These are my notes from Peter Gamwell’s presentation, “Creating Conditions for the Extraordinary” on November 1, 2011, at the 2011 Oklahoma Creativity Forum. Today’s program is available in PDF format.


Peter Gamwell is the Superintendent of Instruction, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

Flow involves entering an energized state of mind during which attention becomes undivided and motivation is absolutely intrinsic
– it happens to all of us at different points, through different abilities in our lives
– for me this happens playing in a rock band
– I also absolutely love research

But in school, not so much
– in school I was the ‘classic clown’ and did almost nothing
– I understand why now

3 key messages:
– need to challenge ourselves to think and act from a strength based perspective rather than a deficit based perspective
– need to recognize, value and tap into creative capacities of those around us
– we need to foster a culture of engagement

the world is too complicated to just work on a whiteboard
– solution is to turn the whiteboard upside down, imagine the magical future you want to bring to your organization, and set processes in motion that bring that future forward

Often as soon as people come into their places of work, they leave their creative capacities behind
– we must tap into the amazing capacities of the people in our organizations
– in a culture of engagement people naturally want to contribute
– we are 5 years into this journey in our district
– there are too many formal leaders who use control as a means of maintaining the status quo

My future book: some of the stories that have been done to me to try and stop this movement
– surround yourself with people who can help you move this forward

Problem solving versus appreciative inquiry

Maxine Greene: You see and value what is not yet and work to bring it into being. that is what i call social imagination

we have to stop pretending that solutions form the past will translate into successful solutions for the future

3 key themes:
imagination, creativity, and innovation

these are the 3 themes which are guiding us
– we are expending our conception of literacy (and that narrow understanding) which has been holding us back

the standardization movement has not only been holding back educational systems, but business systems/organizations as well

devastating impact when people in an organization feel their creativity isn’t valued in their environment

150 years of evolution in education has produced this system, where we

we were at the imagination summit in July in New York
– director of LA school board said “the education system is very successful at doing what it was designed to do, it brilliantly moves along a very limited amount of ability (language and mathematics skills) for a very limited number of students)
– we have to be more hopeful and challenge ourselves to move to the future

3 vehicles for transformative change (to be revealed later)

We did a study for OCDSB 6 years ago
– what are our understandings as a district of ‘ideal leadership?’
– remarkable results
– we found out we were doing really bad as a school district, this gave us a baseline
– we need to create a dynamic, imaginative learning environment in our school district
– if we don’t have this now, that’s an opportunity to be embraced

Activity: when you think of the world creativity, what other words come to mind?

Challenge: how do you define creativity


Now sharing an idea from Tim (?)
– he wanted to setup a company based on friendship
– this is a design company

whole concept of the company is they play with ideas: through role play and other methods

Ken Robinson talks about how we educate kids OUT of creativity

John Goodlad said in “A Nation at Risk “if an outside agency had imposed our existing educational system on the United States it would be perceived as an act of war”

Next activity on your paper: draw your neighbor

action research: what are the conditions under which creative individuals and organizations flourish?


Next activity: make a flying machine with your paper

next: deliver this onto the 4 x 4 piece of carpet here at the front of our classroom

Creating Conditions for the Extraordinary by Peter Gamwell

We have an annual conference now, regularly challenge everyone in our district to take creativity and imagination and weave it into what you do on a daily basis

Now hearing from Jeff, the lead custodian for our district who leads the mentoring program for custodians in our schools
– We’ve put together a mentoring program for custodians and facilities / maintenance staff
– mentoring has more traditionally been focused on academic staff, but it has a lot to contribute to facilities support staff
– creativity in this: there are never 2 situations exactly alike, this brings forth our resourcefulness, being able to make quick decisions, resolve different problems
– we need to draw from within ourselves to get the best results

Last year Burns Hargis said creativity is not just someone locked in a room, like a mad scientist
– it can be found anywhere, all we need to do is be able to recognize the people we work with
– mentoring is a way to connect with those people and be able to tap into those hidden talents which may be rarely seen

Custodians in our school have the ability to influence the course of any child’s education
– it’s important to maintain a very open and welcoming environment in the school
– the more children feel welcome in the school, the more they will want to be there and the more comfortable they are going to want to be

From Dan Pink in “Drive” – autonomy, mastery and purpose
– by giving people the ability to change what they are doing in the system, encouragement to move forward: this is VERY important
– then they can learn from those around them and archive mastery, and do the best they can do for themselves as well as the organization

breaking down those barriers which have been built up, in doing that you are going to achieve purpose individually and organizationally

In our initial study, our custodians reported they felt very disconnected

Now hearing from Michael Wendler (I teach grade 4/5 – 9 and 10 year old children)
– Creative Initiatives in the Classroom
– immersing ourselves into the creative process
– embrace the unexpected

Michael Wendler on Classroom Creativity

First I want to talk about my son: The Precocious Paleontologist
– story of him eating a dragonfly at a museum when he was expecting a serious question

Lesson story focused on providing students with a powerful experience
– “The Griffin” (our school mascot)
– we were going to build together
– kids spent almost the entire year during recess time
– meaning of this was the dialog that started happening between the kids as they were working on this project

Big challenge was creating the wings
– local artist gave idea from the community: wood, old bed sheet, cut water bottles

The griffin was invited to a larger conference focused on educational creativity
– led to unexpected situations

As a teacher I need to give up some of my own direction, and allow the conversation and dialog students have to be what shapes where the project is going
– I want the students immersed in the process, I want them to take risks and make mistakes
– as I (the teacher) am taken out of the equation, this can happen

Connecting to Creativity Conference hosted by the OCDSB
– started a blog to share this experience with parents
– direction of the blog became a showcase, much more than a newsletter
– too often as teachers we are focused on the weaknesses of kids, and focusing on those
– as students took over the showcase blog, the children war showcasing their strengths

Threads start to weave their way through the community as a project like this develops
– example: slate rocks from the community, found fossils in the rock
– started to get comments from others around the world as we posted those, even a comment from a paleontologist

We are embracing a new way to teach math, through problem solving and critical thinking
– to teach this way, you have to be guided by what students are doing in the classroom
– buy in from teachers is very challenging with this

This is about letting go of some of your control

2 blog sites for Mr Wendler’s class:
– last year:
– this year:

Elliot Eisner’s research on forms of representation is critical when we talk about education and creativity
– everyone represents their understanding of the world in a different way
– if you block the door to the way people understand and represent the world, you have shut down the door to that person

Book reccs from Peter:

“The Power Of Mindful Learning” by Ellen Langer

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer (: Creativity in the Workplace, impact of it on people’s lives, summary of 3 year longitudinal study


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  1. […] sorry I missed Bulent Atalay, Devery Youngblood, Ramona Paul, Jay Martin, James Catterall, Peter Gamwell, Sarah Staton, Kristin Zimmerman, and John […]

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