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3 Ways to Unleash the Most Creative Students Ever

What is the point of Minecraft? Through a first-person view, the player mines resources to craft a whole new world. That’s it.

No score.

No clock.

No levels to beat. No game to win. No way to throw the controller across the room while flossing as confetti explodes all around, because you have just become the ultimate Minecraft champion.

Instead, you mine and you craft. You mine, and you craft. You gather resources and apply those resources with no clear victory to be achieved.

Except, if you have ever watched kids mine and craft, you know that the experience unlocks kids’ creativities that you never knew were there. Swimming pools. Gardens. Dining rooms. Roller coasters. Towers. And more and more and more.

So much so, that it causes me to ask, could it be that creativity was present all along? Could it be that Minecraft contains the code to release the creativity that kids naturally posses? In short, are kids wired with creativity? If so, what learner experiences can we mine and craft in order to unleash the most creative students ever?

1️⃣ Facilitate intrigue to develop the most creative students ever.

Facilitate intrigue to develop the most creative students ever. I believe that most students come to school each day saying, “Fascinate me. Captivate me. Show me why it is good for me to devote most of my day to this.” For educators, if this is the case, we should eagerly anticipate this opportunity every day. How? By intentionally designing learner experiences that tap into the natural curiosity tendencies of our students. Teachers that embrace this challenge…that respond with: “Just wait until you experience the learning planned for today. I’ll show you!” These are the teachers, classes, and experiences that students run to.

Therefore, how can we mine intrigue to craft irresistible learner experiences for students? First, ensure that students walk into an experience that is already occurring. Intrigue levels are typically high when we feel as if what we are about to participate in is already happening. This could be as extravagant as transforming a classroom into a hospital or restaurant or courtroom. It could also be as simple as playing music, appealing to the sense of smell, or having a design challenge ready for students as they enter the learning environment. I imagine students running into your learner experience in order to determine just what in the world the teacher is going to do today!

Second, launch learner experiences with questions that force students to take a side or argue a point. In other words, “Here’s the scenario. What side are you on and why? What are you going to do about this? What do you think about the way this person or people group handled the situation?” By inviting students into a situation, intrigue develops as they forget they are participating in a class; but instead, take on the character roles of the people in the scenarios. Educators can deepen this reality by reorienting learners with questions such as: “Why do you think we are investigating this scenario? Why do you think I forced you to choose a side and defend your choice? How do you feel about the lesson so far, and where do you think we are headed?” Maybe, at this point, you offer students voice and choice as to where to proceed next. Regardless, they should be charged up with intrigue and buy-in while eagerly anticipating whatever is coming next.

Third, in order to facilitate intrigue in a learner experience, change the meeting location for class. If the class comes together in a location that is unusual, intrigue is a natural result. Why? Because you are going to get a myriad of questions that all begin with: “Why are we having class here?” Whether you are outside, in the hallway, in the cafeteria, in the gym, or in an online learning environment, if the location is atypical, intrigue will result. Intentionally leverage that to your advantage, and take students on a learning journey they will never forget. Consistent intrigue builds anticipation that becomes excitement, and excitement is fuel for learning.

2️⃣ Collaboratively design solutions to real problems to develop the most creative students ever.

Collaboratively design solutions to real problems to develop the most creative students ever. There are enough unmet needs in our schools, communities, country, and world for our students to make a positive difference. The content you are teaching can become a connection point between neighbors’ problems and the creative solutions of our students.

Therefore, how can we mine real problems to craft opportunities to create solutions for students? First, pay attention to conversations around campus. Has a colleague uncovered a situation where a positive difference is needed? Is there a renovation need in the school building? Could we come together to beautify the playground or start a community garden? There are a myriad of ways to apply content throughout the school building and campus if we collaboratively look through the lens of problems and solutions to release creativity in our students.

Second, pay attention to local businesses and service-organizations that may at work improving life in the community. When my son was in 4th grade, he and a few friends galvanized their teacher, classmates, and classmates’ parents to partner with a local faith-based service organization for “Neighborhood Fun Day: Kids Helping Kids Through the Power of Friendship.” The students creatively applied the state standards they were learning to plan, promote, and pull-off an amazing event at a local park that included face painting, games, a lemonade stand, food, and friends. My son and his school friends were presented with a problem. There were kids in their city who did not have the same opportunities they did, and “Neighborhood Fun Day” was how they chose to make an impact. I am thankful for his teacher’s willingness to engage students in problem solving and empower them down whatever road their creativity would take them. Now, my son is one semester into his 8th grade school year, and he still talks about the positive difference he and his friends made 4 years ago.

Third, pay attention to culture, technology, politics, and other pertinent current events. When presented with an appropriate problem in any of the aforementioned areas, what possible solutions will students dream up? Will they start a podcast, YouTube channel, or blog? Will they design a video game, robot, or website? Will they write a comic book, start a business, or launch an app? Who knows? However, teaching students how to curate the world around them with appropriate analyzation, strategy, and problem solving while also taking actionable steps to make a positive impact will be deeper learning and skill-development they will remember forever. Plus, they may not need to remember anything, because the creativity that results from the problems you present may not just result in an assignment for school; but instead, an ongoing alteration to their life right now. With problems to be solved all around, let us be quick to invite our students into solution design to develop their creativity and make our world a better place.

3️⃣ Coach and resource when needed to develop the most creative students ever.

Coach and resource when needed to develop the most creative students ever. For the educator, this is a journey of relinquishing control. Basically, if you want to control your classroom, give control away to your students. When you design a learner experience that relies on their application of content through intrigue and the solving of real problems, students will begin to drive and even demand learning. Now, you have captive creators ready for more of what you can give: coaching and resourcing.

First, in the design phase of the learner experience, anticipate the resources that will be needed. You can accomplish this through student data analysis, asking other educators for feedback on lesson design, and, depending on what you are attempting to accomplish, utilizing resources that are already available. Furthermore, as the learning experience launches, opportunities will arise for the teacher and students to create and curate resources along the way.

Second, strategically support students through pre-planned and impromptu teacher-led and student-led workshops throughout the learning experience. Through formative assessments, academic conversations, and student feedback, you will know exactly what your students need, and if you don’t, keep asking them. Workshops can be based on standards, applications, idea-generation, critique, or just about anything. Fluidly moving in and out of these purposeful small groups will empower students to take necessary next-steps in their creativity.

Third, teach students how to resource themselves to solve micro-problems on their way to solving macro-problems. In prior times, we might have referred to this as research; however, today this has evolved into team-building, researching, and collaborating. Each are needed skills in today’s workplaces and schools. As a result, let’s nurture the development of these skills within our learner experiences. That way, students can grow to be confident and competent in their own creativity, because lack in these skill areas is not holding them back. In other words, if we can teach students how to access the resources already available to them and create anything additional that they need, in the end, they will be ready to face any challenge that comes their way through the learning experience.

Students are wired for creativity. As educators, we must design opportunities for them to practice. By mining through the facilitation of intrigue, collaborative design of solutions to real problems, and coaching and resourcing along the way, we can craft learner experiences that consistently unleash the creativity in our students. As a result, they will run to our classes, make a meaningful difference, and have a little fun along the way. 

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3 Actions for Thinking Differently

Me after looking at the calendar this morning:

Can you believe that we are at August 4, 2021?

Have we stopped asking, “When are things going to return to normal?” Have we also stopped asking, “What will the new normal look like?”

I am confident in asserting that most of us were over 2020; and yet, cognizant that moving forward is not as easy as flipping the calendar page or swiping to the next day in our favorite calendar app.

As a result, while living in the present and ever-approaching 2022, what will be necessary in order to move education forward? Restated in the context of Infinite Game by Simon Sinek, how can we remain players in the infinite game of education?

Here are 3 actions for thinking differently that will help us shape the future during these critical times.

🙂 Presume Positive Intent

Everything I learned about school leadership, I learned from High School Musical. As I write the previous sentence tongue-in-cheek, there is no denying that “We’re all in this together.” Facing the challenges of the future requires that we presume positive intent with each other. Are we all in this together at varying levels and responsibilities? Absolutely; however, in order to effectively navigate the waters ahead, we must unite through assuming the best in each other. Here are some self-reflective questions to consider when being purposeful about presuming positive intent:

▪️ What is my teammate seeking to communicate with me?

▪️ What factors inside and outside of the work environment could be impacting this conversation or situation?

▪️ How can I be a peacemaker in this conversation or situation? How can I contribute to the quest for solutions?

▪️ What action step(s) will facilitate increases in student learning? How can I support the success of my teammate?

Presuming positive intent nurtures the teamwork necessary to overcome expected and unexpected challenges. If we can presume we are all doing the best we can with the gifts and experiences we have, together, we can grow into the continuous improvement needed to face the future.

🤝 Communal Reflection

Presuming positive intent helps develop and sustain necessary relational bonds that will be necessary to withstand the consistent onslaught of challenges. In fact, as I type, I am wondering if presuming positive intent is somehow related or included within Dweck’s work on Growth Mindset. Regardless, as relational bonds grow stronger and trust is rich within the organization, purposefully stopping for times of communal reflection are important and meaningful exercises to keep us moving forward.

If we can retrospectively reflect through situations by honestly considering the strengths and limitations of how we handled things, together, we can enjoy the multiplicity of perspectives available in such a communal exercise, learn new ways of behavior, and grow relational capital amongst the team. As this becomes a go-to method for processing situations, we maximize our leadership capacities by sharing experiences, tools, and think-alouds with our people. In addition, we empower our people with the safe space to share and process the nuances, situations, and relational dynamics of the work. If we can do this with appropriateness, honesty, and a commitment to continuous improvement, I believe we can multiply our effectiveness and form encouragement bonds we can lean on throughout our careers.

🧭 Signposting

Care about your people enough to facilitate their next steps. Consider skills they are excelling at, and how those skills will help them accomplish their dreams. Consider skills they need to practice at, and how to provide opportunities for the strengthening of those skills. Provide consistent encouragement, conversation, and questioning that will propel your people forward.

A signpost is a noun: static, cemented in the ground, unwaveringly pointing toward a destination far away. Signposting is a verb: action, ongoing, along the way, continuously pointing toward a destination far way, and making progress toward that destination every day.

Be a signposting leader for your people. One that points them in next-step directions, but also journeys with them toward their desired destinations. Care about them enough to facilitate their pathways forward: possibly into deeper levels of influence within your organization, and possibly into deeper levels of influence outside of your organization. Either way, by signposting your people into next-levels, you are continually building up the quality of your people as well as the impact of their service to you, each other, and your students.

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Like Gardening

Leadership is elusive…fleeting. In other words, leadership is difficult.

Just when I think I can summarize leadership into a few formulaic bullet points, it proves unwilling to remain stuffed inside the box. Just when I think leadership can be described as Y = Mx + B, it proves unwilling to remain a predictable and sequentially solved equation. Just when I think I can tame leadership to behave responding only on command, it proves unwilling to accept the routine associated with being a Pavlov Dog.

My experience argues that leadership cannot be best characterized or explained by laws, principles, or pillars. No, leadership is too liquid for that. Leadership is too motion for that. Leadership is too pneuma for that.

Leadership is animation: the ongoing honoring of someone else by breathing life and awakening in joint pursuit of more, so that, eventually, they will do the same for and with another.

“Leadership is animation: the ongoing honoring of someone else by breathing life and awakening in joint pursuit of more, so that, eventually, they will do the same for and with another.”

This work of animation requires a consistent focus on the other. Not the kind of focus like a parent sending a child off to college. Do you have gas money? Do you have your class schedule? Did you pack deodorant? Are you coming home next weekend?

Instead, leadership requires the focus of a gardener working in the garden:

▪️ Gritty fingernails with the earth tightly packed underneath

▪️ Stained knees, stiff hands, and a sore back

▪️ Sweat pouring off the forehand and into the ground

▪️ Turning, tilling, sifting, scooping, plucking, pruning, planting, watching, waiting, wondering

This work of animation, this work of creation, this work of enlivening another requires a willingness to lace up lawn mowing shoes, walk out into the air, kneel down into the in-process ground, dig with a variety of tools, and uncover the possibilities that have been there all along.

Will it work? Who knows. Will it be worth it? Who knows. Will it be sustainable? Who knows.

The gardener knows the endeavor is unpredictable. The gardener knows that many elements of the process are outside the grasp of the most textured gardening gloves. The gardner knows that sunshine and rain chuckle at those seeking to control them. The gardner knows that many a moment will be spent watching, waiting, and wondering.

And yet, that’s how I got here.

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