Monthly Archives: January 2014

Creativity and collaboration are messy

I read this wonderful post about a mother collaborating on art projects with her 4-year-old daughter several months ago, and loved it. It’s worth a read (and worth seeing the art they come up with together), and I loved Hendricks’ reflections on what a messy, uncomfortable process collaboration can be. Because, of course, collaboration means giving up control–it means letting someone else’s ideas in to your process. And sometimes other people don’t want to collaborate in the “right” way. They want their own ideas to take share the stage–or even take precedence. The nerve!

I was reminded of that post when I saw this article in Slate about how we don’t really like creativity (even though we say we do). We like people who have been creative–that is, we like the after-effect of creativity, but not the messy process itself. It’s risky and uncomfortable and can force us to change.

We resist creativity for the same reasons we resist collaboration–it’s not safe. What we often mean is “everyone collaborate with me to do what I want.” Or “be creative the way I would.”

This is what makes collaboration and creativity so hard in schools–for teachers and for students. It means making yourself vulnerable. It means moving outside your comfort zone. It means taking risks and engaging in a process where the outcome is, by definition, unknown.

Embracing collaboration and encouraging creativity means giving up control–and that can be scary. As teachers, we have a trust placed in us by administrators, parents, and students; we are responsible for creating environments in which students learn both knowledge and skills. As students, we have learned that the way to “get by” is to figure out what the teacher wants–and then provide it. Stepping outside these defined roles–for teacher or student–carries significant risk. As much as creativity and collaboration are popular terms in education these days, much of the history and current structures of schools do not actually support them.

If we believe that these skills and dispositions are valuable, we need to embrace the messy, scary, disequilibriating process–and not just the products of–collaboration and creativity.

Mangled slinky
Slinky + Creativity