Building a culture of creativity

What is creativity?


Perhaps more importantly, why does it matter?

These are questions that have fallen into my head over the last little while, and it has me thinking about what we do as educators that allows for learner creativity.

According to the IB, ‘we believe every person has the ability, and the right, to be creative’.

So what do we do about it? How might we build a culture of creativity? What are we already doing that fosters creativity?

We look at the 8 Cultural Forces and consider how they might connect to a culture of creativity:

  • What kinds of opportunities do we offer for creativity?
  • How might we express our learning in different ways?
  • What opportunities do we give to problem solve or problem find?
  • What kind of enrichment activities can we offer to foster creativity?
  • How might we make better use of time to be creative as learners and teachers?
  • How can we move beyond having specific times for creative pursuits? E.g. iTime
  • How can we ensure that learners aren’t ‘rushing’ to finish their learning?
  • What are our expectations about creativity?
  • How might we distribute teaching and learning?
  • What do we value in the process of learning?
  • How might we promote (and foster) creativity?
  • How does the language we use in the learning space impact on student creativity
  • How might we celebrate and share student creativity?
  • How might student collaboration impact on creativity?
  • How might we assess creativity?
  • How might we make creativity routine?
  • Which thinking routines lend themselves to thinking creatively?
  • How can we encourage students to think creatively and therefore ‘do’ creative things? E.g. making, designing, speaking, writing etc.
  • How do we create an environment that inspires creativity?
  • How might we give our learning space more purpose?
  • How does our learning environment allow for student voice and choice?
  • How does the environment promote sharing and collaboration?
  • How do we value the interactions we have surrounding creativity?
  • How might we have better conversations about the process of learning?
  • How might we model creativity?
  • What does the sharing process look like?
  • How might teachers be encouraged to ‘break the wheel’ of doing school?
  • How might we model thinking in different ways?
  • How might we share different approaches?

So to take this further, we wondered: What is the intersection between agency and creativity? I think it’s less like a T-intersection and more like one of those multi-entry round-a-bout type setups.

But in order to respond to this deep question, we head back to the start of our inquiry: What is creativity, and why does it matter?


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On Agency, et alia

I ask my students what the word ‘agency’ means to them:

  • A group of secret people who make sure that everyone is on task
  • A place where people can learn or help others
  • It means you have choice
  • It means you can choose where you go

The central idea for our new unit of inquiry is ‘We grow as learners through meaningful, purposeful inquiry’. I explain to them that I will be handing over the responsibility of planning the independent inquiry over to them. They will have ownership over the skills, dispositions, concepts, and knowledge they acquire through this process.

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Graphic from Year 6 unit planning meeting, via @whatedsaid

I show the students how the teachers plan for units of inquiry, that we share our ideas out on a table with whiteboard markers (and coffee) so we can scribble, brain-dump, discuss and document our thinking. I go through the four quadrants and explain what they are, why we put those points down and how they are each equally important to the learning process.

Today, after a conversation with a student late in the afternoon yesterday, I offer to model this planning process with anyone who wishes to see it. I’ll use a table in the room and whoever can fit around the table is free to join, contribute, pinch ideas, come and go, ask questions or take photos.

We consider as a small group of five how we might build on L’s idea about using his knowledge about technology, namely gaming, coding, and hardware to further develop him as both a learner and a person. Some ideas include connecting the particular skills, such as communication or self-management skills.

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L planning his own Unit of Inquiry with the table planner

L is a technology aficionado… he and I both know he is very handy when it comes to his astute knowledge of technology devices, gaming, coding, hardware etc. He says he’s already really comfortable supporting others with technology, but wants to take it to the next level, something more real, and we discuss the concept of entrepreneurship.

And so, Shift-T is born, his company name (and a take on his nickname). Now that he can name his inquiry, he already has bought into the first steps of the journey and it is his. We discuss that given he already has such a wealth of knowledge about technology, that we could learn more about him as a person through this inquiry.

Documenting for reflection

As such, this learner will inquire into:

  • How to support others
  • How to build a business
  • How businesses communicate effectively

The planner with student-selected skills, dispositions, concepts and knowledge

Rather than this inquiry becoming more time for a tech-savvy student to spend with technology, he is going to explore how he can build confidence, tolerance for others, responsibility and independence by supporting his peers and teachers.


Sharing ideas with Jina

Already, we have:

  • A business name;
  • Ideas for a logo;
  • Plans for him to spend some time with the ICT support team in the secondary school;
  • Ideas for how he can build his public speaking skills by running workshops for students (and teachers?)

Exciting times ahead for this guy…

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Dear Mr and Mrs Kuran…

I used to fear getting my reports sent home when I was a student. Not that I was the worst behaved in the class, but I was far from the best. I loved school; loved being with my friends, finding areas of interest that I could take further, the semi-competitive yet still friendly nature of assessed ‘work’. But still, parent-teacher interviews and report time gave me the chills. I felt like this…


“Uh oh. I’m a dead man.”

I was, and still am, blessed with two amazing parents who gave their all for me to go to school. Simply, they didn’t want me to waste my time. They wanted me to soak it all in, be the best learner I could be, and that was enough for them. They wanted me to be a happy kid, and still today, want nothing but the best for me, not from me.

I reflect. On the chats around the dinner table. On the way I may have twisted some stories about my ‘successes’: The assignment that I did really well in; the test I aced; the speech I gave that drew a standing ovation.

I regret those moments. I should have been honest. I should have communicated better. I should have respected them enough to take responsibility for my own action (and inactions).

And so I thought – it’s been 13 years since my parents read a report about my progress as a learner. Why not surprise my mum (for her birthday) with an update. About my 2016. The ups. The downs. The successes. The struggles. The real me.

Dean Kuran – Grade 6, 2016

Dean is a caring, enthusiastic learner who has taken many risks this year in his pursuit of being the best member of the school community he can be. He has demonstrated the qualities of being a risk-taker, moving into a new learning environment and being willing to take on new challenges, including a lunchtime drone-flying club, presenting and hosting TeachMeets, giving his students more ownership of their learning – while discovering the delicate line between ownership and anarchy -, being ready to speak up and accept when he has made mistakes and responding positively to constructive criticism.

Dean has been resilient in the face of unforeseen circumstances, for both himself and his peers.  He has focused on finding a balance between extra-curricular activities and non-negotiable tasks. Dean has sought assistance from experts as he looks to take the next step in his development as a facilitator of learning, and has enjoyed experimenting more with inquiry approaches to writing and mathematics. He has dabbled in mindfulness, breathing exercises and a healthier lifestyle to reduce his stresses, and to assist those who also need time to regulate their emotions. 

Dean enjoys developing his learners into effective communicators so that they are confident and feel secure when they speak. He focuses on creating an environment that is safe, welcoming, flexible and energetic. Sometimes, the energy levels can reach a point that may not be conducive for effective learning, and Dean is encouraged to be more composed and forthright with this expectations. 

As an inquirer, Dean has experimented with a variety of approaches to his learning, including the split-screen method,  various thinking routines like this (a personal favourite, particularly in Number), and team-teaching. He has become so aware that learning is not about the product; it is about the process. The trials and tribulations. The new skills we learn, and the old skills we extend. The knowledge we gain. The actions we take. 

He is supported by a close network of mentors, peers and incredible learning support staff, who have enabled him to think deeply about the kind of educator, member of staff and person he wants to be for his students and those around him. He loves a walk down the road for a coffee too. 

Above all, Dean seeks two qualities from his learners, and they are the two that were sought from him by his parents; respect and responsibility.

Dean understands that there is a long way to go on this learning journey, but he is excited for what is to come next.

Process, not product.

Actions, not words.


Those ears though…

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Student choice and ownership of learning


Our goal for this year is to ‘Increase opportunities for ownership of learning’. We, as a whole class, have discussed what owning learning means. The responses were profound:

  • Teachers walk us to the door – but they don’t push us through
  • Teachers can tell us where to go  – we choose how to get there
  • We can learn the way we want to – some like independence, some like groups
  • Making good choices about how, where and with whom we learn

It has been interesting to tie this closely to our inquiry into how people make decisions, the influences and impacts of such decisions. Students are exploring a range of learning styles and approaches as they reflect upon what works best for them. They are communicating their decisions to one another and reflecting on their learning experiences.

We are exploring writing and will be creating narratives that also link to decision making. I ask my students to think about the difference between being a writer and being an author. They consider which one they would rather be, and the skills and mindsets that need to be developed.

Interestingly, but unsurprisingly, their responses include:

  • Good spelling
  • Remember punctuation
  • Neat handwriting
  • Be descriptive
  • Use vocabulary

We discussed some authors that we are familiar with, including Rowling, Gleitzman, Dahl, Tolkien, Jennings to name a few. Do our students think these contemporaries are concerned about the above skills?

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So why can’t we move beyond what we think teachers want us to say? Does neat handwriting mean your writing is more creative? Does great vocabulary really make your writing that much better? Will a missing comma here, an extra apostrophe there really make such a difference to the overall authorship?

We are talking about developing a setting for our narrative. We decide as a class that authors create an visual image in the reader’s mind of where the story is taking place. Authors play on our senses:

  • ‘A deafening silence fell across the room…’
  • ‘Smashed glass, glistening like sparkling crystal, lay over the floor…’
  • ‘The clouds floated like marshmallows…’
  • ‘I felt the sand under my toes…’

We create an X-chart of four senses and use words and phrases that we could use in our writing in the future.

Sensory ideas fill our personal literacy books.

Now what? I asked students what they think authors would do…

  • B identifies that he has used a range of metaphors in his X-chart. We discuss what a metaphor is, and he realises that he has in fact used similes. He expresses his enjoyment and desire to develop them into more complex sentences, then posts them on the blog and shares his thinking with a global audience.
  • R is able to recognise that he has repeated words such as walk and say. He thinks he can add adverbs and synonyms to modify his pre-planning and stands at the tall table at the back of the room.
  • M is so excited to create a whole paragraph to build tension in her setting, so places her headphones on with her choice of music, sits on the floor with a small table and hones her skills.
  • R adds colour to her writing, because, as she suggests, colours give a sense of emotion and feeling in different settings.
  • J takes more time on his X-chart because he wants to have a bigger bank of ideas, and will decide later how he will expand on them

As a class of 26 we are all developing our writing skills. However, we are doing so in ways that we can later identify as our own.

I’ve learned there is a difference between student engagement and student ownership.

A difference between doing school and real learning

We need to challenge our learners to be independent thinkers, and reflect on their learning.

We need to share, celebrate and act on the way our students learn best.


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Letting Go of Ticking Boxes

This term we have been exploring addition and subtraction in our number strand. Our data informed us that many of our students had already reached benchmark level for the end of the year. I had been struggling to find learning engagements for my students that would spark curiosity, provoke questioning and drive mathematical inquiry and thinking.

We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.’

Considering this, I placed three words on the whiteboard:

Split… Jump… Compensation…

I ask my students what they thought these words had to do with:

  • They must have to do with addition and subtraction because that’s what we’re learning
  • I remember seeing those words a while ago
  • They might be things we do to work out problems

A healthy start. I wondered what questions they might have to guide some independent inquiry:

  • Why do we need to split numbers?
  • Can we use all those words at once?
  • Which one is the easiest to do?
  • What does compensation mean?
  • How do we find out what they mean?

‘Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.’

Reflecting on the first half of the term, perhaps I had made assumptions about what the children had to know and the way they needed to learn. I had neglected to remember the way learning happens for the most positive results – it’s not my job to continue to question my students; they should be directing their own learning and exploration through their own questioning.

‘Learning is active and social and is enhanced by collaboration and interaction.’

They dispersed around our space; some to iPads, others to Chromebooks, some to poster paper. Some independent, some in collaboration with others. But the key was the freedom and ‘no-holds-barred’ approach to their inquiry.

I could walk around the space, see how and what each student was learning, and check in when I needed to. I could support and scaffold those who were not feeling as confident with the concepts.

‘Learning includes acquisition of skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to different contexts.’

  • Mr Kuran, I just learned about friendly numbers, which end with 0 or 5
  • Mr Kuran, the jump strategy is like what we did when we looked at number lines
  • Mr Kuran, the split strategy is the easiest to do
  • Mr Kuran, this video doesn’t explain the strategy as well as the last one
  • Mr Kuran, this website was helpful because it uses pictures to explain the process

The first notable change here was that my students weren’t ‘learning by box-ticking’. They were learning authentically. They didn’t concern themselves with what they ‘expected’ me to see.

Maybe it’s a little bit like when students write a narrative text and stick to an adherent structure because ‘that’s what Mr X taught us to do’. It is no reflection of them as a learner or thinker *cough NAPLAN cough*.

As we moved through the lesson, I noticed some students sharing their ideas with others. Some picked up strategies quicker than others. Some required further explanation. Students were teaching students! But that wasn’t in the memo!!??

‘Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, which support learners taking ownership of their learning.’

Come the end of the lesson, each student had something to show and share (which I neglected to leave time for – note to self for next time!) about their learning. Some used their books. Others created collaborative presentations using Google Slides. One student embedded a helpful YouTube video to his slideshow because he wanted to share his ideas with others.

In our lesson later in the week, we proudly shared our thinking and made connections to our prior learning:

  • The split strategy is what we use when we look at place value
  • The compensation strategy could be really helpful with worded problems and estimating
  • The jump strategy is helpful when we look at bigger numbers on number lines

And more questions:

  • Will all the strategies work for subtraction too?
  • How do we know when it is the right time to use a strategy?

J loved the freedom of being able to put his own ideas down on paper. E suggested that having to go find their own responses meant they had to use their brains!

‘Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.’

I had preconceived ideas for what my students would find meaningful and challenging. I put myself in their shoes and made assumptions about how, what and why they need to understand. This time they had a voice.

I was too direct with my instruction. This time I took a risk and let them go.

My idea of inquiry learning has changed a lot. This has happened through my own self-assessment and data collection. I need to hold myself back a bit and trust the process. Trust inquiry as a stance, not a ‘thing we do‘.

Giving students opportunities where what I can see is a reflection of them as learners. I want them thinking. 

It’s not always just ‘what the teacher wants’. It’s not always about ticking boxes. 

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5 Things That Are Growing On Me In Education

  1. Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset
  2. The generosity and professionalism of my PLN
  3. The moral obligation we have as educators to share with others what works (and what doesn’t)
  4. Making learning more purposeful through a culture of thinking
  5. Being a leader and driving positive change

Thank you to Eric Sheninger, George Couros, my #aussieED family, my colleagues, my teaching team, and my incredible mentor for challenging me to be better.


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Google Apps for Education – Planning, Assessment, Collaboration

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