Thursday, 20 April 2017

Our growing understanding of what creativity looks like

What will it look like once we are that centre of creative excellence that we aspire to be? None of us knows yet. I have given examples of what creativity could look like in the daily life of a school, and each of these still holds true.

However even after only 6 months on the journey we are coming to other ways of thinking about creative excellence too. Here's one.

Creative excellence could involved all members of our community being prepared to take more risks with our learning. Let me give a couple of examples for our teaching staff.

Our music and drama teachers came to us and said, let us work together in common or shared spaces. Let's both work in what until now we have called the auditorium and music rooms. Let's redevelop our ways of working so that we are more collaborative, so that we integrate what we do for the benefit of students. I had already asked the Board to use some funds to support what the Ministry of Education terms 'pedagogical prototyping', which when translated means playing around with different ways of causing learning. The money was tagged specifically to altering the physical structures of our built environment, and the furniture with which we work.

Now if you have never worked in a school you may wonder how hard that can be but trust me, as a teacher that's one heck of a scary thing to suggest. Its one heck of a risk to take because it means working in ways that you haven't done before. It's like asking an engineer to re-imagine the motorcar.

After one term these staff has done amazing things. They have had great moments, and dreadful moments. But they have been risk takers, and they have learned. They are in the process of re-imagining performing arts education within our Hornby High School context within the new space that we have called 'Whare toi whakaari'.

Another example: I have also been pushing for the extension of our Business and Arts kete from just years 7 and 8, to include Year 9 this year, and year 10 next year.  As stand alone units for Years 7 and 8 these have been very successful, building incredibly high levels of student engagement and achievement. But they are not the way classes traditionally work in Years 9 and 10. Staff have been resourced with the time to work collaboratively to think through how this could work. In the last few weeks of the term Heads of Department had a series of those 'aha' moments that can only be described as in the best traditions of 'creative excellence'. We have a definite way forward, an exciting way forward. It may not be our final answer, but we have to take risks to improve, and it's worth remembering (as I say to our staff) that by definition sometimes risks don't pay off. But it's okay to fail!!!! We just have to learn from each failure, to not repeat the same failure.

A final example: Our mathematicians came to us and said "can we knock holes in walls, can we open up the spaces between clasrooms? That would allow us more flexibility to group and regroup students to better support their learning." We said yes.

These examples represent an evolution of practice, the willingness to take risks, that will I think be a defining part of our culture of 'creative excellence'.

It would be odd for us to expect our students to use our Manaiakalani pedagogy 'Learn Create Share' if we weren't also willing to use it ourselves to support our own professional learning and development.

As a footnote, the development of a growth mindset and a willingness to take enterprising risks is one of our three strategic goals. We have seen the beginnings of a return to the willingness of years ago for students to try new things, to perform in public, to put themselves out there and take risks whether on the stage or the league field. There is a long way to go, but such risk taking for our students is also an essential part of their 'Learn Create Share' journey.

And you know what? At the risk of jinxing things, achievement in the school as measured with internal NCEA standards is tracking ahead of last year at the end of term 1. It's early days, but this is an aspirational thing. We need to dream big dreams, to believe.

We are building a broader understanding of what creative excellence may look like at Hornby High School.

Nga mihi nui
R Sutton


  1. Thanks for another thought provoking blog Robin.You touch on a number of important themes.
    1. teachers taking risks and learning from mistakes. Graham Henry, the ex All Black coach once said, you learn more from your losses than your victories. The key is to learn from your mistakes and not repeat them! This is great role modelling for our students. If they see their teachers taking risks and making mistakes, they are more likely to have a go at things also.
    2. re-imaging and re-defining teaching and learning, and education. If we are to accelerate student achievement for those in the 'tail of underachievement', we cannot keep doing the same things. Learn Create Share and the affordances of digital technology is having a positive impact on student achievement throughout the Uru Mānuka cluster.
    3. open-mindset (Carol Dweck). This happens first with staff. Once staff have grasped this concept, they can then model this with students. I believe open-mindset aligns beautifully with the disposition of being a lifelong learner.

    The outcome of the above will forge the path to creative excellence!
    You are a great role model for Learn Create Share Robin - keep up the stirling work!

  2. Kia ora Robin,
    Great to see your questioning and thinking along with examples from your school. I agree with you that permission to fail is vital.
    It would be wonderful to be able to allow others to follow your blog so as to read more of the journey - you can add a gadget.

    Ngā mihi,

  3. Ki ora Robin
    I love forward thinking and the willingness to take risks and rethink modern learning. I look forward to hearing more about your journey