Tom Hemingway, in a tribute post to Arthur C. Clarke titled “Stranger than (science) fiction,” introduced me to a new term this weekend which has me thinking. Tom wrote:

Such a creative iron man [Clarke] is both an inspiration and an embarrassment to most of us. I wonder how many of us will keep up and keep ahead as we get up into our 60s and 70s. Or will we succumb to creativity fatigue, watching timidly while our students (and our students’ students) pass through paradigm shifts that we today cannot imagine? In twenty years, will we still be twittering at SecondLife seminars, left behind in the dust while whole other new minds commune within other new virtual worlds?

How many teachers and students today suffer from “creativity fatigue?” That entire concept is very compelling for me. I suspect the answer is many. We all know teachers who seem to have stopped learning themselves, and seem to have lost (or in some cases never had) a real passion for learning and sharing that passion with others. Of course, generally we are fortunate to know other teachers at the opposite end of the spectrum, who seem to naturally exude an excitement and love of learning which is positively contagious. These are the learning leaders with whom students love to spend time, and who generally become the most powerful adult influencers on young minds in our classrooms.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if your school district launched a campaign to actively combat “creativity fatigue” for both teachers as well as students? What would a campaign against creativity fatigue look like? How would that battle be waged? What guest speakers, what classroom activities, what book studies would be welcomed in such a campaign?

Who is ready to start the first, formal school district campaign to tackle “creativity fatigue” head on? 🙂 If you are looking for good ideas, you might start with EduTopia and their free magazine subscription as well as e-newsletters for educators.

I NEVER want to suffer from creativity fatigue. Thankfully, that is an ailment which is contracted via volition rather than a process of biological infection. 🙂

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On this day..

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  • Wesley,

    I am one that burns the late night oil researching, learning, striving for self-improvement when it comes to technology integration/implementation creatively. However, my “fatigue” comes from trying to convince some secondary teachers and administrators that we can engage our students to the point of them wanting more. As as fellow believer in technology and using it as a tool to challenge and engage students of today, what advice do you have for one that feels “fatigued” as a result of peers not wanting to learn new resources and engage the students of today using tools that are common everyday applications.

  • Dean:

    The peer fatigue of the “yeah but” teachers (as Marco Torres calls them) can certainly be wearisome. Some specific advice ideas come to mind:

    1- I think too much of our focus has been placed historically, in edtech circles, on trying to change teachers instead of trying to empower students. If students are empowered, knowledgeable, and motivated to use technology tools in engaging and creative ways to demonstrate their mastery of assigned knowledge and skills, I think they can move the school reform agenda forward more powerfully than many teachers can. So I think we need to focus more on empowering students, rather than trying to change teachers.

    2- Our social networks are key in terms of avoiding pessimism and fatigue, when it comes to working with others who do not want to change. Since no one has to be an island anymore, the encouragement we receive here from each other is vital. I find that to be a daily encouragement, as I’m guessing you do as well. I think venting (as we can appropriately of course, respecting confidentiality and safety concerns) about situations and issues we are facing is VERY important, and can tangibly address those fatigue issues.

    3- I think digital storytelling is key in this conversation. Helping our students create and communicate compelling stories about issues that matter in our local community can do more to change people’s perceptions about educational technology and the role technologies can play in teaching and learning than lots of professional development workshops.

    4- Consider starting a book study at your school using Phil Schlecty’s excellent book “Working on the Work.” A lot of the conversations we need to have focus on pedagogy, rather than just technology. Schlecty’s book is the best one I’ve found yet which can help teachers do this in practical ways.

    I am not sure if the above is helpful or not. What you’re asking is a BIG question. Thankfully we have social networks now that we can at least (in many cases) access from home, if we want to take the time and make the effort to do so.

    Keep the faith! Educational change becomes a reality when we choose to change our own learning practices each day. You may not be seeing the change in many of the teachers you work with, but those who work with YOU see the changes in your own ideas and practices, and that DOES make a difference.

  • @Wesley
    Creative fatigue is what prevents schools from changing and moving away from the industrial model based on an agricultural calendar. I think one interesting way to jolt the reality home at a faculty meeting would be to do the following:

    Bring in a savy 12 year old from another school. Ask each teacher to have brought a copy of their latest test with them. In most schools this will be some multiple choice or true / false bit that is easy to grade and requires memorization.

    The 12 year old with google in a matter of minutes answers all the questions correctly having had no previous experience in the class. The presenter then poses the question, “Why do we need you?” “Are you relevant?” “In light of what just happened why should the district, state, school employ you?”

    It would be fun and powerful.

  • Charlie: I think what you are proposing could certainly make for a lively PD opportunity, but whether or not it would end up being constructive could depend a lot on how the conversation is led and facilitated after the activity. Lots of teachers already are very fearful about technology and worry it could displace them. The conversation needs to be, in my view, about how our roles as teachers must evolve and change rather than go away in light of the connections and learning technology networks can facilitate. Again I return to Schlechty’s “Working on the Work” idea, that the focus of teachers should be inventing and designing work that is potentially engaging for students. I think the activity you propose is a very “in your face” way of stimulating a discussion about these issues, but I think the leader(s) of the PD need to be intentional about sharing ideas and a framework with teachers for how they can move forward. Otherwise, the message teachers walk away with might be, “You ARE irrelevant and will be replaced by CAI software at our school soon.” I think that is the wrong message, and it would be unfortunately if teachers walked away from a potentially constructive conversation about technology and pedagogic change feeling even more fearful and resistant to change their instructional ways.

    If you actually implement this PD activity with teachers please let me know how it goes and what your lessons learned are afterwards, along with those of others. 🙂

  • I think there’s a larger, underlying issue here: ‘innovation fatigue.’ School districts keep rolling out new programs / paradigms that aren’t well thought out, understood, or supported. Teachers rationally get tired and skeptical after years of this. And then we outside folks roll in saying ‘here’s the next big thing!’ and their eyes begin to roll back in their heads…

    Second thought: no one stops learning. Seriously. I’m not sure as a human that it’s possible to stop learning. Teachers just might not be learning what we want them to (because they’re not interested / engaged)…

    Final thought: one cause for ‘creativity fatigue’ in K-12 educators may be the constant quashing from above. Learners / innovators tend to want to implement what they learn! The school systems that are set up to systemically support innovative, out-of-the-box thinking (or even simple, useful suggestions) by classroom teachers are few and far between.

  • Ditto on what Scott said – I’ve been calling it the “Tyranny of the New”, but I’m not sure where that phrase comes from originally. It’s sort of an American disease, although not exclusive to us.

    I think if I were suffering from this, the last thing I’d want is a “creativity campaign” orchestrated to “fix” me. That’s an eye-roller for sure.

  • I’m almost done with Dan Pink’s book on right brain/left brain; in the book, he gives tips for writing creative stories, and he mentions going to a teacher on how to draw. I’d certainly welcome workshops in my district such as these, with the understanding that each person has their own creative aptitudes and strengths. But behind any training must be a culture that celebrates our creativity. I imagine some are put-off on creative thought simply because they’re in a job that too many times has squelched creativity. Our administrators and our teachers are often focused on getting through standardized testing.

    Blame who you will about that. But I’m glad this conversation is taking place and I plan to stay posted on other thoughts on this. I live to be creative and I hope my own creativity inspires others to be likewise minded in our district.

  • Sylvia: Yes, I guess a creativity campaign could easily sound hokey and cheesy. We probably don’t need to worry about many school districts starting a campaign like this. Our schools are generally focused on taking the conservative road, whenever possible, and those advocating for creativity are generally not those in positions of leadership. Still, if a school leader was to advocate genuinely for creativity and innovation, that would be a welcome change. I think grant programs like the one I heard about at NCCE in Seattle sponsored by Qwest, which actually put teachers in charge of their grant budgets, may have some of the best potential to empower creative teachers with the resources they require to implement novel ideas.

  • Now there’s a novel idea, put teachers in charge of the resources they need and see what happens. Love that!

  • Wes, I was alerted to your post via Scott McLeods blog. I agree with your comment regarding empowering students, practical approaches for teachers and participation in educational networks.

    What are additional possibilities to negate ‘creativity fatigue’ within teachers? Years ago the University of Wollongong in NSW, Australia, offered a Graduate Certificate in History Education for current teachers. The course provided the participants with an update regarding current trends in historical research and historiography, an update on trends in Australian history and finally a component on the use of technology in teaching history. The course was completed in a single year part time. It was free. It was enlightening, rejuvenating and all of the participants benefited. It certainly worked for me. It was a watershed in my own teaching career.

    Alternatively, opportunities could be provided for teachers to take sabbaticals or work experience in a different field, probably related to education. These experiences can ‘recharge batteries’ and allow for a chance to refocus. Some teachers may indeed discover that their vocation lies in a different direction. That would also be a positive outcome.

    Finally, senior staff and administrators, out of touch with the classroom could reground themselves with real classroom teaching experience. Get them out of the office or cubicle. Not likely to happen but in the event it did enlightenment may take place.

    Scott, I agree with your thoughts regarding the roll out of programmes year after year that are not well considered (or perhaps lack inadequate follow through). Teachers do indeed roll their eyes. Practical programmes with meaningful follow-up and small achievable goals should be given priority. A practical commonsense approach to professional development, preferably provided by fellow teachers on secondment to the administration providing the pd.

    Cheers, John

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