Friday, February 20, 2015

Taking Responsible Risks. Okay, a Risk.

As I've told my students numerous times, we should all be working smarter, not harder.  To that end, I've spent much of my out of school time this week working on an application for another educational pursuit - this time at Drexel University.  The application requires a 500 - 750 word essay on why I am interested in the program.  After many stops and starts, I decided to write the essay as a blog entry.  

Oh, and to use the same essay as today's blog entry as well.  

Drexel will not get the benefit of the beautiful background, the pictures, or the hyperlinks.  Given the 18 phone calls and dozens of emails they've sent me since Tuesday encouraging me "not to forget my started application", I don't think I'm taking too big of a risk here.  They seem to recognize that I have a funding source to pay the tuition, and will probably either forgive, or be excited by, my non-traditional essay filled with creativity and innovation, and either accept me, or stop calling my home phone.  (Either of these options would be most welcome.)

I'm not sure that my "Taking Responsible Risks" Habit of Mind extends to just sending the hyperlink to this blog as my actual essay, although I may include it at the end of my submission.

 Creativity and Innovation, at Drexel.

As a Teacher of the Gifted for the last sixteen years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with the best and the brightest in my school district.  While the motivation for this population of students is particularly high, the willingness to take risks often becomes paralyzing, as their perfectionistic tendencies overshadow their desire for creative excellence. 

With the nearly universal acceptance of the Common Core Standards, districts, including mine, are requiring that all lesson plans be designed with an explicit focus, citation, and mandatory referencing of standards to be addressed in the lesson.  The frustration for me is that nowhere in the standards are there specific goals for encouraging or teaching creativity, innovation, or metacognition.

While studying at the University of Connecticut, I was exposed to the research of Robert Sternberg, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Howard Gardner, and Donald Treffinger.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Treffinger by phone years ago while working at Penn, and have been fascinated by his creativity instruction research for nearly ten years.  I’ve crudely used Torrance’s tests for creativity with elementary school students, encouraging them to be more fluent, flexible, original, and more elaborate – taking risks and stretching their brains.  I’ve SCAMPERED with kids from kindergarten to twelfth grade.   Suffice it to say, I see the value and importance of creativity, and am frustrated by society’s governmental Common Core designers’ inability to recognize the value of teaching creative thought as a learning tool to encourage student achievement.

I loved my time at UCONN.  Connecting with educators of gifted learners from around the world, developing a “Professional Learning Network” that are now my “go to “ experts on a daily basis, and feeling fully immersed in education and learning and challenging my own boundaries and limits gave me a self-confidence that I recognized was lacking.  I was infatuated, I was giddy, I was in love with learning at UCONN.  I contemplated the PhD program at the conclusion of my Master’s program, ultimately deciding that the required year on campus, (which I’ve learned usually stretches to two years), didn’t seem to match my personal and family obligations.

I break rules every single day, now that I’m more confident in my abilities.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a renegade handling a live grenade.   I do, however, teach with a reckless abandon – and that was not the case prior to learning to take responsible risks when it comes to connecting with the learners in my classroom.    So far, the result has been that my learners have surprised me with greater quality work, more intense levels of interest, and creative and innovative solutions to both their problem-solving and their personal Talent Development Opportunity (TDO) projects, which they use both to challenge themselves and as the basis for metacognitive reflection and understanding – a required task for everyone in my classroom.

I firmly believe that understanding yourself, reflecting on your own learning, thinking about your own thinking, and challenging yourself to think from an alternative perspective, or two or three, increases achievement and understanding.

In a recent conversation with my superintendent, I commented on how much I enjoy my job.  The word JOB seems too harsh, because I really consider every day more of an adventure than a chore, which is a delightful confession to share.  Recently, a friend and colleague, who also teaches gifted in a neighboring school district, made me aware of a new learning opportunity.  This time, it’s closer to home.  Drexel University is offering a certificate in Creativity and Innovation, which can grow into a master’s or a doctorate.  It sounds like the sky’s the limit on this one, which is exactly where I’m hoping to travel. 

Oh, and I don’t travel alone – I bring along anyone that cares to follow, so pack your proverbial bags and get ready for the next big thing in Gifted Education in my world.  Creativity and Innovation.

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