Creativity and Mindfulness – (James C, Lisa, Eli, Jonathan, Christopher)
Creativity and mindfulness are two psychological elements highly conducive to effective learning. By facilitating creative approaches to educational tasks, students are better able to actively participate in the learning process in a potentially open, engaging and stimulating manner. A creative mindset forces a teacher to think outside the box, abandoning more traditional approaches to education such as lecturing, excessive overheads, learning strictly by rote, or a “chalk and talk” methodology. Creative thought (or divergent thought) is defined as “a mental process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations between existing ideas or concepts” (Wikipedia). In context of education, creativity encourages an educator to attentively assess the various types of learners within the classroom, and to actively employ original and appropriate approaches to learning to reach all levels and skill sets. Attention is one of the most powerful tools to be exploited by an educator in terms of student engagement. The question is: how does a teacher achieve and sustain high levels of attention within the classroom? We would argue that innovative and creative approaches to lesson plans and classroom instruction are one of the most effective means of achieving this state. Let us now explore some strategies involved in creating such approaches.
As explored by Woodfolk et al., educators can implement a variety of creative teaching techniques in the classroom including: spontaneous and surprising physical action, the use of bright colour on the board and with notes, the use of scripted and spoken word with academic subjects, posing intriguing questions, variance in tasks and instruction, changing physical environment (lighting, décor), and variance in vocal tone and volume level during instruction. In order to gain student’s attention, avoid flicking lights or clapping hands as in a traditional approach. Instead, try to incorporate the sound of a bell, a wind chime, or even a Tibetan singing bowl (as recently done in a class workshop). The intention is to emphasize “variety, curiosity, and surprise” (Woodfolk et al.) within students.
Mindfulness, practiced both by teachers and students alike, is yet another positive means of maintaining focus, building classroom community, and optimizing learning potential. Mindfulness can be approached from two major aspects: cognitive, psychological mindfulness (general awareness and attention), or an Eastern, Buddhist approach to mindfulness including the practice of meditation, consciousness and the application of current moment perception (the power of the “Now”). From the Western standpoint, mindfulness is defined as an active attentiveness to task and detail. This is a quality that all educators and parents alike strive to nurture within a student in terms of their daily focus regarding academic tasks. From the Eastern standpoint, mindfulness is defined as “a technique in which a person becomes intentionally aware of their thoughts and actions in the present moment, non-judgmentally” (Wikipedia). It should be mentioned that mindfulness is a skill that needs to be both practiced and developed. Ideally, an educator could provide a student with the tools to enhance this skill. Further, in order to facilitate an environment conducive to mindfulness, considerations around disciplinary measures needs to be taken into account. Educators need to move away from a dictatorship approach to discipline to create an open, safe space for students and teachers alike to explore “the self”.
Let us explore the benefits of mindfulness in an educational setting and some of the tools used for its development. Meditation is among the strongest act of pursuing mindfulness and there are several forms to partake of including: breath, mantra, visualization, and contemplation. The intention of meditation is not necessarily to achieve a mindset completely devoid of thought, but rather a state of acknowledging thought and allowing it to pass through the consciousness without preoccupation. Several studies have been conducted to display how mindfulness and meditative practices actively reduce distraction and help to avoid stress. This is of particular use in the classroom to assist students with focus, and coping skills around stressful situations such as testing and examinations.
Current moment perception also assists a student with actively receiving a speaker by removing a preoccupation with either the past (regret) or the future (anticipation). With this type of self-focused exploration, students and educators develop the ability to “show up” in the classroom and in their daily lives. They are better able to engage in active listening, be analytical with subject matter, and integrate their learning into their life experience. Other benefits include the development of openness, self-awareness and insight, enhanced speaking and listening skills, and a consciousness of the diversity around them. From a place of self-understanding comes an ability to appreciate the richness of another individual’s life experience.
A specific philosophy of higher education that actively implements the above-explored techniques is known as Contemplative Education. Founded in the United State in 1974 by educator and practitioner Chögyam Trungpa, this mindful practice was incorporated into the Liberal Arts studies at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Contemplative education “ infuses learning with the experience of awareness, insight and compassion for oneself and others through the practice of meditation and contemplative disciplines. It seeks to integrate the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions, helping students know themselves more deeply and engage constructively with others” (Wikipedia). The act of learning is not solely a thinking mind activity, but rather an opportunity for a student to also examine their inner beings as a means of completely integrating what they have been taught. The engagement in mindfulness awareness allows a student to reside in the present moment and to potentially deepen their academic study. This philosophy was further applied to higher arts education with the Bachelor of fine Arts in Jazz and Contemplative Studies curriculum at The University of Michigan School of Music. Within this program, meditation practice was combined with related studies in jazz and overall musical training.
“The value of contemplative education is measured in students’ ability to put their wisdom and insight into practice through creative, helpful and effective action” (Wikipedia).
An Exploration of Community
Creativity and mindfulness are elements actively supported in present-day communities including private, public and independent educational institutions throughout the globe. We will further examine the application of these elements through community and educational philosophy models that demonstrate how creativity and mindfulness are actively nurtured, and positively implemented to produce abundant learning outcomes. Such pedagogical models and communities include the One World Program at George Vanier Secondary here with the Toronto District School Board, an intimate spiritual university in New Brunswick called St. Stephen’s University, and the international Waldorf system. With the exploration of these models and communities, we hope to abundantly express to our readers the importance of creativity and mindfulness in combination, and the potential abundant learning outcomes from their application within the classroom. These models will be explored in terms of our text's theories, and used further to make recommendations to us - the new teachers entering the profession. We will also be exploring and suggesting techniques to both promote and develop mindfulness more deeply.
Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Full Catastrophe Living. New York: Dell Publishing, 1990.
Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go, There You Are. New York: Hyperion,
Miller. John. The Holistic Curriculum. Toronto: OISE Press, 1996.
Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now. Vancouver, BC: Namaste 1997.
What is creativity? Is it something that can be learned in a classroom? Certainly creativity means many things to many people and is often dependent on context for its definition. The creative process involves many complex layers of cognition and though it is questionable whether or not we will ever fully comprehend all of the exact science behind creative thought, we can offer four characteristics often associated with creativity. First, creativity always involves thinking or behaving imaginatively. Second, overall this imaginative activity is purposeful: that is, it is directed to achieving an objective. Third, these processes must generate something original. Fourth, the outcome must be of value in relation to the objective.
The definition of creativity is often assumed to imply a purely artistic setting, but is creativity not also a large component of science, mathematics, engineering, and business? Without a quick definition for creativity that will suit all people at all times, we can examine some of the thought processes behind creative thought so that we might better understand how to foster creativity in our classrooms. Leslie Owen Wilson, a professor of philosophy and education at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, highlights two types of thinking that are involved in creative thinking - convergence and divergence.
Divergent thinking is most usually associated with the ability to elaborate, to fluently think of varied and original ideas. Brainstorming is one example of this type of thinking.
Convergent thinking is defined as “the ability to use logical and evaluative thinking to critique and marrow ideas to ones best suited for given situations, or set criteria.” This type of thinking is used to make well-formed decisions after consulting and evaluating an array of ideas and information (Wilson, 1997).
The creative process involves a combination of these two types of thinking, forcing the practitioner to constantly transition from the scattering of ideas (brainstorming) to the refining of thoughts and concepts most applicable to the given situation (convergence). This process can involve a lot of trial-and-error type of experimenting, but, as Wilson points out, the most successful “creative thinkers” are the those who were/are persistent with their efforts.
Though the definitions for creativity may be infinite one thing that seems to be a consensus among cognitive theorists is that a “eureka!!” moment, or moment of creative inspiration cannot come of its own volition. In order to achieve such a breakthrough, the practitioner must first have studied and attained a workable knowledge of requisite techniques and/or subject matter. Without such knowledge, creative thought becomes aimless (devoid of purpose) and lacks any concrete objective on which to substantiate value or relevance.
At Georges Vanier secondary school in Toronto, Ontario there is a program called the One World Youth Arts Program (OWYAP). This program is offered to students as part of the music curriculum and provides an open forum where students can share ideas and develop their creativity. It is an open-enrollment program, meaning there are no prerequisite courses or formal music training required for admission. Along with being a music course, the OWYAP offers students a chance to explore and embrace the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Through their music, students are encouraged to promote positivity, a strong spirit of community, and the idea that change starts from within.
The delivery model for OWYAP is more that of an art or music recording studio than a traditional instrumental-music classroom. Using Cubase software, students work individually at computer stations composing original scores, learning basic piano skills and elements of harmony. They also have opportunity to collaborate with classmates on recording projects and/or live performances.
The OWYAP stays true to our statements regarding creativity in that the more knowledge and ability students gain in terms of music theory, piano skills (the main interface with the Cubase software is a piano keyboard), and the recording equipment, the better able they will be to create coherent, imaginative and original compositions. The core components of the OWYAP curriculum are student-derived, which allows the course to be tailored to individual wants and abilities. This strong personal element provides students with the time and confidence to experiment with their work, allowing them to explore both divergent and convergent methodologies. The main task for the instructor in such a setting is making sure the students stay on task, encouraging them to realize how their final product shows true value and connection to the original objective. Having several chances to create original works throughout the semester allows students to see (hear) the improvement in their work and realize that knowledge is necessary for progress.
Through promoting acquisition of a stronger skill set and knowledge base in a practical setting, as well as providing opportunity to immediately implement such newly acquired skills in a supportive environment, the OWYAP exemplifies an ideal classroom model for the development of creativity.
A Challenge to all Classroom Instructors
The One World Youth Arts Project at Georges Vanier is a unique setting indeed and we can’t all be expected to provide such a highly individualized atmosphere for our students. However, what we can do is try to realize specific elements within the OWYAP that promote creative thinking, supportive community and engaging curriculum, and work towards incorporating those elements into our own lessons. The push towards standardization over the past century has become infectious even to our own personalities. As classroom instructors we should not strive to get everyone on the same page, but challenge our students to find their own page, bringing original thoughts and personality into our classrooms.
Dewey, John. Art As Experience. 1934. New York: Penguin Books Ltd., 2005
Eisner, Elliot W. The Arts and the Creation of Mind London: Yale University Press, 2002
The Role of Community
While creativity has long been held as a formative aspect of any learning community, its converse is said to be just as true. The community in which an artist is raised and develops her craft has incredible significance in terms of her effectiveness and growth. Specifically, learning communities that value genuine relationships and caring are better facilitators of creativity.
Another factor that is directly related to the quality of one’s learning community is one’s capacity for self contemplation, or mindfulness. Logically, communities that intentionally create space for mindfulness, or put another way (ironically), are mindful of its members’ mental wellbeing, tend to demonstrate a greater overall level of mental health and stability. Throughout this section, the validity of these claims will be demonstrated both theoretically and by referring to a specific example of such a community, currently functioning on our planet Earth.
In order to proceed, it is necessary to both identify what constitutes a genuine relationship, and define the term caring. Woolfolk et al. refer to an author named Nel Noddings, who for over ten years has written extensively on the value and importance of caring within educational systems. A core argument under-girding Noddings’ views, is that caring is an intrinsic necessity of human life - all people want and need to be cared for. She claims that it is a “longing for goodness that arises out of the experience or memory of being cared for…” (Flinders 2001, p. 211). An encounter with a student is definitive of caring when it exhibits the following characteristics: the ‘carer’ is reflectively oriented toward the ‘cared-for’ in a way that is receptively attentive, the carer demonstrates an active helpful interest that assumes action, and all of this is recognized by the ‘cared-for’ as an act of caring - that is, a measure of perception is required to authenticate the experience. Relationships between teachers and students that consistently involve this kind of caring might be called genuine relationships.
Hence, having defined these terms, it is the learning communities that deliberately incorporate the primacy of genuine caring relationships into their vision that are the focus of this section. These structures tend to exclude those educators who are concerned solely with the financial aspects of their occupations to the exclusion of all else - those who are “putting in time” and do not care about their students.
Creativity can be described as the spontaneous human response that results from provoked emotional dispositions. While such response might occur in an atmosphere of oppression or constraint, it absolutely flourishes when expressed from within an atmosphere of security, affirmation, and constructive inquiry. Hence, schools that foster these characteristics are excellent facilitators of creativity.
Finally, while there are many individuals who have undertaken self-contemplative tasks, the degree to which a community encourages such behaviour directly affects the success of it. While this might seem obvious, it is imperative to recognize the simple reality underlying this idea: in our day and age, if you don’t make time for it, it will not happen. Also, it is important to note that, while certainly having roots in Eastern mythical religions, self-contemplation is a mental health activity that transcends boundaries of all kinds, being found in all major religions and people-groups throughout the world. For that reason, it is completely viable as a solution for stress, and may be effectively used in some capacity within any educational institution to promote mental health and wellbeing.
St. Stephen’s University
One such institution (though be it post-secondary) is a small trans-denominational Christian liberal arts school in the tiny town of St. Stephen, New Brunswick. This school has begun to draw world-wide attention for its uplifting community dynamics, which among many other things, foster both creativity and self-contemplation. The school is situated on a hill near the St. Croix river - a scenic property that supports a number of individual rustic multipurpose buildings, all of which have both bedrooms and classrooms. From simple maintenance to cleaning, students living within these buildings are responsible for their cleanliness on a scheduled weekly basis. Excellent cooking is also done by the students, who eat in a large family-like room with lots of small tables to facilitate interpersonal relationships: professors and students alike eat together and informally discuss issues both academic and personal.
Mindfulness, or contemplative space more generally, is fostered in many ways at St. Stephen’s University. First, there are three weekly chapel meetings that happen after lunch, where various members of the community and student body are invited to share an inspirational message. Second, time for prayer is allocated before the beginning of any meal. Specifically, those who are waiting in line for food form a rough circle, join hands, and rather than only offering words of thanks for their food, pray for those in need in their community, or even pressing issues facing the world. Third, contemplative space is considered especially important in class settings, where significant issues are often discussed in terms of their personal relevance and meaning. Lastly, physical space is abundant on the property, which is full of unique nooks and crannies that can be used for reflective purposes.
Genuine relationships and caring are of supreme importance for this school. Many of the professors at the university have moved to this small town of 3000, in order to be more closely involved with the school and deepen its sense of community. While professional boundaries are always upheld, many of them even invite students into their houses for meals or other events. Living in residence is mandatory at SSU, as they believe that the experience of living in close proximity to others is a valuable life tool.
Within this context of genuine relationships and consequently acceptance, creativity flourishes. The school brims with artists of all kinds: musicians, sculptures, painters, poets, and more. Each year the school hosts a fantastic arts night featuring student compositions and works. Furthermore, students are specifically invited to use their creativity within the community for purposes of social justice and healing. In general however, the focus of the school is to promote academic excellence combined with competence in life. Overall, this produces highly motivated students unlike many other Canadian universities, whose students often report the contrary.
A Translation into Our World
Within the public school setting (at both elementary and secondary levels), deliberate considerations need to be made about the quality of the community the students and teachers are both involved in. While this is certainly related to external factors, perhaps the greatest factor is internal: the vision that unifies a school’s staff, and the degree to which its teachers adhere to it. Even if we as teachers, find ourselves in schools that do not overtly mandate their governing members to the necessity of genuine relationships or to the use of mindfulness, we ourselves can make choices to orient ourselves in such ways, and perhaps thereby provide the help and encouragement that students need to survive in such hostile places.
Flinders, D. J. (2001) 'Nel Noddings' in Joy A. Palmer (ed.) Fifty Modern Thinkers on Education. From Piaget to the present, London: Routledge.
Waldorf education has its roots in the spiritual-scientific research of the Austrian scientist and thinker Rudolf Steiner. In April of 1919, Rudolf Steiner visited the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. Germany, defeated in war, was on the brink of economic, social, and political chaos. Steiner spoke to the workers about the need for social renewal, for a new way of organizing society and its political and cultural life. Emil Molt, the owner of the factory, asked Steiner if he would establish and lead a school for the children of the employees of the company. Steiner agreed but set four conditions: 1) that the school be open to all children; 2) that it be coeducational; 3) that it be a unified twelve-year school; 4) that the teachers, those individuals actually in contact with the children, have primary control of the school, with minimum interference from the state or from economic sources. Steiner's conditions were radical for the day, but Molt gladly agreed to them. On September 7, 1919, the independent Waldorf School opened its doors. There are now more that 900 Waldorf schools in 83 countries around the world, Waldorf education is the fastest growing independent education movement in the world.
The structure of the education follows Steiner's pedagogical model of child development, which views childhood as divided overall into seven-year developmental stages, each having its own learning requirements; the stages are similar to those described by Piaget.
Waldorf schools approach learning in early childhood through imitation and example. Extensive time is given for guided free play in a classroom environment that is homelike, includes natural materials and provides examples of productive work in which children can take part; such an environment is considered by Waldorf pedagogues to be supportive of the physical, emotional and intellectual growth of the child through assimilative learning.
Elementary School Years
Waldorf schools regard learning at this stage as artistic and imaginative. The elementary school centers around a multi-disciplinary arts-based curriculum that includes visual arts, drama, artistic movement (eurythmy), vocal and instrumental music, and crafts.
To meet the developing capacity for abstract thought and conceptual judgment Waldorf schools place the emphasis on learning through intellectual understanding and ethical thinking, including taking social responsibility. Although education now focuses much more strongly on academic subjects, students normally continue to take courses in art, music, and crafts. Pupils are encouraged to develop their own independent and creative thinking processes.
Mind, Body, Spirit
The specific goals of Waldorf education are: 1. Creative thinking including: imagination, flexibility, and focus 2. Emotional intelligence, empathy, and self-esteem 3. Physical vitality, stamina, and perseverance 4. Spiritual depth gained through an appreciation and responsibility for nature, work, and for their fellow human beings Waldorf education addresses these goals through interdisciplinary, integrative practical, artistic, and intellectual elements, and coordination with the natural rhythms of everyday life. The Waldorf approach emphasizes the role of the imagination in learning, developing thinking that includes a creative as well as an analytic component.
“For us being human is to be artistic and to express yourself through the arts. So for us it's not a tacked-on added extra, we try, certainly in the younger years to make every lesson artistic. We start with music, we have verse, we draw in books, we express visually, all of these things give the child security, and it also fosters in them a feeling for other people, and a feeling for beauty, which for us is very central to living. ” Andrew Hill, Waldorf Class Teacher
Waldorf education is designed to simultaneously foster creativity and mindfulness or emotional intelligence. Waldorf students acquire the ability to express themselves through painting, drama, music, crafts, movement, and writing. All lessons are reinforced through the learning community that is established around each class where one teacher, one group of children, and their parents remain together for eight or more years. Waldorf education fosters self-esteem by recognizing that each child brings gifts above and beyond the ones that can be measured on an exam. The book, Habits of Mind, published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, relates a series of attributes that describe what intelligent people do when they are confronted with problems that are seemingly unsolvable. These attributes, such as: Persisting, Managing Impulsivity, Listening with Understanding and Empathy, Thinking Flexibly, Gathering Data Through All Senses, and Responding with Wonderment and Awe, are woven into the Waldorf approach to education.
Recommendations for Mainstream Education
The holistic, spiritual, creative and mindful basis of Waldorf education is considered to be a healing education that would benefit all students regardless of ability or need, an education that is universally designed. Mainstream educators have recommended the integration of the arts into traditional content, a pedagogy that embodies the American psychologist Howard Gardner’s “Theory of Multiple Intelligences” and the current trend in education of Differentiating Instruction, as an effective stimulator of spiritual-aesthetic, intellectual and physical development as seen in Waldorf education.
Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching from the inside out by Jack Petrash, Gryphon House Inc. What is Waldorf Education? 3 Lectures by Rudolf Steiner Steiner Books A day in the life of the Rudolf Steiner School by Jennifer O. Prescott, Instructor, Nov-Dec 1999 The Steiner Way. A Compass Sunday nights program on Australian ABC TV, 28 April, 2002.
Waldorf.ca Waldorf Education in Canada