CEF: Why K12 Schools Need To Embrace Creative Problem-Solving

The Creative Education Foundation on John Hunter, brainstorming techniques, and hope for future generations of creative thinkers and innovators.

The Creative Education Foundation (CEF), co-sponsors of Inly’s Omran ♦ Nelson Speaker Series event with John Hunter on April 9th, have trained thousands of people in creative problem-solving and brainstorming over the years. In fact, the founder of the foundation “invented” both brainstorming and creative problem-solving, techniques that have become the foundation of creative processes around the world. CEF clients include Visa, Stanley Black & Decker, HP, Microsoft, Hershey, Boeing, Staples and Ocean Spray. The group has a wide reach, having conducted Visioning Workshops at Disney World’s Epcot Center and CEF YouthWise programs in South Africa. Current projects include a brain science research study with Dartmouth College and consulting in Dubai to help educators use creativity in their work.

The Inly connection? Donna Milani Luther, Inly’s Head of School, has served as a designated leader and consultant for the CEF since 1984. She and John Hunter both presented talks at the CEF’s annual Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI) Conference in 2012 (sparking the idea to bring Hunter to speak at Inly). In 2013, the CEF moved its headquarters to the Inly School campus.

We recently had a chance to chat with both Stephen Brand and Kitty Heusner of the CEF about their work with school administrators and educators and their philosophy on the importance of creativity in K–12 education.

Stephen Brand, Director of Programming, CEF

You help adults in organizations tackle complex business problems. How does this work apply to K–12 education?
Over the years we’ve trained thousands of people in creative problem-solving and brainstorming, helping them uncover ideas and solutions to daily or long-term challenges. Whether you’re in a business or a nonprofit organization or running a K–12 school, many of the principles are the same.

For instance, we now offer a course called “Creativity in the 21st Century Classroom.”
We bring together teachers and principals, professional development staff and curriculum directors and we show them how to apply these proven methods in the classroom. We show them how to actively use creativity, brain-based learning research (i.e. multiple intelligence theory), and learning styles to accelerate learning and help them prepare for the Common Core State Standards with foundational skills that integrate creativity, collaboration, and action on ideas generated.

How does this tie into your overall mission?
Our mission is about “engaging and developing the next generation of creative thinkers and innovators.” Part of the CEF vision is enable educators to initiate change in their schools, revitalize communities and enhance methods and systems with new, yielding results that reflect the very problems identified to resolve. We’re most interested in helping administrators realize the power of using creativity in schools in developing a culture of innovation, creative approaches to student engagement and building the creative thinking skills of their students Independent, magnet and charter schools are initially investing much more in creativity in their schools. What we offer is fits more easily in independent, charter and magnet schools as they seek to differentiate their learning experiences from the typical public school. International schools seem to be quite intrigued with infusing creative thinking in their schools as well.

With the public schools, it’s going to take early adopters to jump on this. It really takes a forward-thinking superintendent or principal in a public school to embrace creativity as a core component in their efforts. Our hope is to get more and more schools, public, private, urban, suburban, to embrace this creative approach to education and find better ways of motivating students and allowing the ideas of students to drive their learning.

Does your research focus on adults or students?
Both. We’re currently working with Dartmouth College on a study to see whether learning creative thinking and creative problem-solving skills would change the actual brain structure of middle school students. This involves taking functional MRIs and analyzing both qualitative and quantitative data. In our academic journal, the Journal of Creative Behavior and at our annual conference we address creativity in education as well as creativity in business, organizations and even governments. Right now we see the K–12 education space as critical. Our world is becoming increasingly complex and we want to help schools and administrators focus on preparing future leaders to brainstorm creative solutions to complex problems in whatever fields they explore.

Katherine O. (Kitty) Heusner, Ph.D., Chair of the Board of Trustees, CEF

What do students need to succeed in this century? In the future?
They need critical thinking and problem-solving skills to navigate the changing world around them. One of our hopes is that CEF can reach out to schools that are often underserved to develop programs that promote creativity as a necessary skill for success. One of the ironies in education is that the ones who need help with creative problem-solving the most often receive the least.

Is this type of teaching and learning possible in traditional schools?
Yes, I think it is. When I hear people say, ‘We can’t do anything with creative thinking because we have to focus on the curriculum content,’ I think, ‘Wait a minute. It’s not about stopping to teach creativity as a new subject, it’s about infusing strategies into your teaching that foster creative thinking and present the content in creative ways.’

The reality is that most people have not experienced this type of learning themselves, and so it’s difficult to really see the possibilities. That’s why it’s important to work with the total school community—to work with administrators to help them model and support the change, to work with teachers to develop the skill set and mind set, and to involve parents to understand the importance.

What do you think is most important take-away from Hunter’s film and talks?
That one person in one classroom can truly make a significant difference in children, one at a time. John Hunter is an inspiring example of a teacher who did not in any way abandon what his students needed to learn—but rather saw a way to do it that would create enthusiasm and interest and, more importantly, develop critical in-depth learning and skill development that goes far beyond the content area that he may have originally been planning to teach. By allowing students to imagine themselves and play the roles Prime Ministers, Secretaries of State and even Arms Dealers, they became more engaged and motivated to understand the content as they lived the content.

How would you describe John Hunter’s approach to creative problem-solving?
What John has come up with is adaptable and adoptable for this changing population. It facilitates effective creative-thinking techniques—the key principle being that you do the divergent “open gathering” ideas separate from the “choosing among” ideas. We observe his students engaged in this type of learning in the film (World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements). They were encouraged not to jump early to conclusions but to jump thoughtfully to conclusions after they had gathered a variety of ideas and listened to each other in wonderful ways. It is creative thinking and problem-solving in action at its finest!

Further Reading:

John Hunter and His Montessori Message: An interview with Inly’s head of school

John Hunter Presents “World Peace Game” Film and Talk on Experiential Education

Culture of Creativity at Inly School

 

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