It's been almost 10 years (nine years and 49 weeks to be exact) since I first heard Mo Willems articulate an idea in the adult world that has powerful transfer to the kid world. Perhaps it is even more coincidental that the Final Four is taking place in the Twin Cities this weekend.
You can find his original sentiment on National Public Radio in 2009, when Willems was their Resident Radio Cartoonist, and again in 2013 when speaking with CNN. "There is a day in everybody's life when they realize that they're not going to be a professional basketball player and they're not going to be a professional cartoonist. It's usually the same week," he said. "But people keep playing basketball. And they stop drawing. And I just think that that's such a waste."
Why is this still timely? Because kids and families are still asking for the arts and creativity to be alive and well in the classrooms of 2019. When we take away the opportunity to practice those skills and work those creative muscles, they atrophy, just like in an activity like basketball.
As the new Supervisor for Talent Development and Acceleration Services in Saint Paul Public Schools this fall, I have engaged with more families over more hours than I can count of one-on-one phone conversations about children's test results and portfolio review results. (Beyond universal CogAT screening of kindergarten and second grade students, Saint Paul's identification process also includes a portfolio review that allows teachers and families to submit artifacts or evidence of a particular child’s exceptional talents, skills, and abilities, that may not show up on a CogAT.)
Reflecting back on these phone calls with families, two things struck me: a) kids’ artistic and creative production are major indicators to the adults around them of out-of-the-ordinary thinking and exceptionality; and b) opportunities for students (identified or not) to “show up” in the classroom and engage those parts of their brain continue to take a back seat to skills-based mindsets in education—and families are searching for these opportunities for their kids.
In my Confratute strand, I'm excited to engage participants in thinking about creativity in new ways, starting with their own talent development and using that mindset when developing learning environments for students. We will work with tools that integrate perception, reflection, and inquiry (all while slowing down the pace of the world around us) to "go slow to go fast." As a bonus, these tools are great for staff rooms and classrooms alike, so instructional leaders outside the classroom may be interested in attending as well.
We need strategies for engaging our creative brain, and these need not be impeded by our lack of identifying as "creative" or "artistic" ourselves. Skills are often just new vocabulary—kinesthetic practices for our muscles, thinking strategies for our brains. This means practicing seeing, hearing, drawing, rhyming, moving—and more. We will practice these to expand our skill set—our toolkit—so that more aspects of teaching and learning will honor the creativity that our students automatically bring with them to our classrooms—and those (sometimes) dormant energies that lie beneath the surface of ourselves.
And, as an additional bonus, I'm also excited to back directing the ConfraChorus, when I get to be your personal trainer!