Katie Martin made a comment that struck me last night during the season four kick-off of #IMMOOC. She spoke passionately about “valuing the genius in all kids.”

Do we truly believe in the genius of every child?

I was intrigued by that word “genius.” So, of course, I googled. And the first thing that popped up, “exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability.” Creative power. Do we think of genius as CREATIVE POWER? I’m wondering whether we do. Because if we did, would school look the way it does? For example, would we tell kids exactly what to write about, exactly what books to read, and when to read them? Would we tell kids exactly what problems to solve and how to solve them? I’m not endorsing an “anything goes” education so stick with me for a minute.

Recently, I was moved to tears when I saw the movie, “The Greatest Showman” which is LOOSELY based on the life of P.T. Barnum who founded Barnum & Bailey Circus. Much of the movie is fiction, but when I left the theater, I felt like I could do anything. I wanted to dream bigger, do bigger, and colors were brighter. I can’t stop listening to the songs and reflecting upon the lyrics. All because of someone’s CREATIVE POWER. Someone created that experience. And now, I want to make the world better too. Isn’t that innovation? When we create something that makes the world better in some way?

Here are some lyrics that have touched my heart from the song “A Million Dreams.”

‘Cause every night I lie in bed

The brightest colors fill my head

A million dreams are keeping me awake

I think of what the world could be

A vision of the one I see

A million dreams is all it’s gonna take

A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make

That last line…a million dreams for the world we’re gonna make. Do we believe we can design our worlds? Our schools? If we don’t, what has happened to us along the way? I work in the secondary realm, grades 7-12. But I was at an elementary school the other day where you can find kindergarten students running into school. They are so excited to learn and grow and create. What happens to them along the way? I met with a high school senior last week who told me he recently picked up a book for fun for the first time since 6th grade. Do you want to know why he picked up that book? Because he’s taking an elective course, “Books: Personal Choices.” How sad is that? Somehow along the way, our system has sent kids the message that they can only enjoy a book when they take an elective course. Mind you, this is not a commentary on our teachers. This is about the system of school and everything we control inside of the system: homework, grades, curriculum, professional learning, etc.

We can do better.

In the February 2017 issue of Ed Leadership, Anthony Rebora urges us to “Count something of real interest in your school and classroom.” Are we counting anything of real interest? I know we have standards which serve as guides for our teaching, and we have state tests. But are teachers measuring anything of real interest to them? Are kids measuring anything of real interest to them? We talk a lot about the achievement gap, but we don’t often talk about gaps in opportunity, relevancy, empathy, to name a few. And these gaps are not mutually exclusive. As AJ Juliani said last night during the kick-off, if test prep was all it would really take, most schools would be crushing it on standardized assessments. It feels like we are sleepwalking through our school lives. Many of us have lost our heart for the art of teaching which may explain why many of our students have lost their heart for the art of learning. AJ mentioned, “85% of our high school students are reporting high levels of stress and anxiety.” I don’t know the source of this statistic, but it tugged on my heartstrings. Let’s foster and measure high impact personal learning which matters well-beyond what any state test can measure. In doing so, kids will do just fine on the small potatoes that many standardized assessments measure.

It’s time to wake up! It’s time to ask, “Why are we doing it this way?” And “What if” we did it that way? Someone asked Katie Martin about the one thing we could do tomorrow to spark innovation. Her response was simple yet brilliant. “Go talk to kids.”

The answers to our questions lie in the hearts of our kids who are “dreaming a million dreams.” Our kids who have CREATIVE POWER. No kindergarten student shows up on the first day of school with a dream of being “the first in the class.” We do that to them. We (often indirectly) tell kids that’s what it means to be a genius. And our definition is so small in the grand scheme of life. Did you know that a synonym for genius is WIZARDRY?

WIZARDRY. Who doesn’t want to believe that they have magic to give the world? 

This week as a part of #IMMOOC we were charged with thinking about why innovation is necessary in education. In it’s simplest form, innovation is making something better. Or as George Couros says, “Innovation is the opportunity to do something amazing.” If we don’t want to be better, to be amazing, what’s the point?

Is the status quo really so great that we will work feverishly to keep it? Because I’m looking around, and I don’t think it’s that stellar. And was school really SO GREAT growing up that you want that same experience for kids today? I had a 2nd-grade teacher who told my mom that I would always be average in math. I forgot my glue one day, and she made me lick the paper and try to get it to stick together. So, let’s not get overly nostalgic about what school used to be or overly content with school today. Recently, George wrote a blog post, “Convince Me.” In essence, convince me that things are so amazing the way they are now that we should work tirelessly to protect it.

Perhaps, in order to awaken the creative power of our students, we must first wake up ourselves. Katie Martin references a quote from, Crossing the Unknown Sea, in her book, Learner-Centered Innovation. David Whyte says, “The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.” Not rest. Joy. When was the last time you wanted to run to work?

We must harness our personal, creative power. It is incumbent upon school leaders to show our teachers and students the way. Let’s create learning opportunities for teachers that model what’s possible. Let’s talk to kids. They will tell us what we can do better. Let’s be brave enough to ask.

In fact, as Willy Wonka would say, “Strike that. Reverse it.”

  1. Talk to kids.
  2. Get curious about what kids have to say. Dig deeper.
  3. Empower teacher teams to conduct action-research around high-interest topic(s.)

Let’s view difficult conversations and feedback as an opportunity to grow our creative genius.

Let’s see creative solutions as a reflection of our WIZARDRY.

Let’s “dream a million dreams” and design a better experience where we RUN to get to school every day.