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February 1, 2013
Vol. 70
No. 5

Tell Me About … / A Time when Your Creativity Was Supercharged

A Nudge in the Right Direction

In my sophomore year of high school, I arrived every day a bit earlier than most students, anxious to begin my biology class. While waiting for class, I would sit in the hallway and draw. One day, my teacher saw my drawings and asked whether I would be interested in creating some dissection diagrams for students in the class to label. I was excited! This was a perfect opportunity for me to get a head start on biology learning while improving a budding artistic talent. Through the process, I realized I was actually good at something—in this case, two areas that were synergistic—and it opened up a whole new world for me. Years later, I became a biologist and a science teacher.
—Mark Peacock, federal programs director, Eagle Butte, South Dakota

Tough Standards

Mrs. Mages never gave an A. All the seniors said so. She was the toughest teacher in the school. Imagine my horror when I saw her name on my class schedule! For a while, my fears were realized—every writing assignment came back full of red ink. But wait! There were words of encouragement among the corrections. Eventually, the encouraging words outnumbered the mistakes, and I began to enjoy the challenge, writing in a journal and joining the staff of the school paper. My grade? Mrs. Mages deserved the A, but she gave it to me.
—B. Dowhen, teacher, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Letting Inspiration Strike

I waited until the night before the 7th grade art show to produce my work. Inspiration hadn't hit, but I was confident in my seat-of-the-pants artistic style. With a few hours until bedtime, I spread out on the living room floor. My mom was on the couch fretting that I couldn't get anything done in that short amount of time. She loved hummingbirds, so I sketched a colorful hummingbird in flight while watching my favorite TV program. Letting urgency drive my creativity and looking for inspiration right at hand led me to change from my usual portfolio of robots, planes, cars, and monsters to a subject that seemed to appeal to the judges. I won "Best in Show."
This formula still works for me: I often wait until the final hour when my brain is a stew of all of the information I have gathered and the heightened sense of urgency ignites innovation. Sometimes we act too soon or plan too much, when we should trust our gut to reveal what our subconscious already knows.
—Kevin Goddard, superintendent, Sarcoxie R-II School District, Missouri

Integrating the Arts

My creativity was supercharged whenever my teachers integrated the arts into academic instruction: listening to and analyzing "We Shall Overcome" during a civil rights unit, acting out Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech in history class, learning geometry through pop art paintings, creating tableaux to define vocabulary words. Not only did such experiences tap into my love of the arts, but they also engaged me, made me a deeper and more critical thinker, and helped me retain the content, which I can still remember and appreciate years later.
Today I use arts integration in my own classroom—although I've had to move abroad to teach at an international school in order to do so. Sadly, in the current test-obsessed U.S. education scene, arts integration is mostly seen as a distraction or an "extra." This couldn't be less true.
—Jeff Fessler, teacher, Mali, West Africa

Recognizing Talent

The 7th grade English teacher assigned yet another weekly essay. "How boring," I thought as I prepared to hear the assignment. Yet my excitement rose as Mrs. Valentine explained that we could write an essay on any topic. I didn't have the academic confidence to realize the impact that assignment would have on my life.
My creative passion produced an original Christmas play that Mrs. Valentine read to the whole class. To my surprise, the class loved it so much that I was given permission to miss days of class and direct the play for the school and parent–teacher association. I enjoyed casting the play, organizing the set and costumes, and monitoring the rehearsals. I had no experience in any of these activities, but my vision and creativity were ignited.
The production was a huge success, leaving me with a fond memory of K–8 Northrup Elementary School. What I remember most, however, was the positive encouragement Mrs. Valentine gave me, both about that writing assignment and about my academic future in general. She gave me the confidence and the role model to pursue my dream of higher education.
—West Walker, 5th grade teacher, Tracy, California

High Expectations

I always considered myself a confident person. Even so, I had put a limit on how far I believed I could advance in the field of education. That ceiling stayed firmly affixed until a graduate professor of mine persistently worked to rip it off. Dr. Sandra Watkins saw potential that I had not yet uncovered. She placed me in a different, more elevated group than I had placed myself. Her willingness to push changed my career and my life. My production, risk taking, and confidence peaked.
This situation helped me realize that as educators we have the power every day to transform people simply by seeing in them what they have not seen in themselves. As leaders, we can make this change if we focus on providing floors (I know you can do at least this well) instead of ceilings (This is the best you can do). We can cause bursts of creativity and dramatic increases in production.
—PJ Caposey, principal, Oregon High School, Oregon Community Unit School, District 22, Illinois

"I Know You Can Do It"

"I want to be a famous author someday," I wrote in my journal for junior high English class. My teacher, Mrs. Jennings, responded by writing, "I know someday you will write a novel!" For many years, I kept the idea in the back of my mind.
When I was 30, I went back to college. I finished my bachelor's degree in English and decided to get my master's in literature and creative writing. When my advisor began to talk about my thesis project, I knew exactly what to do—write a novel! It took 18 months to finish the project, another year to find a publisher, and a second year to get published. Finally, 27 years after I wrote my goal in my journal, my dream was realized! Now, I teach developmental writing to adult students at a community college. Without the inspirational words of my teacher, I would never have gotten this far.
—Beth Hammett, associate professor of English, Texas City, Texas

Freedom to Be Creative

In middle school, I had a dynamic social studies teacher. Up to this point, I had not found the subject at all interesting. However, this year, we were allowed to design and present our projects any way we chose. This freedom made working on the project fun and made going to class and listening to others' presentations exciting. I was amazed by my peers' creativity. I hand-crafted a diorama that remained on my shelf for years, reminding me that being creative in all things is possible. I realized that the more freedom I was given, the more I got involved in the topic. To this day, that revelation has served me well—the more creativity I use in my work, the better it is received and the more I and others enjoy it.
—Lisa Surles-Law, science education administrator, Newport News, Virginia

Taking Risks with Writing

Mr. Hogan, my high school English teacher, instructed, "Write an essay about an incident you cannot explain." As I reflected, I was transported back to 4th grade and to the afternoon when I was home alone after school and a stranger came to our door. I wrote the story, which to this day remains unexplained, and awaited Mr. Hogan's critique: "Riveting. A good yarn." The opportunity to reflect and to craft the story from such broad instructions allowed my creativity to flow. Mr. Hogan's coffee house-like atmosphere in the classroom inspired us to imagine and to take risks with our writing, even though we were just 14 years old. I knew from that point on that I was a writer—not that I wanted to be a writer, but that I already was. It would only be a matter of years before I would be able to add, "I am an author."
—Elizabeth C. Reilly, professor, educational leadership and administration, Los Angeles, California

Hearing Your Own Words

I traveled through four years of high school English classes without an ounce of enthusiasm for a single assignment. I was never compelled to explore novels or examine my own story. With just two months left in my senior year of high school, I was finally given the assignment that made me feel I could become anything and go anywhere. There were no rubrics, no five-paragraph structure, no restrictions whatsoever. The prompt: Create a fictional short story about anything. That's it. No hand-holding; just the beautiful simplicity of create and go.
I wrote a story about a New York fireman who had spent 33 years on the job and who responded to the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001—his last day before retirement. To my surprise, my teacher read it to the entire class. Hearing my teacher read my work and feeling the reaction from my peers created a paradigm shift in me. For the first time, I looked at myself as a writer. I've been writing ever since, and that paper is the only assignment I still have from my K–12 education (except a drawing from kindergarten that my mom kept).
—Steve Schultz, English teacher, Fountain Valley, California

Choosing What to Learn About

When I was in high school in the mid-70s, my school offered dozens of specific English and history courses that we could take to earn our required credits or as electives. I already knew that I wanted to be an English major, so I chose the courses that interested me: Fundamentals of Writing, Mythology, Shakespeare, and World Literature. Others chose courses in drama, grammar, poetry, or novels. Courses were short-term and heavy on discussion and writing. They prepared me for college far more than I could have imagined.
—Ramona Lowe, secondary literacy design coach, Lewisville, Texas

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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