Tag Archives: creativity

Comfortably numb


At the end of The Martian, Matt Damon sits on a bench in a beautiful park, leaving us to decide whether he’s satisfied being back on Earth having survived a near death experience in space, or if he misses it.

Yes it’s been a brutal two years. Yes, we have lost contact with friends, the human connections of social activity, and the ease of travel. I used to travel 4-5 times a year minimum. Since 2020, I’ve travelled twice. Twice! I’ve forgotten even the basics like how to pack for the plane because I’m so obsessed with trying to get the RAT test on time and making sure my flight isn’t being cancelled.

What I see around me as we start sticking our (vaccinated) heads above the ground again, hoping to return to life as it was, is a gigantic missed opportunity. Our industry, like the food, hospitality, health care, and transport industries, was disrupted and accelerated at least 7-10 years. What was an odd exemption for kids in hospitals and the occasional NASA engineer from mission control beamed on a screen to an auditorium full of restless middle schoolers, has now become the norm.

Hybrid, Hyflex, all the things we imagined happening in 2050 when The Jetsons (boomer alert) lifestyle became reality, were catapulted to the present. And it’s not what we imagined, or hoped for.

We have a lot to be thankful for returning to ‘normal’ but also a lot of things that we cannot return to.

I’m concerned that our desire to return to the comforts of routine after two years of crisis management and pandemic fatigue, will rationalize mediocrity. That after so much stress on our schools and teachers, during which all we focused on was getting through the day/week, that once the fog lifts, we will continue to look inwards, our defense mechanisms on auto pilot.

I hope that I am wrong,. I hope that we don’t fall for the seduction of the way things were before. Because, in all honesty, it wasn’t all that great. 20 years into 21st century learning, the actual glaciers are melting faster than we are moving to make education relevant to the times. Getting back to workshops on MYP Cat 2 in Berlin or conferences on AERO standards in Atlanta just isn’t going to cut it.

We all need a month in the Maldives, a grand celebration of reconnection and re-nurturing. That is undeniable. We cannot simply keep Zooming and embracing the dings in the universe caused by Covid. I’m not saying that. We need to hug one another, breathe in the mask free air of a friend filled room the laughter and excitement of traveling and connecting again without social distancing fears or the guilt caused by contact.

But once we taken that breath, we have to keep moving forward, screen time or not. I have taken three takeaways that I hope to move before the retreating waves of change wash over them.

  1. In person time is more valuable than ever and has to be used more creatively and across disciplines.
  2. Limit the broadway shows: We are the only profession that does 5-6 live broadway shows a day. We have to embrace the asynchronous model so teachers can THINK and COLLABORATE rather than constantly juggle chain saws to keep learners engaged. Sorry, lower school teachers, this probably doesn’t work below grade 5.
  3. Community Engagement: We’ve had classes without walls and project based and service learning for years. But rather than a one off week, it has to be more embedded. If we can Zoom in math and English, why can’t we do an arts residency in Istria for two or three weeks while we keep up with “academics.” online? We have to push the limits on community based learning and the how and where of learning now that restrictions are lifting.
  4. Change the Subjects: I’ve been talking about this one for awhile and have to do a better job putting money where the mouth is. Our subjects are woefully outdated. Science has evolved a little bit and I guess math is math, but the rest are arcane, unimaginative, and need critical redefinition. If I see one more test on the Crusades, I might just need to start one of my own.

I know it’s hard, but once you get your Mojo back this Spring, please don’t become ‘comfortably numb.’ You’ve come too far to leave it all behind.

Please Don’t…

In one of my finer moments as an educational leader, I stood in front of an assembly of 400 students and stuck a microphone in front of a 10th grader, asking him to tell us what the mission statement meant to him (cue the mic squeaking). His eyes widened as his friends leaned back away from him as though something terrible was about to happen (which it was).

“Please don’t” he mumbled into the mic. The entire assembly cracked up. I think I recall offering to pay for the boy’s therapy later. Or at least a few rounds of medication. It was pretty bad. But as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

It has been fun to witness the sea change taking place in education, particularly around innovation and designs around learning rather than testing. But one thing is starting to really scare me.

I saw my first “creativity rubric.” Now, ever since I saw Sir Ken’s famous talk about schools killing creativity back in 2007, I have been somewhat obsessed with learning environments that are relevant to what students need to know and be able to do in the next generation. I’ve seen the concept of ‘design’ turned into a curriculum, coding and STEAM, robotics, maker spaces and some pretty good attempts at personalized learning. It’s all good-intentioned stuff and seems to tinker (pun intended) around the edges of the type of skills students need.

Then I went to a workshop on innovation and saw a creativity ‘rubric’ and thought. Oh….My….God. There are so many things that schools take responsibility for in the lives of people, everything from socio-emotional development to music to math to ways of thinking, etc. etc. and for the most part they do a pretty good job. But teaching creativity is the one domain that is going to possibly destroy the very thing it is trying to….create.

I can see it now; Creative Academy. Creative Tutoring. Creative Communities. Creative Commons. Creative Classes. Creativity Labs. Creative Conferences. Creative Rubrics.

I consider myself to be fairly creative. None of it I learned in school. I learned it from hiking in the mountains, praying in Buddhist temples, snorkeling in crystal lakes, lying under majestic palm trees, reading magical pieces of literature, and talking to cab drivers, lots and lots of cab drivers. My life has been open to opportunities that have made me feel very lucky to have had such opportunities to nurture my creativity. I am filled with “what ifs” and “why nots” (which often get me in trouble). I really don’t know if we can teach this.

A creativity rubric is going to formulize the process of being creative. It may even end up with a grade. Can you imagine getting a grade in creativity? (I have no idea how art teachers manage).

What I do know about creativity is that it is deeply rooted in being curious. It is rooted in that ability to transcend your present experience, put yourself into something new, and have all of your senses absorb everything that it can. One of the most creative days I ever had in my life was after climbing the ancient rickety steps of a crumbling castle in Ireland that was traced back to my ancestors. I wrote a story non-stop for six hours after that day and I’ll never forget it.

You cannot teach that.

If you can teach a child to be curious about the world around him or her, then so be it. If you can teach a young person how to strike up a conversation in another language with a man fixing shoes on a side street in Bangkok then so be it. If you can develop in young people the mindset to write a poem in the pew of an ancient church in Lisbon on a rainy day, then all the more power to you.

But whatever you do, please, please don’t turn creativity into a rubric.

Future of Education

By Barry Dequanne | Follow me on Twitter @dequanne

We recently hosted an evening event with parents and teachers entitled, “The Future of Education.” The workshop was more of a discussion about the factors that are currently disrupting and redefining education rather than an articulation of what education will look like in the future.

To begin the discussion, each participant was asked to describe the most effective learning experience in his or her life. While there was a wide range of responses, there was one common theme: All but one of the learning experiences occurred outside of a K-12 school setting. The one parent whose experience took place in school shared that his Grade 2 teacher allowed him to extend his learning in an area of personal interest that developed well beyond the level required in the syllabus.

The participants were then asked to explain why they believed the learning experiences they described were so effective and meaningful. What emerged from the ensuing discussion was the concept of relevance – when the learning represented a high level of relevance to the learner, the result was usually an effective and deeply meaningful learning experience.


So, is the concept of relevance as a basis for our educational programs the panacea we have been seeking to significantly improve K-12 educational programs and, in turn, student learning and development? While we know there is no simple “one solution fits all” solution to improving schools, we are seeing an increased focus on relevance and personalized learning. If forced to use one word to describe the future of education, many would agree that the word would be relevance.

The research of Lee Jenkins (2013) highlights why this discussion is important. Jenkins worked with 3,000 teachers from Kindergarten to Grade 12 to determine how enthusiastic students are about school. The result of the study was that 95% of kindergarten students are enthusiastic about school. However, this percentage drops significant each year until Grade 9 when the percentage of students enthusiastic about school drops to a low of 37%. The small increase between Grades 10 to 12 is attributed to the focus of some students on graduation and beyond (see graph below). It seems that we should all be concerned with the results of this study.

Interest GraphSource: The New Meaning of Educational Change, Fifth Edition, by Michael Fullan

It is believed that a greater focus on relevance in education will contribute to ensuring a higher level of student enthusiasm for school. To that end, relevance can be defined in many ways, including the framework of preparing students for life beyond school.

Future of Jobs

In Future of Jobs, published by the World Economic Forum, the report lists the top ten skills needed to thrive in a 2015 work environment. Looking ahead five years, it is believed that over 35% of the skills considered important for work today will have changed, resulting in a different list of top ten skills in 2020.

Top 10 Skills in 2015:

  1. Complex Problem Solving
  2. Coordinating with Others
  3. People Management
  4. Critical Thinking
  5. Negotiation
  6. Quality Control
  7. Service Orientation
  8. Judgment and Decision Making
  9. Active Listening
  10. Creativity

Top 10 Skills in 2020:

  1. Complete Problem Solving
  2. Critical Thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People Management
  5. Coordinating with Others
  6. Emotional Intelligence
  7. Judgment and Decision Making
  8. Service Orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive Flexibility

In comparing the two tables, it is interesting to note that five of the skills in 2020 are relationship based: People Management, Coordinating with Others, Emotional Intelligence, Service Orientation, and Negotiation. It is also interesting to note that Creativity moved up the list from tenth place in 2015 to third place in 2020.


George Land was responsible for developing a creativity test for NASA to determine how innovative potential scientists and astronauts were as part of the candidate assessment process. In 1968, Land used the same test to evaluate children over a ten-year period. The results were astonishing, as displayed in the chart below.

CreativitySource: Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing our Kids for the Innovation Era, by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith

The test was given to 1,600 students with a resulting score of 98% for five-year-olds. The same students were tested five and ten years later, scoring 30% and 12% respectively. The same test was given to 280,000 adults, who scored an average of 2%. The conclusion of the study was that non-creative behavior is learned.

The significant drop in levels of creativity has been attributed, in large part, to, an educational system that was developed on a premise established 200 years ago during the Industrial Revolution to train students to follow instructions and be good workers. Education has of course evolved since that time, though it can be argued that the framework associated with the original premise continues to limit reform in education.

Returning to the title of this post and the Future of Education, some of the questions that will guide future educational reforms will need to include issues relating to creativity, future work skills, enthusiasm for school, and, perhaps most importantly, the concept of relevance and the learning process.

Blog: www.barrydequanne.com

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) flickr photo by Nelson de Witt:
Child's Play; https://www.flickr.com/photos/mcescobar1/4826861354

Bold in Vision

“Use your unique gifts and talents to make a difference in the world.” Lailah Gifty Akita.

After a yearlong review process, involving regular feedback and contributions from parents, students, and teachers through surveys, retreats, and focus group meetings, the American School of Brasilia’s new mission statement was officially introduced this year:

 Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.

As part of an ongoing analysis of EAB’s new mission statement, this week’s post looks at the fourth and final element of the mission: Bold in Vision.

Bold in Vision highlights the aspiration that our students and community members will make a positive difference in our community and the greater world around them. In one sense, Bold in Vision is the outcome that brings the other elements of the mission together towards a higher aim. While it is imperative to support and empower a community of learners to inspire each other and foster a lifelong love for learning (Inquisitive in Life), knowledge and learning can be further enhanced in the context of values systems (Principled in Character). Taking this progression a step further, it seems to be a loss if all of this learning and character development are not applied in some manner to improve, not only ourselves, but our communities and the lives of others.

To further the goal of making a positive difference, the Bold in Vision aspect of the mission also focuses on the strategic approaches to implementing effective change. These strategic changes and the ability to effectively address many of our current challenges will require creative and innovative approaches. To that end, our schools must assume the fundamental responsibility towards ensuring learning environments that support creativity, innovation, empowerment, and engaged learning.

In his book, From Master Teacher to Master Learner, Will Richardson highlights this responsibility of schools, with a particular focus on the role of teachers:

“Our job as educators is to understand deeply what it means to be a modern learner more so than a modern teacher. Our goal should not be to learn new technologies in order to become better teachers in the traditional sense. Our goal is to develop expertise in powerful new technologies to become better learners for ourselves and for our students, who may lack other learning models.”

It is hoped that EAB’s new mission statement embodies the ideals associated with Richardson’s words.

As with any focus on a Bold in Vision statement, technology will play a key role in the future of education. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report in 2015 entitled, Students, Computers, and Learning: Making the Connection, which frames the role that technology will play in education. Specifically, the report stresses that, “information and communication technology (ICT) has revolutionized virtually every aspect of our life and work. Students unable to navigate through a complex digital landscape will no longer be able to participate fully in the economic, social, and cultural life around them.”

The work of teachers is key to leveraging the opportunities associated with ICT. However, the report cautions that, “technology can amplify great teaching but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.” This is an important quote in that it clarifies that technology is not driving our work nor replacing poor teaching but rather providing teachers with an additional, important, and ubiquitous resource to support the learning process.

Finally, when considering our commitment to the Bold in Vision aspect of our mission statement, the OECD report emphasis the role of schools and educators on the future of learning:

“We need to get this right in order to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world. Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge. Why should students be limited to a textbook that was printed two years ago, and maybe designed ten years ago, when they could have access to the world’s best and most up-to-date textbook? Equally important, technology allows teachers and students to access specialized materials well beyond textbooks, in multiple formats, with little time and space constraints.”

Returning to EAB’s new mission statement, the last element of the mission – Bold in Vision – was purposely designed to be less prescriptive and focused as compared to the other elements of the mission. The reason for this design is to frame the American School of Brasilia’s future work in the context of dynamic and changing environments. Bold in Vision is an open-ended premise that challenges us to use our collective learning and development to make a positive difference in the world through personalized, innovative, and creative approaches.

Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.

Blog: www.barrydequanne.com


Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) flickr photo by Chase Elliott Clark (Binoculars V) https://www.flickr.com/photos/chasblackman/8502151556/

Innovation and Creativity

I am writing this week’s posting from 44G, my assigned seat on the plane returning me to Brasilia. It has been nearly two weeks since I departed from Brazil to attend a series of international teacher recruitment fairs, planning meetings, conferences, professional development workshops, and school visits. As with any professional trip of this nature, the challenge with the follow-up is to determine how best to consolidate and apply the essential outcomes within the context of our school’s ongoing growth and development strategies. To that end, the concepts of creativity and innovation, among several other resulting focus areas, emerged as one of the dominant themes of this trip.

During a retreat hosted by the Academy for International School Heads, the school directors in attendance agreed to the American School of Bombay’s proposed working definition for the word innovation:

Innovation: an idea, practice, or object perceived as new by an individual, team, organization, or community.

Equipped with this definition, the directors were then asked to rank the following industries from the most innovative and relevant to the least:

Agriculture, Communications, Education, Entertainment, Medicine, and Military.

While a debate about the ranking order ensued, there was a general consensus that education was the least innovative among this list of industries. While the reasons for this are varied and complex, it is clear that inhibitors to innovation in education can be attributed to two key areas: (i) the challenge of teaching in a manner that is different from how teachers were taught; (ii) overcoming the adult expectation for children to learn in a manner that is similar to how these same adults learned as students.

David Burkus’ book, The Myths of Creativity, presents the metaphor of a mousetrap, which may be used to better understand the challenge of innovation in schools. While the catchphrase, “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door,” may be widely believed as a fact, is not necessarily true. Our initial reaction to an innovative idea is usually to reject or ignore the idea. Burkus emphasizes, “Creative ideas, by their very nature, invite judgment. People need to know if the value promised by the new idea is worth the abandonment of the old.”

Since the original and current version of the spring-loaded mousetrap was patented in 1899, over forty-four hundred new versions of a mousetrap have been patented, with several identified as more effective than the original. Yet, it is the original model that continues to be the most popular. Why? Burkus highlights several other examples of resistance to key innovative ideas, such as Kodak’s rejection of their own digital camera invention in 1975, as Kodak did not believe people would prefer digital to film pictures. Sony, in contrast, is now a digital photography industry leader, and has been a key benefactor of Kodak’s inability to embrace its own innovation.

According to Burkus, our natural tendency is to inherently reject innovation, resist change, and act with bias against new ideas, the later of which has been established through validated psychological research. Based on these arguments and the deep, personal nature of education, it is easy to see why education is ranked as one of the least innovative industries. So, how do we move forward in the face of these challenges? Burkus again provides us with helpful advice:

“It’s not enough to merely generate great ideas. Though we live in a world of complex challenges and our organizations need innovative solutions, we also live in a world biased against creative ideas. It’s not enough for an organization to have creative people; it has to develop a culture that doesn’t reject great ideas. It’s not enough for people to learn how to be more creative; they also need to be persistent through the rejection they might face.”

I am not alone in my belief that education is currently undergoing a transformative change process representative of an inflection point in the history of educational reform. While we can speculate, no one can be certain about where this change process will eventually lead us. Only time will determine which of the current innovations in the world of education will prove to be highly effective and become standard practice. EAB is no exception to facing this challenge. However, there are innovative approaches, such as EAB’s new assessment policy, the focus on collaborative learning and associated learning spaces, like the iCommons, that educational research has established and validated as best practices.

Like other industries, education will continue to face challenges associated with establishing and embracing an effective culture of creativity and innovation. Based on Burkus’ work, it is probable that several key innovations, which would likely lead to significant improvements in education, may not come to fruition in the near future. However, we also know that some innovative ideas will be accepted and will soon be recognized as standard practice. By way of example, it is predicted that, in the near future, the pervasive use of technology in learning environments will be second nature, rather than new and innovative.

As I submit this note for publication from seat 44G, I can’t help but reflect on Burkus’ theories about our inherent nature to reject innovation in the context of my current travels. How outlandish it must have seemed when someone first proposed the idea of passengers sending email messages from their airplane seats while jetting across the sky.


Reference: Burkus, D. (2013). The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas. John Wiley & Sons.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) flickr photo by Morten F
Flying from Copenhagen to Oslo https://www.flickr.com/photos/glimt1916/15506061634


Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.

Vienna sausage and the arts

Okay, on second thought the title should have led with Vienna arts instead of sausage. But it would not have been as much fun. I just wrapped up a spring break from school and had a rejuvinating time in Vienna visiting friends, consuming schnitzel, sausage, and of course absorbing the arts. And if you are a fan of both, the best sausage shack in town is right behind the Vienna Opera House outside of the Albertina museum. Incroyable!


But I digest.

When I roamed the fabulous corridors of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, I found myself as absorbed in the stories of the famous creations as the art itself. Did Rubens really have that much pain in his hands from rheumatoid arthritis that he depicted gnarled hands in several of his portraits? I became fascinated with the stories of the artists, the lives of the characters and the story behind the scenes in the paintings as I did the finished work. Process and product. Of course you know where this is going…

And then I saw this.


And not just one person trying to copy a masterpiece, but lots of people. Have you seen this? It seems to be a fairly new phenomenon and can be quite interesting when you watch these people work, trying to painstakingly mimic the masters. Wow it’s hard to paint people, copy or not! I stood behind this woman above for over ten minutes as she touched up her strokes, carefully adjusted tone, and most of all stared at what she would do next. All in the hopes of creating what had already been created. Now I am not criticizing her efforts one bit. I cannot imagine the hours it takes to copy a masterpiece and have it look half decent. And these looked really good. What I was thinking about was the purpose of the product. What influenced her desire to finish other than to have it look like something else? The artists who created these works had something completely different in mind. They were creating. They were, in many cases, suffering as they brought their work to life. Process. It was so human and so interesting that it engaged me much more than the fascination with how they managed to get brush strokes to look so real.

As we head into the final stretches of spring, with the product of IB testing on the horizon, do we think of the process of our students (the artists?) Do we appreciate and engage their suffering as they seek to create, to learn and to bring their art to life or are they standing with an aisle, trying to copy something that has already been done?

I contemplated this as I stood outside this beautiful building, consuming the meat product of a process I am probably glad I knew little about. But with a fresh baked bun and plenty of mustard, it tasted so good.

Welcome back from break (or have a good one of you haven’t already). And keep in mind the process of those amazing artists in front of you.

Let’s wrap up this “AHA” moment with an all time AHA classic.