We’re celebrating one year of the Fueling Creativity podcast! We thought it would be fun to share this episode with you as an audio recording and a blog post, as it sheds light into the four themes that have emerged over the last year . The transcript has been modified for flow and reading ease – enjoy 🙂

Matthew Worwood: Hello and welcome to a special super-duper episode of the Fueling Creativity podcast because we are celebrating one year of our show! Cyndi, how do you feel?

Cyndi Burnett: I feel fantastic. Matt, how do you feel?

Matthew Worwood: I’ve certainly enjoyed the discussions we’ve had, but what’s been great is that they’ve introduced us to so many new concepts and themes that maybe we knew about but hadn’t discussed.

When we first started the show, Cyndi, we were getting 30 to 40 downloads in our first week, but now we’re at 15,000 downloads after one year, and we’ve maintained that upward trend since about September and October.

And I certainly feel good knowing that there are people out there who listen and value our work.

Cyndi Burnett: And we especially want to give a shout out to those of you who have been listening and have given us feedback in the form of sending us an email at questions@fuelingcreativitypodcast.com

And for those of you who have left reviews, we greatly appreciate you. Even if there’s something you want us to improve on, or you want us to interview someone, let us know. We would love to hear from you.

Matthew Worwood: I totally agree. In this show, what we’re going to do is a recap of the whole year. We’ve transcribed all of the episodes that we’ve had with our guests, and we’ve gone through and identified themes that have emerged from all of these shows, and from those themes, we’ve put together a presentation.

This presentation was showcased recently at the Creativity Expert Exchange produced by the Center for Applied Imagination at SUNY Buffalo State. We will take you through that entire presentation to see some of the themes that we’ve identified.

Before we get into the presentation and the themes, I want to talk about where the idea for the show came from because we had recently re-engaged. I’d reached out to you about the pandemic and doing something, perhaps a documentary film around the pandemic. One of the things that I noted in those first few months was the challenges that teachers and parents faced as we tried to bring education, formal education, online and teach at a distance.

And I started to become intrigued and very quickly impressed with how my boys’ teachers were responding to the pandemic- the strategies they were introducing on zoom, strategies to maintain engagement, and strategies to gather information.

I suddenly started to realize, wow, this pandemic, although challenging, is highlighting the creativity that exists within the teaching profession. The idea was to try and capture that with a film; after some back and forth with you, we landed on a podcast that explores creativity and education because it’s not just about the pandemic. It’s about the fact that creativity is relevant throughout education, both before, during, and after the pandemic.

Cyndi Burnett: Let’s talk, Matt, about why we decided to do the podcast. The first reason why we wanted to do this podcast was to bridge the gap between creativity, research, and classroom practice.

Matthew Worwood: If you look at our guests, we’ve got a good balance between renowned researchers in the field of creativity, creativity practitioners, educators, and administrators. We’ve had all these different perspectives, and these perspectives have helped bridge the gap between research, what we currently know about creativity and how it applies to education. And then, of course, how we practice that research in our classroom.

Cyndi Burnett: Over the last year, we have interviewed ten different researchers, four administrators, five educators, and nine creativity practitioners.

Creativity Researchers

Let’s talk about what we discovered. Four themes emerged from these interviews.

The Creative Environment

I’ll talk about the first theme. The first theme that we discovered was setting the classroom’s creative environment. There is a researcher who is, unfortunately, no longer with us named Goran Ekvall, who talked about the ten dimensions of a creative environment in organizations.

I’ve researched this area where I took these dimensions and applied them to the classroom. Through our interviews, some of these dimensions clearly emerged, such as trust and safety and creating an environment for risk-taking where students feel comfortable making mistakes.

It’s interesting because Ekvall talked about trust and openness, but being open to different perspectives was a piece that came into play in our interviews. Ekvall also spoke about allowing for ideal time, but in our interviews, it showed up as allowing time for questions and exploration.

Ekvall talked about debate in the organization and how we need a level of debate because we don’t want “artificial harmony,” where everyone is smiling and nodding their heads and saying “yes” to things. We really want the debate of, “you know, I don’t understand this. Can you explain this to me?” And being able to talk back and forth. It came out in our interviews as respectful debate.

Ekvall talked about challenge in a creative environment, but throughout the interviews, the point that emerged was around challenging students to their highest abilities, not just to the average. We heard this with Jonathan Plucker, who talked about excellent gaps and how we often aim students toward the average point. No child left behind proposed that all students reach a certain mid-level of understanding. But what we’re not looking at is there are so many students that can go higher, but we don’t give them those opportunities.

Another big area that fascinated us in the creative environment was valuing differences, looking at each person as an individual, and valuing that we all bring different perspectives. And I love that this came up so many times in our interviews, Matt.

And finally, thinking beyond the walls of the classroom. There were so many different interviews, especially the researchers and the practitioners, who talked about going outside the walls of your classroom. Go out into nature, go on field trips, go into other rooms. Think about ways you can connect outside of those four walls.

So those are some of the themes that we discovered in setting the creative environment.

Matthew Worwood: Jonathan Plucker said that we often use the term reaching minimum competency, and it’s kind of like a weird finishing line to declare because why would we want everyone to simply reach minimum competency?

The other thing I want to speak to around the creative environment was our conversation with Vlad Glaveanu, who highlighted this emerging, socio-cultural approach to creativity. One of the things that he emphasized is the interaction with these different units of analysis that are relevant to creativity. When we’re thinking about creativity and education, yes, you might have an incredibly talented and gifted student, but that student exists in a time and place.

And that time and place will influence the type of creative production that student engages in. Also, within that time and place are people. It emphasizes the importance of the teacher and colleagues and the resources that exist in that environment. And this is a prominent theme within creativity research.

Creative Leadership in the Classroom

Next, let’s talk about the theme of Creative Leadership in the Classroom, which in some ways builds on this idea of a creative environment because we, as educators, of course, are the leaders in our classroom, and we have a significant influence on our students.

What we are talking about with “creative teachers” are individuals who know what creativity is and why it’s important. We recognize that creativity remains somewhat of an abstract term, but for the most part there, we recognize that it centered around engaging in creative endeavors that involve the production of new and useful outcomes.

We also spoke a lot about creative teachers as designers, and that’s certainly something that I entered the podcast wanting to explore, given the pandemic. When we’re thinking about creative teachers as designers, we’re thinking about the fact that within our classroom environment, there are a whole bunch of different problems.

Some of these problems we can address, some of these problems we can’t address, but for the problems that we can address, we’re tasked with designing and developing solutions to those challenges. And when we think about designers, we’re thinking about designers who are aware of the end-user.

In some ways, I’ve been able to think about that term and use it because I don’t want to refer to students as end-users. But at the end of the day, they are the individuals who are interacting with the outcomes that a teacher is implementing in the classrooms. You want to think about how those students perceive and interact within those hours.

And then this was a big one that came out. The episode where Caroline Brookfield resonated with me, but the importance of the creative teacher, being able to model creative behaviors and attitudes, is super-duper important.

Going to the next point, teachers need to be lifelong learners. They need to continue growing, challenge themselves, and be creative in and outside the classroom environment. And there were lots of conversations we’ve had about teachers who were engaged in creativity outside the classroom. Bea Lederman, for example, is one of the episodes that I want to highlight there.

But because of that experience of being creative outside the classroom and engaging in lifelong learning, they were able to bring that into the classroom environment and showcase their processes. Creative teachers are open and willing to try new things. They’re also willing to take risks and admit failure.

Again, that’s part of modeling creative behavior. “Hey, I’ve tried something new. It didn’t work. I want to share this with you.”

The other thing is that creative teachers need to recognize that they don’t have all the answers. And most importantly, perhaps again, because of the pandemic, we realized that the creative teacher needs to take self-care of themselves and that it’s okay to need a break sometimes and switch off and go for that walk in nature because that will recharge your batteries and likely empower you to be more creative in and out of the classroom environment.

So that’s how we kind of summarize creative leadership in the classroom.

Instructional Practices

Cyndi Burnett: Our next theme was around Instructional Practice. And Matt, I’ve done a lot of work, as you know, on integrating creative thinking skills into the classroom. This came up a little bit in our conversation with Sue Keller-Mathers, but I’ve worked with her, and some very clear instructional practices came from the various conversations we had.

The first one was around asking open-ended questions and not just giving students the answer. The second piece was about embedding time for wondering and curiosity. And I remember when we spoke with Natalie Nixon, she said, take a wondering break where you take five minutes and just sit there. Just being and thinking about whatever you want to think about and not just having to think all the time and be “on” all the time, but just allowing your mind to wander.

The other piece I found exciting was about exposing students to diverse things such as books, museums, nature. I remember our conversation with Sally Reis, where she talked about book hooks. These hooks could expose students to all different genres of literature by just getting up at the start of an English class and saying, “okay, I want to introduce you to this book. It’s got this title. Here’s the summary of it. Here’s the cover of it. Here’s the genre”. Then see if a student wants to read it. By doing that for a minute every day, you could expose your students to so many different books! And I know for myself and my family, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to expose my own children to diverse things.

I recently took my children to the Darwin Martin house, a Frank Lloyd Wright house. We had never really looked at architecture, and I would have never considered it because I’ve never been interested in architecture. However, I decided to expose all of us to something diverse, and we all walked away in utter amazement.

I love that piece of going beyond our own little boxes of understanding of things and exposing our students and ourselves to diverse things.

Another piece that came up repeatedly in terms of instructional practice was problem-based learning and inquiry-based learning. I remember Frank Labunca talked all about his school and problem-based learning.

Next, we talked a lot about helping students find meaning, purpose, and connection to content by bridging the content and what it means for the student. I think that’s so important and easy to forget.

Another piece that came up, which we’re now calling “embracing the yuck,” is working through the ambiguity, uncertainty, and complexity of the creative process and the learning process itself. To identify those moments with students of, “how does this feel right now? It doesn’t feel great. No, that’s okay. This is the yuck period. And you’re going to have those when you’re creating something new. And you’re going to have that when you’re learning something new where you feel frustrated that you do not understand it right away. So how do we work with that?”

This goes along with helping students get comfortable with discomfort and feelings. One of the most prominent themes that kept coming up in almost every interview was getting students more comfortable with making mistakes and failing and building that creative resilience to get back up and try again. Another instructional practice that came up was around shifting student perspectives and allowing an openness to new ideas.

And I think that comes into play with diversity and helping students to see different ways of looking at things and keeping open when they don’t understand and getting curious, instead of being closed-minded. Also, helping students with their feelings and emotions related to the learning and creative process is essential as an instructional practice.

And finally, to give students agency- a choice and a voice on what they’re doing. So whenever possible, you allow students to say, “I want to learn this and present my understanding in this way.”

Matthew Worwood: These instructional practice points are probably the most common themes that emerged from researchers, practitioners, educators, and administrators.

And to me, the episode with Ron Beghetto in Season One, where we were talking about this idea that for students to sometimes feel uncomfortable because learning is uncomfortable. And that resonated with me because I took some time to reflect on that point after that recording, and I realized how many times I respond to students expressing discomfort and try to provide more clarity and make them feel better.

I see it almost as a bad thing; almost perhaps it’s a failure on my part. Ron Beghetto made me realize that it is an essential part of the learning experience. This idea of making students more aware of those times to engage their feelings and emotions and to reflect on that.

The Future Creative

I think that the first three themes connect in lots of different ways. And so this next theme is certainly an outlier, but this is one of those themes that I think it’s somewhat new, at least for me. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about this theme emerging, and in some ways, it’s the product of the three things. And that is, of course, we’re trying to think about the Future Creative. When we’re thinking about creativity in the classroom, we’re thinking about how we, as creative leaders, can be better at facilitating a future creative workforce.

We’re talking about the future creative, and in season one, we interviewed Bryan Alexander, who is a futurist. This got us thinking about what the future is like and how students will engage with creativity in that? Given everything the world’s going through and highlighting some of the future challenges that we can expect with topics such as climate change, the future creative needs to be able to work through some really complex problems and manage significant change.

I think that is something you could argue has always been relevant, but certainly, we could say that we’re in a position to get a better sense of some of those complex issues that future creatives will have to be working on. And at the end of the day, those issues, when you take climate change, there are no obvious solutions on how we can go about solving some of those problems.

The future creative is capable of working with people of varied backgrounds and perspectives. And, of course, that’s building on the concept of multicultural creativity and being able to interact with people from different cultures.

Also, a future creative is a person who can think ethically when selecting ideas and developing solutions as well. This came up with David Cropley at the beginning of Season Three. When we’re developing solutions to some of these complex issues that I referenced at the beginning of this segment, we need to make sure that we’re also thinking about some of the unintended consequences of those solutions that we also need to be thinking ethically about those solutions.

And perhaps if we had thought more ethically when we were designing and developing previous solutions, we may have been able to avoid some of the problems that we’re now having.

Another thing about the Future Creative is a person who can identify what humans do best and what machines might do best. Again, that emerged in our episode with David Cropley.

And the final piece is the fact that we see the future creative as someone who can work in collaboration with AI. There’s been a few episodes where we spoke about this concept of cobots. The future creative will probably be working with machines and artificial intelligence to solve some of these problems to design the solutions. One of the things that future creative has to be able to do is to identify what they’re bringing to this process that the AI can’t do and then be in a position to recognize what AI might actually do better than them. The Future Creative has to be someone who can navigate that situation successfully.

So that’s the future creative, and I’m certainly excited to see the future creative expand more in our future.

Cyndi Burnett: Matt. I completely agree with you. I’m looking forward to learning more about the future of creativity. So hopefully, we can bring in some additional futurists into the podcast.

Matthew Worwood: Cyndi, I think that wraps up our anniversary episode. And again, I’d like to join Cyndi and thank everyone who subscribed to the podcast, who’s given us a review, and all of our wonderful guests- thank you! We really appreciate it.

The other piece we want to highlight is we’ve got this presentation. If anyone out there is interested in connecting with us to deliver that presentation as an interactive workshop to their institution or their school, we’re more than happy to do that. You can reach out to us on LinkedIn or send us an email at questions@fuelingcreativitypodcast.com.

And to the people who are listening to our podcast regularly. If there are any themes that you think we’ve missed or there are episodes that we haven’t covered sufficiently in this anniversary show, please reach out to us and let us know.

Thank you!

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