“The classroom should reflect the world for which we are preparing our students. If we are asking them to create, innovate, and be outstanding as graduates, then our classrooms should be creative, innovative, and outstanding places to learn.” Chapter 8 of LAUNCH by Aj Juliani and John Spencer, opens with this incredible quote by Jennie Magiera. With this quote, Jennie creates a visual for educators, prompting them to truly analyze the culture and climate of their classroom asking, in a world of “preparing future ready students” are we actually making them “future ready.” This quote resonated with me, because having graduated college only two years ago, it was comical to read some of the job descriptions to positions my friends and colleagues had applied. “Entry level jobs are now requiring upwards of five years of experience, but only want you to have a bachelor’s degree. This sparks the idea I think Jennie so clearly defines; we need to give our students these experiences to become innovators and creative thinkers NOW!
Chapter 8 of LAUNCH discusses “creating.” When people hear the word “creative” they usually assimilate it with a gene that you’re predisposed to at birth. “Susie is so creative; I wish I could make bulletin boards like her, but I’m just not a creative person.” But in reality, “creative work is, well, work.” (John Spencer) Spencer discusses that there is no shortcut to creative work or a specific formula to follow. It’s extremely challenging, complex and often feels like there are more failures in creative work than successes. He also makes the claim that when you really care about a project, you will “pour your entire being into what you make…and expend massive mental, emotional and even physical energy knowing all along that failure is a distinct possibility.” I think this resonates deeply with almost every teacher. Getting to work early, staying late, working on weekends, never leaving your “work” at work. This is the feeling that we want to create for our students. Letting them work in an environment, where they are invested in what they are doing, so deeply, that they would rather be at school working than anywhere else; to an extent of course. Everyone needs a brain break every once in a while. This feeling that has been created for them of “energy and engagement” will ultimately “lead to better learning.” (John Spencer)
In phase five of the LAUNCH cycle, students are creating. According to Spencer, this is the part that students tend to love the most at first because it is hands-on and multi-sensory. In my classroom, we are following the LAUNCH cycle as well and students almost always tend to jump to this portion of the cycle immediately, without even knowing. They are ready to create and ready to innovate without even having the background knowledge to execute. That is because creativity and the need to create is innate within us. We strive for that as human beings. But with creativity comes a lot of constructive struggle. Spencer and Juliani warn that these struggles can seem like mountains at times because students often have visions of creating something that doesn’t necessarily align to their actual skills, ability, or often times, resources. As teachers, we need to remember and foster the idea in our classroom that these “moments are not moments of failure but rather a normal part of the LAUNCH cycle.” If we can embed a growth mindset in our students, they will be able to identify that we, in fact, learn MORE when we fail than when things come easy to us and we know the answer immediately. When you as a teacher hit these points in your classroom, or the management seems out of your control, Spencer and Juliani state you may want to call it quits, but these are the most crucial moments to model perseverance, persistence, and true team problem solving. Though frustrating and stressful, these moments will “foster the kind of innovation and imagination you home to see in your students.” (Spencer and Juliani)
Spencer and Juliani also outline six challenges that both you and your students will face during this phase and suggestions, and resources for how to overcome these obstacles without giving up. Below I’ll give you a one to two sentence summary of each.
Challenge 1: It Takes Time
In a world of instant gratification, it’s hard for our students and for us to realize that “creative fluency” takes time and it is in the moments where we persevere and persist in our work that our learning and growth truly take place.
Challenge 2: It Feels Scary
Fear is the number one reason that individuals do not reach their fullest potential. It holds you back. It keeps you in place instead of moving forward. Fear of flying? That’s cool I’ll just stay home? Fear of heights? That’s okay, I never wanted to go to the top of the Sears Tower anyway. (I refuse to call it the Willis Tower) Fear in this instance is “the force that pushes us away from creative risks” telling us we will never be able to do anything. We need to shut that voice off in our heads and encourage risk-taking and failure in our classrooms
Challenge 3: Classroom Management Issues aka NO CONTROL
We must understand that chaos is important in the LAUNCH cycle. However, it helps us, as we give up some control, to have an action plan for management prior to beginning. Spencer and Juliani provide some reflective questions for creative learning spaces in Chapter 8 for you to reflect on problems before they even begin.
Challenge 4: Not Enough Resources
Just because you don’t have a 3-D printer in your room, doesn’t mean you can’t create true prototypes with your students. It’s about imagination nd dreaming and making things with your hands, even if it’s out of paper and cardboard. Spencer and Juliani describe it best when they ask us to think of a child with a box on Christmas. They’re more concerned about turning that box into a spaceship or a car or a house than the actual toy that came inside of it. Let’s bring that imagination back for our students.
Challenge 5: It Gets Boring
“There is an aspect of creative work that requires us to be dismissive of our feelings.” (Spencer) This is such a powerful quote for all types of work not just in the LAUNCH cycle. If a student “doesn’t feel like doing something” typically what they’re working on doesn’t require any “feelings” so they can persevere through those moments and get down to business. Students must keep trying, making, failing and starting again to really get down to the heart of creating. Students must understand that boredom is a choice, and also find the distinction between boredom and confusion which is an important distinction to model for our students.
Challenge 6: It Doesn’t Have Meaning
As long as your students truly care about a purpose behind what they’re doing, they will have the dedication and buy-in to the project at hand. Even when the process gets difficult, that dedication and passion about the topic is what will help them to push through those hard times and continue to create. In order to help you and your students find what has meaning to you Spencer and Juliani propose a few things:
- What do you do when no one is telling you what to do?
- What do you do when you’re supposed to be doing something else?
- What types of information do you read and watch?
In closing, Spencer and Juliani leave us with an amazing quote about creativity in that it “is as much an attitude as it is an action,” which I believe is howe we should approach everything. What you’re willing to work for and give to something, is what you will get out of it. This is an incredibly important lesson to teach our children early on, so that they truly understand the sense of hard work, instead of having the feeling of being entitled to things they have yet to work for.
If you want to keep following along in our Book Study make sure to check out all of the previous posts in the series on Chapters 1-7 and then look for Jordan Garrett’s post from iLearn and Teach.