Friday, July 15, 2011

How do you motivate teachers to be creative?

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I love to write with a picture in mind, even if the subject doesn't necessarily connect to the topic, I will make it connect. So if you read this, you can give me a thumbs-up or -down on how well I connect this picture to what I'm about to write!

In this photo, I am four and my brother is two. We were brought into a photographic studio of a tall blonde woman who had a large studio with big, rectangular shaped lights. I wasn't thrilled about having my picture taken with my dopey (sorry, Bob) little brother to begin with, and then we were asked to sit together on a table all cozy while the photographer struggled with her equipment. When she was finally ready to take our picture I had already had enough of her fussing, ignoring moi, and giving us curt commands. I did not want to smile and I definitely didn't want to look directly into the big rectangular light that  hurt my eyes. I fidgeted, and kept looking away. My mother, somewhere to my right, pleaded with me to cooperate. You can see from the picture that I did. but I was not happy about it!

What, does this have to do with motivating teachers to be creative, you may well ask, and with good reason! I will attempt to explain.

In the first place one has to consider that there are preschools where teachers and management have little interest in creativity in the first place. I am  not going to go there. They have their own reward, as they say in church. I am talking about how schools that have NAEYC accreditation, and have, in their literature, explanations of how their curriculum is creative, stimulating and developmentally appropriate. How does management--"heads of school", directors, and other administrators--motivate its teaching staff to go beyond creating the everyday, ordinary curricular learning experiences that usually satisfy the majority of parents who know little of what can really be done in the service of learning in its broadest sense?

One model I know of does it this way: Teachers are told to create exciting learning activities aligned with the school's yearly curricular goals and its literacy curriculum. Coming into the situation, a new faculty member believes that she can, within the parameters of the school's curriculum, create learning experiences that are as creative and interesting to children as possible, drawing from the world's cultures, traditions and arts to do so. But this teacher soon gets a surprise! Just as my four-year-old self came into a room of cold light, and admonishments to be still and smile, this teacher is asked to put aside her ideas and try to emulate other teachers, the reasoning being that if one teacher does something different, parents will demand the same from other teachers. Go ahead and be creative, but don't "show up your colleagues".

Imagine if the four-year-old, instead of being asked to sit still and stare while the photographer was getting ready, was given permission to explore the studio with parental guidance, and then asked how she would like to pose? I know, it isn't an analogy that quite fits (thumbs-down?), but there is some parallel here. Bear with me.

A second program expresses that it wants teachers to be creative, to bring their own strengths to the job of teaching young children. If teachers do projects that are different from those of other teachers, administrators encourage it, and when parents ask for the same in other classrooms, the pressure is on those teachers to be more creative, to make more connections, to go beyond the boundaries of the average aggregate of activities that are ordinarily used. That the administration has the back of the creative teacher ensures instruction and planning will evolve into new learning and new experiences.

Which way do you like? In which program would you want to teach?