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Creative confidence

Dear families and friends,

When I was a kid, I loved to draw and cartoon. At eight-years old, for example, I drew the Empire Strikes Back movie, frame by frame; I was so young that I didn’t even know how to draw fingers on the hands on the movie characters, and so they all had stumps for hands. Which totally foreshadowed the climactic scene where Darth Vader chops off Luke Skywalker’s hand, but I digress. I drew all through school. Some of my best drawing were on my school desks or even on my arms – I used to get sent to the office to have to scrub them both off on a regular basis. The point is, you couldn’t get me to stop drawing or cartooning. Yet two teachers that I had nearly turned me off to the whole thing.

One was an art teacher who managed to bore me to tears by spending all of her time teaching the colour wheel, and the science of what colour you get if you mix other colours together – it turned art into pie charts and math, and well, I was never very good at math. The other was my French teacher in grade 2. While a good teacher, she had this nasty controlling habit of taking over our art projects. She forced us to be precise and hew to her vision of what should be, what colours she wanted, what shapes she planned, what drawings she wanted. I’m sure our projects wound up looking terrific, and our parents probably oohed and awwed when they saw the end result, but I know there was a group of kids in my class who were checking out and dying a little bit inside with every perfect, planned project. There was nothing of us in that artwork, and we must have felt like those faceless child labourers in those vile sweatshops and factories in the developing world, slaving over work required by an evil foreman.

photo (1)Which brings me to last night’s Left Brain Right Brain Idea Fair, which we are all still on a high from. The projects and presentations were terrific, and I want to highlight how, by design, much of the work happened during school hours, and was done by the students themselves – I think some of the parents are still reeling from the fact that they did not have to do their children’s Idea Fair project! Real learning took place, and while some of the projects may not have “looked” like what my French teacher in grade 2 would have produced, it was theirs, and they owned it. Our students were front and centre, and they shone – they were the product and they were amazing. They stood and shared with visitors, friends and families all that they learned. They followed their curiosity and tried to make sense of all the information they had to learn, and learn they did. Priceless.

We’re teachers and we are parents, and we share a natural desire to see our children succeed. We want them to shine, and sometimes, that instinct takes over, come hell or high water, and while we say that we’re doing it for our kids, we know there is an aspect of parental or professional pride that is driving us at a just-below-the-consciousness level. And our kids stand there, and how many of them think: “That’s not my vision, that’s not how I wanted to draw it, it’s not my iideas – Mom, Dad, Teacher X, if you want to do your way, fine, but I’m checking out”. The project winds up looking terrific, but at what price?

photo (2)I came across an article recently by Suzie Boss, a journalist and PBL (project-based learning) advocate. In it she writes that creativity gurus (and brothers) David Kelley and Tom Kelley are on a mission to protect and promote what they call “creative confidence.” In their new book, Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All, they make the case that everyone has the capacity to be creative. What distinguishes the innovators from the rest of us, they add, is “believing in your ability to create change in the world around you.” they suggest that creative confidence “is like a muscle — it can be strengthened and nurtured through effort and experience.” They also warn of the lasting damage of “creativity scars… At the right age, a single cutting remark is sometimes enough to bring our creative pursuits to a standstill” (italics mine).

To our students and children I say: I am in awe of what you did last night. Your ideas were yours. And while the process of putting the project together may have required some help from your teachers or your parents, you were able to speak up for yourselves, share your creative ideas and vision, and have that drive the process, not the other way around.

To my art teacher and grade 2 teacher, and to all of you, I wish you a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach.

Mar Abba


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