Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

In Praise of CREATIVITY (Pt 02 – from GUEST BLOGGER Chaz Pugliese)

In ELT and ELL, Guest BLOGGERS, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 17/08/2013 at 5:40 pm

Creative ADULT (Le Guin quote) Ver 02

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In the last post from Chaz, we looked at the concept of creativitywhat it is, where it is and its role in the classroom.

Chaz pointed out that, given the right type of motivation, everyone can be creative. But creativity doesn’t  just happen like that; it needs to be embraced, invited, nurtured and encouraged.

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Creativity (Sir Ken quote 01)

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In this second post, Chaz talk about three stimulating strategies he uses to boost his own creative potential. For each of these he provides a short outline and an example to illustrate how it can be implemented in the classroom. He also describes an activity teachers can use themselves to overcome blocks and fears and to unleash their own creativity.

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Strategy 1: Simplicity

Keeping things simple in the classroom involves focusing on the learner rather than on the materials to be ‘covered’. Most importantly, to teach more simply is to teach more purposefully and with a minimum of needless distraction. If necessity is the mother of invention, then frugality definitely plays a big role in boosting our creativity.

The simplicity strategy can be spectacularly applied in the language learning classroom – in activities that require little or no preparation time and which are designed to use the students as our primary resource. What you need, to put this strategy into practice, is some knowledge of who your students are as people, what they like and how they like to learn.

The rest is down to some thinking, some work and, to a lesser extent, some inspiration.

Creativity (Emerson quote 01)

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Blind portrait (a warmer)

Level: Any

Preparation: Have some pencils and A4-size sheets of paper ready.

Method:

  1. Put the students into pairs and make sure they have a piece of paper and a pencil each.
  2. Ask them to draw each other’s portrait without ever looking at the paper.
  3. When they’ve finished, ask them to compare their portraits (this inevitably triggers laughter).
  4. The lesson can now start.
  5. Alternatively,  and especially if the students don’t know each other very well, you can ask them to draw the same object in the classroom – again, without looking at the paper.

Comment

Over the years I have found that using a touch of humour in the classroom is a great tool to diffuse tension and relax the students (and, often, the teacher).

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Strategy 2: The ability to “play”

Think, if you can, of a life deprived of play. You give up? I don’t blame you.

The ability to play is the capacity to have serious, purposeful fun. This is seen by many creativity researchers as an important step in the creative process. In the words of psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, ‘there’s no question that a playful attitude is typical of creative individuals … but coupled with its antithesis, a quality of perseverance and endurance’. As early as the 16th century, Erasmus and Montaigne both recommended games as mnemonic devices, and recently Guy Cook has explained how play has a cognitive function that supports and fosters creative thinking.

A playful attitude is important in the classroom because it helps the teacher create a stress-free environment, and is essential because it allows us to pay heed to the child within us that is still longing to be creative and playful. We can approach self-expression with a greater sense of balance and, in some cases, with renewed enthusiasm, making it easier for our creativity to flourish.

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Lingo Novo

Level: Intermediate and above

Preparation: None, as such, beyond keeping an eye open, as always, for the best time to do it.

Method:

1.Ask the students to work in pairs.

2.Tell them they have ten minutes to invent a new language. This language should include:

  • a greeting
  • a farewell
  • expressions for:
  • thank you
  • please
  • sorry
  • why and because
  • if
  • a positive comment (I like the weather.)
  • a negative comment (I’m not Jean Jacques.)

3.When they are ready, ask the students to form new pairs and to teach each other their new languages.

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Strategy 3: Risk taking

Risk taking is about getting out of one’s comfort zone. Charlie (‘Bird’) Parker is one of the most influential jazz musicians who ever lived. The first time he played in a jazz club, he got booed off the stage, and the drummer even threw a cymbal at him in sheer anger. Parker’s sin had been to venture into new territory: he wasn’t interested in playing mainstream music, and that’s the risk he chose to take. He persevered and contributed to the birth of a whole new chapter in the history of jazz. Bird was prepared to be wronghe had the guts to challenge the establishment, and that’s perhaps the lesson for all of us: creativity takes courage.

Risk-taking (quotes)

Taking risks doesn’t come naturally to a lot of us; it makes us feel uncomfortable and edgy.

This comes from a fear of being wrong. As children, we feel free to experiment with reality and we don’t care about the results. By the time we are adults, we lose that capacity and become frightened of doing things differently. This is largely because we stigmatise mistakes. So, what we do, according to Sir Ken Robinson, is to ‘educate ourselves out of creativity’.

However, there is only one alternative if you don’t want to take risks, and that is to play it safe – to give in to the sirens of routine, an approach which never really pays dividends. Risk taking in the classroom is about assessing the situation, daring to try different approaches and entering the discomfort zone. The outcome won’t be spectacular at first, but taking risks is a necessary step if one intends to engage oneself seriously on this path.

Creativity (Scott Adams quote 01)

Picture this

Level: Intermediate and above

Preparation: You will need a set of pictures of works of art.

Method:

1.Put a collection of pictures of works of art on your desk. Invite all the students to come up and pick one picture they’d like to do some work on.

2.Ask them not to show their pictures to anyone.

3.Put the students into pairs (A and B). Explain that the As are going to describe the opposite of the picture they’ve chosen, and that the Bs should draw or write (see the Comment below) the opposite of what they hear from the As. Thus: If A says: ‘In this painting there’s a cat sitting in a tree’, B may draw or write: ‘The monkey’s eating a banana’ or even ‘There’s a dog sleeping on the sofa’.

4.Give them a good ten minutes for this. When they’re ready, ask them to check B’s picture or description against the original. How close did they get?

5.Invite the students to exchange roles.

Comment

The idea of an ‘opposite’ is naturally very subjective, hence there’s an element of creativity that makes the activity more engaging. It is important to provide the students with options. Some may prefer to write a description, others may like to draw. By giving them a choice, hopefully the activity will more inclusive.

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Overcoming blocks and fears

Not a single person I have met finds it easy to nurture and unleash their creativity.

As teachers, we have to deal with all sorts of fears that may keep us from being creative, including fear of change, fear of accepting failure, fear of rocking the boat, fear of standing out, fear of disappointing and fear of uncertainty. Working in an environment that doesn’t value creativity is another huge mountain to climb.

Creativity (Matisse quote 01)

Having worked with hundreds of teachers on creativity courses, I know from experience that discovering that we can actually begin to create is the real trigger. There are no magic wands and no easy tricks, but please try the activity below. It is easy and powerful, and it should get you started.

Remember two thingsthat there is no such thing as right or wrong and that you need to trust the process.

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Comment:

The same exercise can be done using pictures. Visualise a picture you’re familiar with and, when the image is clear, change its colours, add or eliminate features, etc. Remember to experiment and to let your imagination run free. It is the process that matters: you may feel particularly proud of the end product – or not!

The same exercise can be done using pictures. Visualise a picture you’re familiar with and, when the image is clear, change its colours, add or eliminate features, etc. Remember to experiment and to let your imagination run free. It is the process that matters: you may feel particularly proud of the end product – or not!

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The music of change

1.Take a few moments to relax, unwind and ‘gather attention’. Feel every muscle in your body relax and let your breathing become even and deep.

2.Now visualise a piece of music you like: anything, a song or an instrumental piece. Play it in your head. Play it loudly, as if someone were performing it in front of you.

3.Focus on the details. When the image is clear, change just one feature of the music. For example, change the tempo from slow to fast or from fast to slow.

4.Now change another feature in your imagination. For example, hear different instruments performing the music.

5.Keep changing the music as ideas spring to mind until you hear a whole new different piece of music, something neither you nor anyone else has ever heard.

6.Be as daring or as subtle as you wish, but allow your mind room for something new each time.

7.What does the creative experience feel like? Take some time to think about this.

8.Make notes and share with a partner or discuss with your colleagues – according to the possibilities of the situation you are in.

Change (Margaret Mead quote) Ver 02

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If you want to learn more about creativity, why not take a look at Chaz’s book – “Being Creative: The Challenge to Change in the Classroom” (DELTA, 2010).

Chaz also recommends the following “bedtime reading”:

  • Cook, G – Language Play, Language Learning OUP (2000)
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M – Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention HarperCollins (1996)
  • Robinson, K – Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative Capstone (2001)

Creativity (Sir Ken quote 02)

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ALSO, in case you want a bit more BEDtime READing – check out Tony’s CREATIVITY Library! Now, tell me if you can’t find 3 (or 6) books there to keep you going!

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Tony’s CREATIVITY Library

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In Praise of CREATIVITY (Pt 01 – from GUEST BLOGGER Chaz Pugliese)

In ELT and ELL, Guest BLOGGERS, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 17/08/2013 at 5:12 pm

Am I creative enough (TG ver 01)

We’ve all asked ourselves that question, haven’t we?

I know I have…still do – every day!

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Today, we have a guest post from Chaz Pugliese, a teacher-trainer and musician (he plays a mean blues tune or twobased in Paris. Chaz and I met in Istanbul a few months ago and when I learned his “passion” was allthingsCREATIVITY – I just had to ask how he felt about allthingsBLOGGING!

I’m glad I didTake a read – feel free to contact him at chazpugliese@gmail.com.

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He’ll be back soon with “Part İki”

Creativity (Niebuhr quote 01)

We live in a culture that doesn’t encourage us to be creative unless there’s a chance we are going to strike it big with a commercial hit. Creativity, like so much else in our world, has been co-opted into consumerism and its worth calculated by how much money it generates.

The teaching world is no exception: the big pull is towards standardization, exams, regimented syllabi, a senseless don’t rock the boat attitude, intellectual shortsight that will do nobody a favor. The Victorian art critic John Ruskin, when asked why he was teaching factory workers to draw, said:

“I’m not teaching them to draw, I’m teaching them to see”.

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Isn’t learning a language, too, a way of learning to see anew? I would venture to say that enhanced seeing and feeling are the real reasons to create, whether it is an exercise, a song, a haiku, or a brand new thought.

Creativity (Angelou quote ver 03)

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A creative teacher knows how to get his/her students’ attention. and help them keep it. A creative teacher knows how to teach in ways that are meaningful to the students. A creative teacher will always find ways to make her lessons stick.

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Creative teachers can do all that.

Creativity is not an optional extra for a teacher, but rather the foundations to base our practice upon. Think of the word creativity and images of imposing Renaissance men or 20th century iconoclast physics will come to mind. Well, luckily for us common mortals, the story is a little more complex than that. If you’re after a genius type of creativity and you’re wondering whether this article will make you attain the heights of a Leonardo da Vinci or BachI’m sorry to say that, no, it won’t. But please read on, there’s hope. If we talk about an everyday type of creativity, absolutely everyone can be creative.

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In this post we will tackle a few important questions such as:

  • What is creativity?
  • Why should I bother?
  • How can I become more creative?

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What is creativity?

But what are we talking about when we’re talking about creativity? There are as many as 125 different definitions of creativity in the literature.

Creativity (Sir Ken quote 03 definition)

One thing is certain, there’s more to creativity than just thinking outside the box (or divergent thinking as it is called by creativity researchers). In fact, there seems to be general consensus that rather than just a single trait, creativity is best thought of as a cluster of skills used to produce an idea that is novel and culturally appropriate or valued.

There’s another definition I have always liked by professor Robert Sternberg, perhaps the world’s leading researcher in the field. For him, creativity is a decision we take. Wanting to be more creative is the main drive, the rest is up to hard work.

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Why should I bother? 

Creativity (Einstein quote 01)

A few years ago a few hundreds school kids in the UK were asked to name the qualities they thought a top teacher should have. What came first was ‘originality’, followed by ‘fairness’. This is hardly shocking news: great teachers have known all along that you can’t teach anyone anything if you haven’t managed to get through to them. And the best way to get our students’ attention is through a surprise: yes, kids like to be surprised (but don’t we all?), and anything that smacks of routine is bound to fail. So, a surprise gets us attention.

Interestingly, this seems in line with neurobiology research findings on the quality of attention: one of the four factors that has an impact on attention, and gets the students in a state of mental arousal is novelty (the three others are a perceived need, meaning, and emotions). Without creativity, we wouldn’t be able to come up with any surprises. Without creativity, we wouldn’t be able to cater for the great diversity of our classrooms: mixed levels, mixed intelligences. And without creativity, we wouldn’t be able to inject new life in the coursebook, either.

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How can I become (more) creative?

Creativity (Scott Adams quote 01)

The idea that creativity is a gift bestowed upon a few select ones by the gods above is one of those myths that tend to stick around for a long time. Just like intelligence, creativity is not a fixed, unitary trait, and can be in fact developed. But creativity needs to be invited, welcome, embraced. There is a myth about the creative soul that if you don’t feel inspired, you don’t have it.

I’ve been a musician for 30 years and if I had to depend on my inspiration every time I picked up my guitar, the guitar would stay mute. I’ve experienced every emotion imaginable when I play—from abject terror to sheer frustration to feeling absolutely nothing—and through it all like a recalcitrant mule, I have plodded on.

Creativity (Steve Jobs quote 01)

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There’s no quick fix, no magic recipe, but  below are just a few things that may get you going:

  • Cherish the company of creative people around you. Engage them in conversation, ask questions, tease them.
  • Seize the moment. Always keep a notepad and a pencil ready. When an idea strikes, don’t EVER brush it aside thinking you’ll remember it later. You won’t. That’s not the way our brain works, once that synopsis is gone, it’s probably gone forever.
  • Is there a time of the day that seems to be conducive to better thinking? If so, try to stick to it.
  • Don’t be disappointed if what had seemed a great insight doesn’t lead to much. Put it on the back burner, you’ll come back to it later. Sometimes an idea needs a good incubation period. Nurture it, take it apart, play around with it. Play, play and play.
  • Take baby steps. You’re not out there to blaze new trails, or revolutionize the ELT world. Just keep telling yourself that every little bit helps. Fail, but fail better each time, to quote Beckett.
  • Value feedback, but believe in what you do and persevere. Charlie Parker was mercilessly booed off the stage for playing something new. Negative reactions didn’t stop him from pressing ahead and become the greatest jazz musician who ever lived.
  • Take sensible risks. Remember: learners like to be surprised, but they certainly don’t like to be shocked.

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So here’s what I’d like to see:  creativity training in ALL Teacher Training programs, from the newly-initiated or the inexperienced all the way up to MA level!

Creativity (Matisse quote 01)

“Herding Cats” and Change 3.0 (Part 3)

In Educational Leadership, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, The Paradigm Debate on 09/11/2011 at 12:19 pm

I know, I know – I never really did get round to outlining exactly what Change 3.0 is in Part 2.

You have to remember…I am a “male of the species” and we do get oh-so-confused when we try this multi-tasking stuff…Besides, it is the topic of “change” we are dealing with…and tolerance for ambiguity is a big part of this.

Tolerate “with” me…just a wee bit more

 

In the last post, I think I finished up asking whether it was, in fact, the questions that educational managers (and leaders) ask – that are the real source of many of our “change woes”.

I suggested that far too many of them ask the question:

  • How do we motivate “our people” to change? 

Rather than some of the more powerful questions that Peter Block suggests we consider: 

  • What is my contribution to the problems I am concerned with?
  • What refusals have I been postponing?
  • What commitments am I will to make? 

Or, the question that Leo Tolstoy sort-of-proposed so many years back: 

  • How do “I” need to change as an educational manager?

FUNNY…we don’t see these last 4 questions in the preamble of many strategic plans

 

Organisations do notmanage” or “lead” themselves. Institutions do not write their own strategic plans. Schools, colleges and universities do not choose which of their problems need attentionat the “organisational level”  (formal) educational managers and leaders do all that.

Change agendas and implementation strategies are not handed down from the heavens – they are penned by management teams, task forces and (all too infrequently) teachers and students. These groups (or the wiser of them) have grown used to framing and drawing up their change initiatives in line with the conventional wisdom of Change 2.0best practice, planning and management techniques.

These, as we noted, are just NOT enough.

 

When change agents (or “teams” of change agents) get busy with best practice, planning and management techniques (or systems), they do recognise that “others” are involved – and, as a result, they also look for ways to motivate these “others” (heard the phrase “get them on board” much, lately?)…

You CANNOT, as we said earlier, “motivate” anyone – and, it is just plain “dumb” to assume that “others” can be “changed” and that the best laid motivational “carrots” will get you what you want.

…and that those very same people will give your change initiatives the finger – for a multiplicity of reasons! Trust me on that one…

 

Change agents of the “Change 2.0 varietysimply forget that:

…or perhaps they have not LEARNed that:

In all my years as a teacher, a teacher trainerand even as a “manager” I have not once heard a teacher or lecturer say one of the following:

  • Strategic plans are really sexy!
  • Those new change initiatives really turn me on!
  • I can’t wait to see how we evaluate the success of this improvement project!

This because best practice, planning and management techniques are, essentially, the tools of “incrementalism” – and not very “hot”. OK – these things may be a huge “turn-on” to managers and supervisors but that’s usually because they know they will be “evaluated” on the success of their plans, initiatives and projects. 

Don’t believe me? Try gathering a group of teachers (hey, and a few students, too) and ask them the following: 

  • What really matters to you as a teacher – what should really matter to us as a school? 
  • What should we do to really make a difference to lives of our students? 
  • If you could change one thing to improve student learning and success, what would it be? 

 

The vast majority of educators are in the “game for something elseand it sure ain’t the money! For them…it’s about purpose, service…and something that just makes it worth it getting out bed in the morning even when we have the “class from hell” on Monday morning!

Teachers (as a “species”) have got to feel it’s all worth it – we’ve got to be inspired by what we are doing (and how we do it) and this means we need leadership that makes a real difference to the lives of our students – and, in turn, our lives!

The problem in education today is…and I just know someone is gonna put a “hit” out on me soonnot all “educational managers” are terribly well-endowed in the leadership stakes, and not “all of the others” appreciate that their managers just ain’t been able to work this out and do something about it!

 

What does real leadership “look like”?

Probably, the best description does not come from education at allnot that we like to admit this:

Even a “hard-nosed” business guru, like Tom Peters, gets this…try giving this list to a bunch of teachers and then tell me how many of them disagree! I’ll bet you all the money I make from this blog (!) – you won’t find many.

 

That’s because most teachers already know thatit’s not only the planning, it’s not only the systems and its not the management…that really “matter”!

They also know…(in addition to the fact that this Tolstoy guy is a pretty smart cookie – for such a scary-looking dude):

 

It’s not only teachers that know this stuff…many great “educational leaders” (especially those who do not park their bums in high-ranking, formal “chairs”) just “know” how important it is to:

These people just get that when an organisation says “Our mission is to teach to world-class standards” – not many of those “others” are going to be jumping around in their seats…worse even – they simply will not “believe” the hot air that is wrapped up with that last bit of the sentence.

They know that authenticity, honesty and “usefulness” – are the keys to successful community-building and meaningful improvement.

Indeed, you might say their internal “self-talk” or mantra is:

and they walk-this-mantra…everyday!

What’s more they know how to look in the mirror before they leave for work every morning and ask Tolstoy’s (first) questiontwice a day!

 

Hey, you had to have guessed “this” would be on the cards.

After the last few paragraphs (and piccies) a few of you have probably begun to thunk:

 “All right, Tony, all this stuff might work in educational-la-la-land – but what about the real world. I have teachers that are nothing short of lazy bums or rotten apples – not only are they not interested or engageable, but they actively work to undermine all the good stuff we are trying to do”!

Yes, it is true – we probably all have some staff that should be “motivated” out of the organisation. But, we need to put challenges like this in perspective…they probably constitute less than 10-12% of your staff (even in a worse-case scenario).

 

But, here’s the deal…the one thing I really love about great teachers is they do not consider themselves “quitters” – they do not give up on even the most seemingly-hopeless of cases. And, when the “care” and “usefulness” really kick in – we can move mountains!

Educational leaders need to remember that they are first-and-foremost teachers, too – and this is a “talent” we should never forget! Besises – this is why we get the “big bucks” (LOL)…

The trick is, as Tom Amca reminds us:

OK – I’m very close to my self-imposed word limit (again)…and Dexter needs his “walkies”. I’m asking myself if I have said enough to outline exactly what Change 3.0 is really all about.

 

I guess I’ll have to leave that to you – to judge!

“Herding Cats” and Change 3.0 (Part 2)

In Educational Leadership, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, The Paradigm Debate on 07/11/2011 at 9:17 pm

I sat down this morning and began to think about how I would begin Part Two of the little mini-series I began yesterday. It was tough…and three cups of coffee later, I still had no idea of how to start.

True – I had mapped out a diatribe (of sorts) yesterday morning (but realised I’d have to use over 5k of lexis to get it all “on screen” – so decided to split it up). The problem was that last night I got a couple of “notes” that made me thunkone was quite funny. It accused me of a form of “digital penis-envy” and suggested that I had invented the phrase “Change 3.0” just to play catch up with all the techies and their Web 3.0’sfunny, because it was kinda true!

A couple of people got me some quotes – one I had never seen before was from the comic strip “Over the hedge” (penned by Michael Fry and Tom Lewis):

The more things change, the more they remain… insane.

Could there be more than a grain of truth in such tongue-in-cheek one-liners?

My perspective on “change” has always been a bit more “hopeful“, more “optimistic” – like that of Margaret Mead:

As I said yesterday, I like to believe that I “eat change for breakfast” and do not always “get” why so many people cringe when the “word” is mentioned  or why they run for the hills when its big brother – TRANSFORMATION – is placed on the table.

I tried running over these notes and comments (and my scribbles from yesterday) – desperate for inspiration – and up popped a tweet… @TeachersJourney to the rescue:

You can’t put students “first” if you put teachers “last”.

Those 54 characters (and how the hell most normal human beings are supposed to convey a decent idea in 140 characters is still beyond me) captured the paradox that is so often hard-wired into Change 1.0 and Change 2.0 initiatives…

And, taking my lead from @TeachersJourney – I started to think about a couple more questions:

Do we really put students “first” – really, really?

If we do, do we have to put teachers “last” – or can both come “first”?

 

The problem is I cannot really answer these questions with the self-imposed word limit I try to keep for each post – this one will have to go to a Part 3…but here goes!

I said yesterday that the main issues with Change 1.0 were:

  • the focus on change-as-an-event
  • the preference for command-and-control approaches to improvement
  • putting the organization before the people who “live” in it and those it is designed to “serve”

Change 2.0 did address these issues and sought to:

  • acknowledge that organisational change is, in fact, a “process” of “changing people”
  • recognise that these people need to be “motivated” to change
  • pay greater attention to best practices, planning and management

Surely, this type of conceptualisation is enough – process, people, planning! Loading the dice in this way has gotta work…

 

Sorry, but I think it’s time to burst that little “bubble”…

  • We cannot “change” peopleand anyone who has this as her “goal” is just plain “dumb”
  • We cannot “motivate” anyoneand the sooner we drop this “myth about carrots and bloody sticks” the better
  • The truth is…..and I need some images (and a few words) to convey this:

 

Number 1

I’ve talked a fair bit about “best practice” in earlier posts. Looking to best practices is not a bad thing in itself; we can learn a great deal from them and they can help along institutions wishing to reinvent themselves.

The problem is that many best practices are “old news – and “old news” developed to help solve someone else’s problems. If best practices are uncritically adopted and grafted (or should I say cut n’ pasted) onto another organisational culture – we can end up with an even bigger headache than we started with.

This is why perhaps so many, like Bill Monro, view imitation as the “sincerest form of collective stupidity” – and remind us that “looking back” is hardly the best way to create “next practice” that is both fit-for-purpose and useful

 

Number 2

OK – who can disagree with a maxim that tells us “Failing to plan is planning to fail” (and we do not even need our 140 characters to get that idea out there)?

Of course, we need to “plan” – but there’s other stuff we all know to be true; the best-laid plans of mice and men, life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans and something about Zeus getting a bit of a kick out of pissing all over the plans of “mortal men” (and women, too).

This is actually where Change 1.0 (and Change 2.0) really falls flat on its face – sure we can draw up a “wish-list” of our 12-step action plan for change but “hit shappens”. Even if we stand on the shoulders of giants like John Kotter and follow his advice to the letter, not going with the flow of unanticipated outcomes or failing to fully exploit emerging practices or evolving capabilities can mean “failure”, too – and a bigger failure than just not being able to tick off items on the “change checklist”.

On-going improvisation” can sometimes be a change agent’s best friend – a kanka, even! More people need to recognise this…

 

Number 3

Now, this is the one that gets me in so much trouble – even though many educational “managers” do not have anywhere near enough “management training”, they do love the idea of “management processes”. It’s something about the way those words collocate so smoothly with words like order, efficiency, and mission.

I like my processes, too – but (and to quote Covey) “Management works in the system; Leadership works on the system”. “Management” works just fine when the “system” works just fine…

But…

Change is about working on somethingto make it better – and that’s why we need more “leaders” (both formal and informal). However, not “leaders” that prize their “seats” (and systems) more than they do the people that keep them in these seats.

As Tom Peters reminds us “Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing”. This is the crux of the matter allthingschange in education.

Now, you see why I needed that 5k of lexis!

 

But, before I elaborate on this – I guess I have to jump back a space or two. As I noted yesterday, what often ruffles my feathers is the fact that many educational leaders (and, even moreso – politicians) still keep on talking about “herding” and asking the question:

  • How do we motivate our people to change?

And, by “people” – they frequently mean “them” or “those buggars“. Guess what – teachers “know” this and are not easily conned by a carrot or two

 

Let’s be very clear – this question is very much one created in the back rooms of a “managerial mindset”; an approach to change that focusses on “arranging”, “telling” and “herding”.

Management is not enough – especially if that management that fails to walk-its-talk or is based on tradition and folklore.

Tolstoy had it right when he said “…everyone wants to change the world, but no one thinks of changing himself”. His words prompt another question – could it be that many of the difficulties we still face with “change in education” are actually “caused” by those who see themselves as being “charged with managing change”?

Could it be that the core questions they ask – are just “wrong”?

But, I’ve just realised I have gone over my word limit – time to “plan” for Part 3…..me thinks.

In Praise of Creativity…(Part Two)

In Classroom Teaching, Teacher Training on 23/09/2011 at 5:36 am

In the last post from Chaz, we looked at the concept of creativity: what it is, where it is and its role in the classroom.

Chaz pointed out that, given the right type of motivation, everyone can be creative. But creativity doesn’t  just happen like that; it needs to be embraced, invited, nurtured and encouraged.

In this second post, Chaz talk about three stimulating strategies he uses to boost his own creative potential. For each of these he provides a short outline and an example to illustrate how it can be implemented in the classroom. He also describes an activity teachers can use themselves to overcome blocks and fears and to unleash their own creativity.

Strategy 1: Simplicity

Keeping things simple in the classroom involves focusing on the learner rather than on the materials to be ‘covered’. Most importantly, to teach more simply is to teach more purposefully and with a minimum of needless distraction. If necessity is the mother of invention, then frugality definitely plays a big role in boosting our creativity.

The simplicity strategy can be spectacularly applied in the language learning classroom – in activities that require little or no preparation time and which are designed to use the students as our primary resource. What you need, to put this strategy into practice, is some knowledge of who your students are as people, what they like and how they like to learn.

The rest is down to some thinking, some work and, to a lesser extent, some inspiration.

Blind portrait (a warmer)

Level: Any

Preparation: Have some pencils and A4-size sheets of paper ready.

Method:

  1. Put the students into pairs and make sure they have a piece of paper and a pencil each.
  2. Ask them to draw each other’s portrait without ever looking at the paper.
  3. When they’ve finished, ask them to compare their portraits (this inevitably triggers laughter).
  4. The lesson can now start.
  5. Alternatively,  and especially if the students don’t know each other very well, you can ask them to draw the same object in the classroom – again, without looking at the paper.

Comment

Over the years I have found that using a touch of humour in the classroom is a great tool to diffuse tension and relax the students (and, often, the teacher).

 

Strategy 2: The ability to “play”

Think, if you can, of a life deprived of play. You give up? I don’t blame you.

The ability to play is the capacity to have serious, purposeful fun. This is seen by many creativity researchers as an important step in the creative process. In the words of psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, ‘there’s no question that a playful attitude is typical of creative individuals … but coupled with its antithesis, a quality of perseverance and endurance’. As early as the 16th century, Erasmus and Montaigne both recommended games as mnemonic devices, and recently Guy Cook has explained how play has a cognitive function that supports and fosters creative thinking.

A playful attitude is important in the classroom because it helps the teacher create a stress-free environment, and is essential because it allows us to pay heed to the child within us that is still longing to be creative and playful. We can approach self-expression with a greater sense of balance and, in some cases, with renewed enthusiasm, making it easier for our creativity to flourish.

Lingo Novo

Level: Intermediate and above

Preparation: None, as such, beyond keeping an eye open, as always, for the best time to do it.

Method:

1.Ask the students to work in pairs.

2.Tell them they have ten minutes to invent a new language. This language should include:

  • a greeting
  • a farewell
  • expressions for:
  • thank you
  • please
  • sorry
  • why and because
  • if
  • a positive comment (I like the weather.)
  • a negative comment (I’m not Jean Jacques.)

3.When they are ready, ask the students to form new pairs and to teach each other their new languages.

 

Strategy 3: Risk taking

Risk taking is about getting out of one’s comfort zone. Charlie (‘Bird’) Parker is one of the most influential jazz musicians who ever lived. The first time he played in a jazz club, he got booed off the stage, and the drummer even threw a cymbal at him in sheer anger. Parker’s sin had been to venture into new territory: he wasn’t interested in playing mainstream music, and that’s the risk he chose to take. He persevered and contributed to the birth of a whole new chapter in the history of jazz. Bird was prepared to be wrong; he had the guts to challenge the establishment, and that’s perhaps the lesson for all of us: creativity takes courage.

Taking risks doesn’t come naturally to a lot of us; it makes us feel uncomfortable and edgy.

This comes from a fear of being wrong. As children, we feel free to experiment with reality and we don’t care about the results. By the time we are adults, we lose that capacity and become frightened of doing things differently. This is largely because we stigmatise mistakes. So, what we do, according to Sir Ken Robinson, is to ‘educate ourselves out of creativity’.

However, there is only one alternative if you don’t want to take risks, and that is to play it safe – to give in to the sirens of routine, an approach which never really pays dividends. Risk taking in the classroom is about assessing the situation, daring to try different approaches and entering the discomfort zone. The outcome won’t be spectacular at first, but taking risks is a necessary step if one intends to engage oneself seriously on this path.

 

Picture this

Level: Intermediate and above

Preparation: You will need a set of pictures of works of art.

Method:

1.Put a collection of pictures of works of art on your desk. Invite all the students to come up and pick one picture they’d like to do some work on.

2.Ask them not to show their pictures to anyone.

3.Put the students into pairs (A and B). Explain that the As are going to describe the opposite of the picture they’ve chosen, and that the Bs should draw or write (see the Comment below) the opposite of what they hear from the As. Thus: If A says: ‘In this painting there’s a cat sitting in a tree’, B may draw or write: ‘The monkey’s eating a banana’ or even ‘There’s a dog sleeping on the sofa’.

4.Give them a good ten minutes for this. When they’re ready, ask them to check B’s picture or description against the original. How close did they get?

5.Invite the students to exchange roles.

Comment

The idea of an ‘opposite’ is naturally very subjective, hence there’s an element of creativity that makes the activity more engaging. It is important to provide the students with options. Some may prefer to write a description, others may like to draw. By giving them a choice, hopefully the activity will more inclusive.

 

Overcoming blocks and fears

Not a single person I have met finds it easy to nurture and unleash their creativity.

As teachers, we have to deal with all sorts of fears that may keep us from being creative, including fear of change, fear of accepting failure, fear of rocking the boat, fear of standing out, fear of disappointing and fear of uncertainty. Working in an environment that doesn’t value creativity is another huge mountain to climb.

Having worked with hundreds of teachers on creativity courses, I know from experience that discovering that we can actually begin to create is the real trigger. There are no magic wands and no easy tricks, but please try the activity below. It is easy and powerful, and it should get you started.

Remember two things: that there is no such thing as right or wrong and that you need to trust the process.

Comment:

The same exercise can be done using pictures. Visualise a picture you’re familiar with and, when the image is clear, change its colours, add or eliminate features, etc. Remember to experiment and to let your imagination run free. It is the process that matters: you may feel particularly proud of the end product – or not!

The same exercise can be done using pictures. Visualise a picture you’re familiar with and, when the image is clear, change its colours, add or eliminate features, etc. Remember to experiment and to let your imagination run free. It is the process that matters: you may feel particularly proud of the end product – or not!

 

The music of change

1.Take a few moments to relax, unwind and ‘gather attention’. Feel every muscle in your body relax and let your breathing become even and deep.

2.Now visualise a piece of music you like: anything, a song or an instrumental piece. Play it in your head. Play it loudly, as if someone were performing it in front of you.

3.Focus on the details. When the image is clear, change just one feature of the music. For example, change the tempo from slow to fast or from fast to slow.

4.Now change another feature in your imagination. For example, hear different instruments performing the music.

5.Keep changing the music as ideas spring to mind until you hear a whole new different piece of music, something neither you nor anyone else has ever heard.

6.Be as daring or as subtle as you wish, but allow your mind room for something new each time.

7.What does the creative experience feel like? Take some time to think about this.

8.Make notes and share with a partner or discuss with your colleagues – according to the possibilities of the situation you are in.

 

If you want to learn more about creativity, why not take a look at Chaz’s book – “Being Creative: The Challenge to Change in the Classroom” (DELTA, 2010).

 

Chaz also recommends the following “bedtime reading”:

  • Cook, G Language Play, Language Learning OUP 2000
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention HarperCollins 1996
  • Robinson, K Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative Capstone 2001

In Praise of Creativity…(Part One)

In Classroom Teaching, Teacher Training on 20/09/2011 at 12:15 pm

I think it was Einstein that said “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources”!

Let’s test that little theory…

Today, we have a guest post from Chaz Pugliese, a teacher-trainer and musician (he plays a mean blues tune or two) based in Paris. Chaz and I met in Istanbul a few months ago and when I learned his “passion” was allthingscreativityI just had to ask how he felt about blogging!

I’m glad I did. Take a read – feel free to contact him at chazpugliese@gmail.com.

He’ll be back soon with “Part İki”…

 

We live in a culture that doesn’t encourage us to be creative unless there’s a chance we are going to strike it big with a commercial hit. Creativity, like so much else in our world, has been co-opted into consumerism and its worth calculated by how much money it generates.

The teaching world is no exception: the big pull is towards standardization, exams, regimented syllabi, a senseless don’t rock the boat attitude, intellectual shortsight that will do nobody a favor. The Victorian art critic John Ruskin, when asked why he was teaching factory workers to draw, said:

“I’m not teaching them to draw, I’m teaching them to see”.

Isn’t learning a language, too, a way of learning to see anew? I would venture to say that enhanced seeing and feeling are the real reasons to create, whether it is an exercise, a song, a haiku, or a brand new thought.

A creative teacher knows how to get his/her students’ attention. and help them keep it. A creative teacher knows how to teach in ways that are meaningful to the students. A creative teacher will always find ways to make her lessons stick.

Creative teachers can do all that.

Creativity is not an optional extra for a teacher, but rather the foundations to base our practice upon. Think of the word creativity and images of imposing Renaissance men or 20th century iconoclast physics will come to mind. Well, luckily for us common mortals, the story is a little more complex than that. If you’re after a genius type of creativity and you’re wondering whether this article will make you attain the heights of a Leonardo da Vinci or Bach, I’m sorry to say that, no, it won’t. But please read on, there’s hope. If we talk about an everyday type of creativity, absolutely everyone can be creative.

In this post we will tackle a few important questions such as:

  • What is creativity?
  • Why should I bother?
  • How can I become more creative?

 

What is creativity?

But what are we talking about when we’re talking about creativity? There are as many as 125 different definitions of creativity in the literature.

One thing is certain, there’s more to creativity than just thinking outside the box (or divergent thinking as it is called by creativity researchers). In fact, there seems to be general consensus that rather than just a single trait, creativity is best thought of as a cluster of skills used to produce an idea that is novel and culturally appropriate or valued.

There’s another definition I have always liked by professor Robert Sternberg, perhaps the world’s leading researcher in the field. For him, creativity is a decision we take. Wanting to be more creative is the main drive, the rest is up to hard work.

 

Why should I bother? 

A few years ago a few hundreds school kids in the UK were asked to name the qualities they thought a top teacher should have. What came first was ‘originality’, followed by ‘fairness’. This is hardly shocking news: great teachers have known all along that you can’t teach anyone anything if you haven’t managed to get through to them. And the best way to get our students’ attention is through a surprise: yes, kids like to be surprised (but don’t we all?), and anything that smacks of routine is bound to fail. So, a surprise gets us attention.

Interestingly, this seems in line with neurobiology research findings on the quality of attention: one of the four factors that has an impact on attention, and gets the students in a state of mental arousal is novelty (the three others are a perceived need, meaning, and emotions). Without creativity, we wouldn’t be able to come up with any surprises. Without creativity, we wouldn’t be able to cater for the great diversity of our classrooms: mixed levels, mixed intelligences. And without creativity, we wouldn’t be able to inject new life in the coursebook, either.

 

How can I become (more) creative?

The idea that creativity is a gift bestowed upon a few select ones by the gods above is one of those myths that tend to stick around for a long time. Just like intelligence, creativity is not a fixed, unitary trait, and can be in fact developed. But creativity needs to be invited, welcome, embraced. There is a myth about the creative soul that if you don’t feel inspired, you don’t have it.

I’ve been a musician for 30 years and if I had to depend on my inspiration every time I picked up my guitar, the guitar would stay mute. I’ve experienced every emotion imaginable when I play—from abject terror to sheer frustration to feeling absolutely nothing—and through it all like a recalcitrant mule, I have plodded on.

There’s no quick fix, no magic recipe, but  below are just a few things that may get you going:

  • Cherish the company of creative people around you. Engage them in conversation, ask questions, tease them.
  • Seize the moment. Always keep a notepad and a pencil ready. When an idea strikes, don’t EVER brush it aside thinking you’ll remember it later. You won’t. That’s not the way our brain works, once that synopsis is gone, it’s probably gone forever.
  • Is there a time of the day that seems to be conducive to better thinking? If so, try to stick to it.
  • Don’t be disappointed if what had seemed a great insight doesn’t lead to much. Put it on the back burner, you’ll come back to it later. Sometimes an idea needs a good incubation period. Nurture it, take it apart, play around with it. Play, play and play.
  • Take baby steps. You’re not out there to blaze new trails, or revolutionize the ELT world. Just keep telling yourself that every little bit helps. Fail, but fail better each time, to quote Beckett.
  • Value feedback, but believe in what you do and persevere. Charlie Parker was mercilessly booed off the stage for playing something new. Negative reactions didn’t stop him from pressing ahead and become the greatest jazz musician who ever lived.
  • Take sensible risks. Remember: learners like to be surprised, but they certainly don’t like to be shocked.

So here’s what I’d like to seecreativity training in ALL Teacher Training programs, from the newly-initiated or the inexperienced all the way up to MA level!

More TED Talks…(and video INSPIRATION)

In Uncategorized on 25/02/2011 at 4:07 am

It turns out that all the posts I do seem to “sell” better when I give away a “gift” or two!

Duh! That’s just Marketing 101, Tony…

However, some “learning tools” are more than just “marketing techniques” – they just have to be shared – or “spread”!

I mentioned the TED talks in a recent post and a few friends have also been sharing a few of their favourites with me – here we go:

 

 

  • Interested in the brain or happiness? Take a look at this one from Dan Gilbert.
  • You know I am “in love” these days – so check out this one from my “father-in-law”.
  • And, you might like this one – from my father-in-law’s “best friend”.
  • And, who could say “no” to Jamie Oliver (have you tried one of his “curry dishes” lately) – he actually won the 2010 TED Prize with this one. So, OK, you might not hire him as a language teacher (comes from Essex in the UK – no, I was born in Exeter, UK) – but all your “kids” need to see this (their parents, too)!

Let us know…..if you find a favourite from your virtual tour of the TED Talks.

Take care – have a great weekend!