May I…?

My good friend A.J. Juliani has a new book coming out soon and I was honoured to have been asked to write the foreword.  Here is my “unedited” version of that piece in honour of his book coming out this week.

Est-que je peux aller aux toilettes?

Out of everything that I learned in taking French classes for eight out of my twelve years in my K-12 schooling, this is the one phrase that I will always remember.

Translated it says, “May I go to the bathroom?”

When I think about that question, that was easily the question that I asked most in my time as a student in school, whether it was English or French.  If you think about it, if school is to spark the curiosity that we hope for ourselves and our future generation, shouldn’t our questions start with “why” or “how”, not “may I”?  That last question is not about thinking deeply or exploring passions, but it is about compliance.  How many times do you now ask someone else permission to go to the bathroom?  What a weird thing to think about.

Yet we wonder why we see articles like the one in Newsweek in 2010 about a “Creativity Crisis”.  According to the Newsweek article, 1500 CEO’s were asked what the most important “leadership competency” was that they would look for and “creativity” came in as a clear number one.  In the same article though, schools were listed as one of the reasons that children were not creative and stated that within schools, “there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children.”

A question that has always driven my own thinking is do people become creative because of school, but in spite of it?

As most students, I walked out of school having no idea what I wanted to do.  What we were told over and over again was that university and college was a way to a better life, and without having any dream of other than being an NBA basketball player (which was not happening), I started on the costly endeavour of going to university without having any idea of what I loved.  It is a very costly way to “find yourself” and is more so now when careers are harder to obtain more than ever.  Unfortunately after six years of university, I still had no idea of what I loved, only what I was about to do.  My post-secondary education was more of a checklist to the next stage of my life, than a way to explore my passions.  Luckily years into my career, I found my niche and I couldn’t imagine doing anything different now, but how different is my story from others?  Years and years of time, thousands and thousands of dollars, and I luckily felt that I found my passion in my third decade on this earth.

I am grateful that I found my passion and every day I leave my house, it is with a spring in my step, but I was a lucky one.  As someone who has a career in education, one of my beliefs is to do everything that I can in our schools that students can find their passion during their time in classrooms.  How could I have known what I love if I did not have an opportunity to explore different passions without the help of my teachers?  School should be a place not where answers go to die, but questions come to life.

So how do we make this happen within the confines of a system that was built to enhance and mirror industrialism?  First off, educators need to start seeing themselves as innovators.  We can talk about the constraints of testing, curriculum, poor leadership, and a million other things, but that is pointing the finger away from what we can do ourselves.  We ask our students to solve problems all of the time, and we need to model this ourselves.  If you think the system doesn’t work for your students, then let’s start to think different.  A.J. does a nice job debunking the myths of a non-traditional classroom but it is up to you to implement them.

Next, we have to start looking what the world looks like outside of schools and bring that into our classrooms.  As much as I hate to say it, Google has a bigger “research and development” budget than any school I know, and when they are openly sharing some of the ways that they not only engage their employees, but also create environments where innovation flourishes. We should pay attention.  What great organizations do is develop their people as thinkers, leaders, and “intrapreneurs” who constantly push innovation from within.  Can you imagine what your classroom could look like if we adopted that same mindset as educators?

As I read this book and the ideas that A.J. has shared, I felt my head nodding emphatically thinking, “I wish I went to school now.”  Not only is it more engaging, but it has the potential to be so much better.  In a world that the only constant will be change, how do we get students to think of themselves as innovators not only in the future, but today.  As any good book on the notion of innovation will often lead to more questions, and A.J. has written something that will push your learning long after, while also giving great ideas and a framework to really push your own learning ahead.

Nothing different will happen with your students until something different happens for your first. Hopefully the “why” and “how” will become the common question starter for our students, as opposed to “may I”, no matter the language.

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