't know...but I have some ideas that might help.

Anticipate Achievement

I know a place where I mess up a lot is assuming something will fail before I truly give it a chance. Just because something seems hard or hokey doesn't mean it's going to fail. And the truth is most of us kill off all our best ideas in their infancy because we just assume they won't work out anyway. They are "too ambitious" or "unmanageable". If you're going to be creative, and you are going to get outside the box, you need to expect success. Does that mean there won't be problems? No. But it will at least mentally prepare you to see your idea to an end.

Tom and David Kelley have a great quote in their book, Creative Confidence;
"Creativity, far from requiring rare gifts and skills, depends on what you believe you can do with the talents and skills you already have."
There are so many roadblocks to that kind of belief. To a creative mind, those problems and obstacles that derail most of us are seen as a challenge. They are a place where you can start to think critically about why something won't work and what you can do to address that problem. But these challenges are not an end. Just a natural part of the path to your goal.

When creative minds get an idea, they go to work. They manage the process. They design their plan. They combine, reverse, adapt -- and often they end up with something quite different than what they started out with. But the magic was in the process. By expecting success, you saw your way to something powerful. And you didn't quit.

Fuel Your Expertise

Psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman have written about how working to the strengths of your character energizes and fulfills you. Knowing who you are and what you are about is a powerful thing. It strengthens your character and builds confidence in who you are. The same is true for pursuing your passions. When we get stuck in a place where our creative juices aren't flowing, we have probably forgotten to energize and engage our own interests in our work. What are you good at? What are you passionate about? How can you turn that into a learning experience for your students? When you engage your mind in something you are an expert in, it can help you get creative when you share it with others.

Maybe you love photography, or writing, or music -- whatever it is that you care about, transform that passion into creative energy. All of these things can be turned into innovative learning experiences if you think about how you can relate them to your classroom environment.

Forget Talent

A common stumbling block for people who are afraid to try something new is an assumed lack of talent. For people like these, they rationalize their lack of curiosity or creativity by assuming others have some sort of magical creative gene that wasn't passed on in their genetics. That's garbage. In Daniel Coyle's book "The Talent Code", research shows that time and time again the main variable to excellence in any area is a commitment to "hard work, mental struggle, and extreme attention to detail." The only thing you're good at when you are born is breathing. The rest takes work. The difference is DEEP PRACTICE. If you want to get better, you have to give the appropriate time and energy to become better. It's no different with creative pursuit. If you want to be creative, START DOING IT.

Keep a Journal

People that work with me often know that I always keep one of those three inch top spiral bound notebooks in my pocket at all times. And while most people think this is so I can take notes and jot down reminders on the go, the best use I get from my notebook is the creative ideas I have that I can write down. The trick is stopping and listening to those ideas. Most of us don't.

Your creativity has a switch. And we have a little internal critic in our brain that switches it off every time we stop thinking about our weird or wacky ideas. You continually sabotage your creativity when you never allow yourself that indulgence. You censor yourself. Julia Cameron says that writing those ideas down "gets to the other side of our fear, our negativity, of our moods…Beyond the reach of the censor."

How often are you beyond the reach of the censor?

We all often give no thought to creative ideas or even think critically about the issues that arrive in the day to day. Keeping a journal might be a way to combat that. Or maybe you need to infuse your passion. Or maybe you you just need a reminder the failure isn't the end. Whatever it is, the best way out of the creativity rut is action. What action will you take?

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