I’ve attended the Jostens Renaissance National Conference many times and each year I walk away feeling inspired and enthused about my purpose as an educator. While some of the faces in the leadership team are new this year, the foundational principles are still very much alive: relationships, collaboration, sharing ideas, learning, engagement, and fun.
As always, the keynote presenters, featured presenters, and breakout sessions leave the attendees excited to implement something new in their classrooms, schools, or school community. What’s unique about this conference is that about 30% of the attendees are students! Students who attend are either formal or informal leaders at their schools. They are just as engaged as all the educators and bring a certain level of energy that is contagious.
As I reflect on day 1, the word that comes to mind is CREATIVITY. Presenter, Kevin Honeycutt (@kevenhoneycutt), is an expert on meaningful learning and he shared several tidbits of information that piqued my interest. His presentation was creatively engaging and he stressed how we can harness the power of technology and relationships to make learning more meaningful for ourselves and for our students:
• “Administrators have to create a culture that appreciates teachers who try new things.” We are all creative and simply need the freedom to put a creative idea into action, reflect on the results, and try again. It’s easy to criticize what’s new and it takes courage to embrace, empower, and enthusiastically share what risk takers are doing. Protect the risk-takers from the naysayers by publicly recognizing, rewarding, and reinforcing this behavior. The result: more risk-taking behavior by teachers!
• “Emotion+Learning=Forever Learning.” I think about the most favorite teachers at GLHS and who comes to mind are the ones who make learning meaningful by making emotional connections with the content through song, performance, meaningful projects,by creating a supportive and collaboration classroom environment, and setting high expectations. The students respond by being loyal, working hard for the teacher, and removing any walls that would prevent learning from occurring. As a result, students stay after school for hours and on weekends working together to solve problems, complete quality projects, or to perfect a performance. It’s amazing to see!
• “We have to teach kids how to love to learn.” We are all creative in our own way and the more we foster creativity in our classrooms and schools, the more we will inevitably help students to learn how to love learning like they used to in their primary years. This is the type of culture we ought to strive to create!
The keynote presenter, Erik Wahl (@erikwahl), moved the crowd! His story not only resonated with many in the audience, but it was one of triumph. He demonstrated how we can unleash our own creativity and the creativity of our students by learning how to “UNTHINK”. Following are a few nuggets I gleamed from his presentation:
• “If we take ourselves too seriously, we block ourselves from performing under pressure.” The ability to perform under pressure not only sparks creative problem solving, but it opens up more opportunities for personal growth and opportunities to help others. I have a tendency to take myself way too seriously at times and it’s during these times that I am less creative, less effective, and become almost paralyzed with insecurity. I look to my Savior, my wife, my administrative team, and my PLN during these times to help me let go and just do. Eric reminded me of this today as shared passionate, creative stories that fed the audience.
• “We are capable of so much more than what we have been preconditioned to do.” Mandates, accountability, and standardization squelch creativity. One would be hard-pressed to find an educator who doesn’t believe this statement. However, we have to break through these mandated, or often times, self-made barriers to be remarkable at our craft. This resonated with me becuase it’s one of the reasons I continue to participate in the Jostens Renaissance National Conference and connect with others via social media.
I am still processing all of the events of day 1 and have not settled on specific ways to fully tap into the creativity of our students and staff at Gahanna Lincoln High School. We do, however, have pockets where creative lesson design and learning experiences for students and staff abound, but I want more of it; for the sake of our students and our school community. So, what are you going to do to unleash the creativity in your classroom or school?