As we enter the middle of February, its time to we move onto the I in Build like a Pirate. The I stands for “Innovation”. Innovation in my honest opinion is one of the biggest factors when it comes to teaching. As long as I can remember and I’m taking back to the days when I was four and had my old pre-school teacher explaining what steps were needed to build a wired flower there was innovation involved. Something that defines creativity is you are making something out of nothing. When you try to solve for X in algebra you are creating the solution to a problem no matter how basic or advance. When you are working out a strategy to score a goal for floor hockey in PE you are creating a plan of attack. No matter how you spin it, creativity is one of the main fundamentals of teaching and learning for teachers and students. However, when the word “creativity” is spoken sadly we always hear: “Its easy for you, you are very creative.” How many times have you heard this or have even muttered it under your breath. I don’t think there is one professional or paraprofessional who hasn’t heard this phrase. The biggest problem with this saying is that it is a double edge sword. The first part is the person it is said to is being hit because just because they show creativity doesn’t mean they haven’t had multiple times of things blowing up in their face, great ideas that fell completely flat or they didn’t learn from their own failures. Then the sword goes the other way and hits the person saying it because they have just hurt themselves thinking they aren’t good enough.
Sad to say, I have been guilty of saying it myself not just when I was younger trying to understand why I couldn’t be a straight A student like a lot of my friends or years later thinking I wasn’t smart enough or good enough like others who were finding better success creative wise, career wise or in their own personal lives. It took me years to understand just because you see someone having more success doesn’t mean they haven’t been through the trenches trying to achieve that success. We all fight our own battles many do not know about. I tell you right now, look in the mirror because the person staring back at you is creative, we all are. As I said in the previous chapter, you can find inspiration in your own backyard and the truth is, your innovation is looking right at you. I had a student once, just barely four, they felt they couldn’t draw or paint as well as their classmates. No matter how hard they tried, they seem to be outside the lines too much or their creations came out more like a pattern on a table cloth. This student was very discouraged even though they were excelling in every other aspect of school. I was subbing for the class one day and we were doing some building with play-dough and all these students wanted to make vehicles, build forts, etc. and this student was rolling out two different colors and stamping them with a star pattern and then assembling them in a long string. I asked what they were doing and they told me it was a worm that lived in his backyard and they were looking for food for the winter. I told them that was very creative and this student looked up to me (since of course I’m much taller than them) and smiled. The teacher for class told the students multiple times how creative they all were but this student seemed to think less of themselves. Here I come in tell them how creative they were just being with two colors of play-dough and for the first time, that student felt creative. So much a few days later when they made another painting they explained it was a door to project their worms from the cold. The teacher for that class smiled too, their student finally saw how creative they really were instead of feeling they weren’t.
Warms my heart when I see a student smile when they realize how creative them are and even more when I see a teacher get innovative in the classroom. I am blessed to work in a school where all the classroom teachers have a theme for their classroom from Hollywood to Camping. The camping one is one of my favorites as the teacher has a tent for reading time to where the students can take their water bottles and lay back on pillows like they really are camping or how raccoons are peaking out from behind the book shelves saying: “What will you read today?” That’s innovation to make students feel like they aren’t in a classroom but out in the wilderness where their learning time is like camping. Does this mean you have to dress up your room? Of course not, I worked with another teacher a few years ago where their classroom looked very traditional. There was a bulletin board with decorations for the month, best papers or projects on the side of the wall, nothing I didn’t see myself growing up but that teacher did something no one else was doing. Every time just before lunch, they would tell their students to get up and act like they were mountain climbing and then heading down the zipline down to their cubbies to get their lunches and then make sure they lifted with their legs just in case their lunch boxes or backpacks were too heavy. I had never seen anything like that before, today we call that brain breaks but at the same time the teacher was teaching the students how to properly enact safety when it came to exercise. One arm up to pull yourself up and one foot to push yourself as you go. Keep your arms at a forty-five degree angle to get just the right speed coming down. Lift with your legs to avoid straining your back or other muscles. Then to complete it all with single line assembly to the lunch room. I don’t know where I was but I wanted to be part of that class. That was creativity at its finest of course now we call that a Hook if you Teach like a Pirate.
The funny thing about creativity is that doesn’t just come to each person differently, it comes to each person in fundamental ways. With a student it can come from thinking about the worms in their backyard, for a teacher it can take form with how to practice proper exercise and for others it might take form with life experiences. My innovation has always been from life experiences. My books My Life as a Comic Book Reader and Small Hope were born out of a very hurtful and a confusing time during 2008. However, they were so creatively made that I have students and teachers look at them saying: “This is so original and yet so telling.” When I originally wrote those stories, I wrote them because I felt they needed to be written. I was never writing them to be creative or meaningful, I felt they were stories that needed to be told. Now, looking back on them I see how creative and meaningful they were and when I have someone come up to me and say: “I want to write something like that and I have an idea.” I know I have succeeding in teaching something they will always remember. You can sometimes forget something you create but you will never forget why you created it.