Creative Freedom Through Being Autonomous

“The ultimate freedom for creative groups is the freedom to experiment with new ideas. Some skeptics insist that innovation is expensive. In the long run, innovation is cheap. Mediocrity is expensive—and autonomy can be the antidote.”   TOM KELLEY General Manager, IDEO”
I know that many people are aware of Daniel Pink and his books which are well received by many. I have read them and thought through the quotes and references, and spent time thinking about  the people he talks about time and time again. This has lead to many searches, and lots of reading, and some things stick with me. The above quote has been pasted on the back of a journal in my briefcase for two years. I haven't been able to get it out of my head for a myriad of different reasons most importantly the focus on creativity and mediocrity. 

As a teacher this is a huge part of my life the idea of mediocrity scares me.Why? I wonder if our current educational system actually leads to more mediocrity than excellence. As educators we know the discussions, we know the comments, we know the push to place blame and reinvent and change, but I wonder if autonomy in two senses could actually be the true difference. Can we allow students to be autonomous in some of their learning? Can we be autonomous in some of our teaching? Don't get me wrong-- I firmly believe in collaboration and working together, but sometimes things need to happen one person at a time. Because sometimes it is one person starts the flame that launches the rocket of innovation, creativity, and ideas. 

I had the deep pleasure of meeting with people from around the world at the Biennial of the Americas here in Denver this week. A convocation of world leaders, great minds, innovative speakers and participants lead to some hard thinking about our future in the western hemisphere. With issues mounting in the areas of poverty, the unstable economies of many countries, and the need for innovation in all realms of business and science the focus always returns to education. The constant comment was how we must make teachers and students work together and that full collaboration is the true skill that students need to succeed in a global society. If I heard collaboration and group work once I heard it thirty times. My mind kept saying...Maybe in part.
 This is where I have to be one of those "polar opposites." I can't collaborate the entire time, I can't make my students collaborate all the time, there has to be flexibility to allow for creativity and geeze I want to help instill that inner passion to learn in them by allowing them to be creative and explore what is meaningful to THEM.Thank goodness one other colleague from Brazil mentioned the value of being a passionate individual learner. Phew!

You see, I believe that there is a passion in each one of us which ignites the need to learn, and if fostered, can lead to great things. Sometimes the true creative side of a child only shows through individual learning. We know that as adults we need downtime... time to think, process, reinvent, and pursue those things that are meaningful to us. I believe that a truly innovative classroom allows for individual inquiry. as well as group inquiry. Period. End of soapbox. 

(Well kind of...maybe...no... I can't let it go that easily.)

As educators, we need to embrace a balance of learning strategies in the classroom to allow autonomous / individual learning  or I am afraid we will see only more mediocrity. As continued pressure for performance on standardized tests shrink the flexibility in planning and delivery of quality lessons, we need to think harder and harder about the fight to allow creativity in the classroom. We need to let students rise out of the shadows of assigned group collaboration to give them the time to be creative in an autonomous way. We can guide them, give them a road map but why not lean to the individual side a bit? Give students a menu of choices. Give them an open ended inquiry project to our students without the fear that they won't perform well on the test.  Let them dream of solutions to problems and come to a conclusion by their own mechanisms. 

Technology tools can help students do this, and share what they are learning on an individual basis as well as a group one. Next time you look at a technology tool. Think about it in two ways: 

1) How can this foster creativity as an individual while building necessary skills and a passion for learning?
2) How can this tool work to provide a bridge to understanding and collaboration in a group setting? 

Now I know some of you are thinking -- Hey I do this... I definitely have built time into my classroom for this.But have you on a regular basis? Have you advocated for it on your team? Have you made a point to say my students don't need to learn the same way and with the same mechanisms? Can you be an autonomous teacher and step out of the standardized box to bring passion and creativity into the classroom

I have been walking by the dragon (the big one in the above picture) in downtown Denver for the last week thinking how beautifully creative he was and how small a little dragon (mine) looks like in comparison.My dragon sits next to me in a loud, shouting sort of way to remind me that life is creative and we are not all the same. Time to once again commit to stepping out of that standardized box to make a difference for students and teachers. I love to collaborate to do that-- but I am going to chase a passion or two at the same time.

Right now.