For most of the grading period, one of Mrs. Weaver's students does not do his homework. During her third phone call to his parents about the problem, they say she's not doing enough to teach their son responsibility.
Mrs. Weaver finishes the call in frustration. She rubs her temples and declares, "There's nothing more that I can do here. He doesn't do his homework and there's no parent support. I can't teach him."
Mrs. Weaver is really saying, "I've exhausted my imagination." She thinks she's tried everything she knows, and therefore precludes anything she might create. Is this burnout or just someone in need of a creativity boost?
Learning to think creatively is key not only to student success but to teacher longevity as well. Situations that might require us to think creatively are rife.
* My entire lesson today is based on accessing those three websites, but the school's Internet is down. What can we do instead?
* Small groups are not working in my class, but I know groups are important for many students' learning. How do I get these students to stay focused on their group tasks?
* I've backed myself into a corner explaining an advanced science concept and it's not making sense to me, let alone to my students. What should I do?
* Angelica doesn't understand the concept after my explanation, but I don't know any other way to teach it. What will I do?
Because teaching requires so much creativity and problem solving, it's amazing that we don't spend more time building capacity for such thinking or requiring demonstrations of it in our teacher evaluation system.
Consider, too, that teachers are told in many ways not to think for themselves. We are handed the curriculum rather than invited to participate in its creation. We are told about new policies that dramatically change current practices but not given time or structure to make the transitions carefully. Policymakers rarely solicit our opinions on controversial education issues.
Some schools make the mistake of mandating a scripted program with no option to adjust it according to students' needs. Some administrators spend the majority of their building walk-throughs with pacing mandates in hand, making sure everyone in the same subject in the same grade level is on the same page on the same day of the week.
Creativity in teaching falls flat in schools with complacent and intellectually entrenched staff. It thrives in schools with staff who regularly revise their thinking in light of new evidence. There are many paths to building our own capacity for creative and critical thinking in daily teaching. Here are a few:
Learn content or a new skill outside your subject discipline.
Take a course in logic, divergent thinking, mind-mapping, synthesis, reasoning, analysis, law, politics, or rhetoric. Start a forensics and debate club at the school or participate in an adult version of one.
Learn to play a musical instrument and participate in an adult orchestra or band. Start your own blog, write feature stories for the local paper, or participate in a local writers' support group.
Learn a foreign language or three, or finally make good on that promise to yourself to start sculpting or painting.
Participate in a small group study. Experience a ropes course or participate in an Outward Bound program.
Reconsider what you have around you.
Could I teach my students all they needed to know about algebra if class were in an empty parking lot? Dirt floor, wooden bench, thatched hut: If this were my classroom, could I teach students the differences between Middle Ages and Renaissance artwork?
One of the biggest liberators for my own thinking was to recognize that some of the greatest teaching tools are all around us. I didn't need to put all my hopes for effective teaching into getting the latest techno-toy from a science materials …