Cultivating Spark

Today’s thoughts while reading Creative Confidence —

I continue to think about how we can use Design Thinking as a platform to design and develop curriculum.  Today’s reading  “Spark: From Blank Page to Insight,” led me to pose questions that I am beginning to feel are crucial to how we think about secondary education.

In this chapter, the Kelley brothers lay out these 8 methods of cultivating spark, for growing creativity:

  1. Choose to be creative
  2. See the world with traveler’s eyes and with a beginner’s mind
  3. Relax your mind, allowing it to wander
  4. Empathize
  5. Observe through field research
  6. Ask “why”
  7. Consider looking from a different point of view to reframe the question
  8. Collaborate with a network

As I started to unpack what it means to empathize with high school students and their learning, I asked: “How might we use empathy and research to understand what our students’ educational needs are?”  With that question in mind, I wondered how teachers can cultivate their spark.  What do they need to see the world with traveler’s eyes and with a beginner’s mind?  How can teachers keep their knowledge and insights fresh in order to cultivate spark in their own students?

My ideas about what students need to learn in English and Social Studies courses are based on my own experience in school and employment outside of education, in what I learn through my own professional development reading in English and Social Studies instruction and curriculum, and (slightly) through what the Common Core Standards identify as necessary for high school students to master.  With this mind, I’ve recognized that I am designing and teaching courses with a seasoned veteran’s mind, through eyes tinged with “I know what is best because I have an M.Ed in this.”  Is this the mindset we want to promote student-centered teaching and learning?

What would it look like for a teacher to have a beginner’s mind and travelers eyes?  For a teacher to empathize with students about what they need to know?  How would a teacher conduct field research and observe what her students need to know?

How do we truly know what students need to learn if we spend our days in the classroom?  We can read books, build our own professional learning networks to hazard guesses about our students educational needs; yet, if our approach to curriculum design is not learner-centered, not centered on empathy and fed by the research we gain through objective observation then how accurate are we as we hypothesize what students will do in their post-secondary school lives? How can we prepare students for college if we don’t venture into a 101 or 201-level  class to see what skills and knowledge they need to be successful in that class?  Are we preparing students for college classes that we took 10, 20, 30 years ago?  I imagine current English 101 and 102 classes are vastly different in scope and skill building than those that I taught in the early 90s, which were not that different than those that I completed in the early 80s.


From fear to courage (within privilege)

IMG_9330Today’s blog post about this morning’s work with Creative Confidence is an example of my own move from fear to courage.




Was anyone else put off by the examples of failure in this chapter?

For me, the failures highlighted were those that people of privilege could afford.  The venture capitalist who passed on Google did not suffer financially from the failure. He remains wealthy, perhaps not as wealthy as he could have been, but nonetheless, he has more than enough money.

How many families could bankroll the Kelley brothers’ destruction of the family piano for the sake of creativity?

Those who are privileged to be able to “bring-your-whole-self-to-work” most likely work for employers in states where components of their sociopolitical identities are protected by employment laws.  Some of us are not as fortunate, thus the fear that we will lose our livelihood stops us from being our authentic selves at work.

Privilege is a safety net that makes the trapeze, acrobatic work of creativity less risky.

What I am arguing in this post is NOT that design thinking is problematic in terms of privilege; I am proposing that the authors of this book may be blind to the privilege they enjoy, and thus this text (especially this chapter) may not resonate with those of us who do not share this privilege.

The Return of a Socialpolitical Identity

This morning I was reminded of the significance I once (and now will again) placed on my sociopolitical identity; my feminist-, lesbian-self was once the cornerstone of my pedagogy. My MA work at Clemson University centered on a feminist rhetoric of argumentative writing where I asked if students investigated how they came to have their beliefs about a selected controversial issue rather than simply arguing a position  then would they move past dualism into a stage where they would think critically.  In grad school at GWU, I investigated the connections between constructivist and feminist pedagogies and concluded that feminism opened the way for social constructivist and learner-centered pedagogies.  I argued that the ideas of de-centering authority in learner-centered classrooms, fostering collaborative opportunities, and prioritizing experiential learning are ideas stemming from feminist pedagogy.

And now I am thinking about how current ideas of teaching and learning can also find their roots in feminist pedagogy.  The Vanderbilt Center for Teaching’s “A Guide to Feminist Pedagogy” reminds us that curriculum design and instruction that is rooted in feminist theory is also learner-centered and constructivist.  For feminist pedagogy presumes that:

  • “students and teachers ideally learn with and from one another, co-constructing knowledge–both communal and contingent–together.”
    • Do we not use this same reasoning when promoting learner-centered classrooms?  In the work that advocates for such learning, researchers/theorists/promoters seem to ignore this connection.  I wonder if they are hesitant to wade into the politics inherent in feminism.
  • “Personal experience . . . is recognized as a valid and valued form of knowing. It doesn’t stand on its own as complete knowledge, but it’s also not seen as irrelevant or inferior. Instead, it works in conjunction with other forms of knowing.”
    • Is this not the same assumption we hold when we suggest that Inquiry-Based Learning and its sibling, Project-Based Learning, is authentic, effectual pedagogical practices?  Again, the connection (if not kinship) to feminism is seemingly ignored. Politics? or sexism?

So we come back to the ideas that gender and sex are fundamental to ideas of education.  And for me, our ideas about teaching and learning are structurally political.

Now, how will I use this to build my resiliency and to help others build theirs?  How will I avoid the chip-on-my-shoulder attitude when I acknowledge my own self-awareness of my sociopolitical identity.  For it is this self-awareness (and thus this blog post) that will allow me to

  • recognize and understand why I am triggered
  • use my strengths to avoid reacting to triggers
  • identify how my identity can be leveraged for building relationships.

This self-awareness is empowering as a source of strength, an anchor, and connection with others.  By understanding my sociopolitical identity I can boost my resilience (and help others boost theirs) by:

  • strengthening my trust with others
  • uncovering and understanding my unconscious bias
  • forming deeper and more nourishing connections with students, colleagues, and supervisors.

I need to come from a place of collaboration and not pedantism.



Beginning with Personal Values and Personality Types


Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 10.49.44 AMToday I started reading Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Teachers, and I started avoiding the inevitable introspective work absolutely foundational to building resilience.  In fact, I started writing this blog entry two hours ago, and I am now just finishing the third sentence.  In between the sentences, I’ve washed dishes, made the bed, and put away clothes.  And now I feel ready to write about what I’ve learned about myself.

While none of the knowledge I’ve gained this morning is new, coming to understand how I need to use it is unfamiliar.  And I am committing myself to working through Elena’s Aguilar’s program so that I can the resilience I need to be confident in my teaching.


In Aguilar’ first chapter focuses on learning about our selves so that we can play to our strengths and wisely direct our energies.  Clear self-knowledge gives us confidence in our actions and decisions.   For Aguilar, self-knowledge is true power, and the key to gaining self-knowledge is a deep understanding of how these five elements make up our selves:

  • Values
  • Psyche
  • Strengths and Aptitudes
  • Socio-political identity
  • Personality

Gaining my own self-knowledge this morning I worked through exercises for values and personality.  While it was easy for me to identify 10 values, I had more difficulty narrowing these down to three essential ones.   IMG_1703

Upon reflection of my three fundamental values, I can see how the remaining seven values stem from these three.  For without kindness and gratitude, could we hope for equity and peace?  Doesn’t it seem that embedded in ideas of equity and peace are the values of kindness and gratitude?  If we cannot be thankful for the diversity of people and thought that surrounds us, then we cannot expect equity. Being fair and impartial comes from a sense of kindness, of affection, for all in order to see all impartially.  Without hope, how could anyone forgive?  For me, it is a faith in the underlying goodness of most that creates the hope I center my life around.  Without this hope could we expect there to be peace anyone’s life?  in the world?

Then I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test on 16personalities and not surprisingly found that I am in an introverted phase.  At the end of this school year, I found myself more exhausted by the people-intensive experience that is school.  Luckily, I have time this summer to spend in my head — resting, processing, and planning.

Today, (according to this test) I am perceiving information through sensing — an unexpected result.  While I do notice details, I like to make sense of the details to connect them to bigger ideas.  I feel more comfortable backward-planning as those who perceive the world through intuition.

I process information through feeling, and I make decisions first looking at people and circumstances and seek a harmonious resolution to any conflict.  My heart and body hurt when I cannot make everything right for everyone.

And finally, it is through perceiving that I live my outer life, understanding and adapting to those around me, preferring to take in information and trying to keep myself from being overwhelmed by new ideas.  I feel I can best be flexible within a structure, especially in my own teaching.

What I like best about the 16 Personalities test (and perhaps the result) is the noun given to describe all these attributes.  I am an ADVENTURER.  For these past few hours, I’ve been walking around my house, inside my head, thinking about the idea of being an adventurer.  And I wonder how much of this aspect of my personality is programmed by my DNA and how much is from my experience as a military brat.  Is there a gene for adventure, for using aesthetics and design to push social conventions and enjoying upsetting traditional expectations?  Or do I find satisfaction in the uncomfortable, in the need for change because each time my family moved, I found myself looking for a place within the conventional and ultimately knowing that I belonged outside of it?

Everybody is the Creative Type (and HMW use dt as a methodology for curriculum design?)

Today with Creative Confidence


I am embracing the idea that creative confidence is a “way of seeing . . . your place in the world more clearly, unclouded by anxiety and doubt.”   With this way of seeing as my foundation and relying on my creative mindset of “a powerful force for looking beyond status quo,” I am now thinking about how to engage my creative energy during my summer of intentionality.   During my summer of intentionality, I am laying out goals for the work I want to accomplish and tracking my progress for meeting these goals.

IMG_8097    IMG_0021

This approach I hope will allow me to return to school rested, without the underlying anxiety that I did not “do enough” or “think enough” about the 2018-2019 school year.

It was then invigorating to read that what keeps us from being courageous, from cultivating our creative confidence, is that there is paradoxically comfort in our uncertainty.  Shaking away the uncertainty, I have decided to work through this text as my way of challenging the status quo of course/curriculum design. (And I am deliberately not researching this idea because I don’t want to feed my fixed mindset of thinking that someone has already done this — proposed how to use Design Thinking for curriculum development.)

So what happens when we thinking about DT as a curriculum design methodology?  Do we combine it with the ideas of IBL and UbD?

The Kelleys see innovative programs as balancing three factors:  feasibility, viability, and desirability.  Finding the sweet spot in this triad is where design thinking works and finding it in curriculum design can be where students learn best.  For me, when thinking about design as curriculum design methodology, I see feasibility in education as a reminder for teachers to consider what we already know and believe about child development and pedagogy.  Will what we are proposing fit in what we know about how students learn?  Thinking about viability in education, we remember that our courses must live within the framework define our school’s mission and norms.  Will this course design support our mission and fit into our school’s culture?  Finally, desirability in education connects this methodology to Inquiry-based learning as we seek to connect our design to what student passion.  How do we learn what students hold as their core beliefs and how to leverage these beliefs for motivation?  In learner-centered design, we look for students to engage with content and skills that they feel are critical for success. Are these the same as what we as teachers feel are necessary?  And if not, do we let go of our own beliefs or do we encourage students to consider our ideas?  If so, how do we encourage students to look beyond themselves?

Using design thinking within the classroom as a methodology for inquiry-based learning is an authentic way engage students in innovative, interdisciplinary problem-solving.  This month I will explore how I can use design thinking within a curriculum development methodology to design a six-week course module focused on Shakespeare and Ellison’s Invisible Man.

Pre-reading Questions for Creative Confidence by Tom Kelley and David Kelley

Image result for creative confidenceStarting my MVIFI Summer + Learning today with Tom Kelley and David Kelley’s Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential with Us All.  Today I will start with questions, following a strategy I’ve taught students to use when tackling an unfamiliar text.  Asking questions prior to starting a text leads to greater comprehension while also providing students with their own inquiry into a text. Starting with questions is also a norm at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School.  What follows here is my brainstorm of initial questions I have prior to diving into the reading.


  • What is the Kelleys’ definition of creativity?  Does it differ from my own idea that creativity involves an aesthetic appreciation of life and its truths? (This summer I am very interested in truths.)
  • What does it mean to have creative confidence? Is this a belief in your ability to make something worthwhile, something aesthetically pleasing, something meaningful?
  • I am participating in Enhancing your Professional Creativity workshop at SCAD later this month, and I am wondering how this text will connect with the work I’ll do in Savannah.
  • Charlie Rose is quoted on the dust jacket, praising the authors for sharing their secrets about “find[ing] out creative power.”  I wonder if the authors are concerned that Rose has lost his credibility as a journalist.  I wonder if this quote will appear on dust jackets printed for later editions.
  • I wonder what type of work I’ll need to do while reading.  Brené Brown mentions being inspired by the “real-life exercises” in the text.
  • A creative way of thinking, creative mindset, asks us to empathize with users while innovating and to tell compelling stories about our innovations.  My own inability to get out of my head when I am writing stymies my storytelling; I find myself clicking tabs on my browser instead of writing.  Will I learn how to get out of my head and turn off the internal censor?