Last week, I was privileged to attend the CAFE conference at Towson University here in Maryland.  This conference is co-hosted by the State Superintendent of Schools and AEMS Alliance (our arts education alliance here in Maryland).  There were over 400 participants who represented everyone from business leaders, classroom teachers, arts educators, legislators, and administrators.  My team, principal and I were there to network with the wonderful people and to accept an award from the Kennedy Center honoring our arts integration program for the state of Maryland. I was so humbled to be in the same room with such amazing talent and energy!

I wanted to share with you some of the main points that came out of the conference.  This year, the conference was focused on ICI – Innovation, Creativity and Imagination – and was guided by the Lincoln Center’s ICI conversations. There was a fabulous panel discussion led by Richard Deasy, the founder of the Arts Education Partnership, and featured business leaders, scientists from NASA, engineers from Northrup Grumman, and Anne Arundel County School Superintendent Kevin Maxwell.  This panel brought up these amazing points about why the arts are crucial to American innovation in the 21st century:

1.) Passion Over Precision. 99% of discoveries are made by 1% of scientists.  The scientists who make the discoveries are the ones who take the risks, who are not afraid to explore new territory.  They are passionate about their work persevere because of that passion.  These scientists are more successful almost every time when compared to the scientists who are in the lab following the procedures for hours on end.  As teachers, we should recognize that students don’t have to be the “best”.  They just need to have a passion for something and they will rise to the challenge.

2.) Knowing when to be creative.  On the flip side from the first statement, sometimes you need to be able to balance creativity with realism.  A scientist from NASA brought up this point and at first, I was a little confused.  Don’t we always want to foster creativity?  Well, no.  As this scientist so eloquently said, “If you’re in space and need to know where everyone is for safety, you don’t want someone having a creative moment at the wrong time and floating away”.  While we definitely need to foster creativity in our students, we also need to teach them when creativity is appropriate and when we need to use more precise judgments so that creativity can be utilized at another time.

3.) The Smartest People Work Somewhere Else. Another example from NASA’s scientists, this statement made me burst out laughing.  It’s so true – we don’t know everything.  Turns out, neither does NASA.  Apparently, they were working on a problem and couldn’t figure it out.  So, they “threw it into the cloud” – out into internet space – and the solution came to them from some place around the world from a guy that had nothing to do with any space program anywhere.  Often times in education, and especially as teachers, we’re expected to have the smartest kids in our class and to be the smartest person in the room.  Instead, if we open ourselves to the possibility that others may have an answer we haven’t thought of, we might be able to learn something from them and expand even further.  Why are we so afraid of asking for help?  Creativity isn’t about being the first person to get the “right” answer.  It’s about inventing a solution to a problem that we didn’t know we had.

After the panel discussion, we split into breakout sessions and had a variety of highly engaging conversations about how the arts can impact and shape 21st century education, including being used in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  I participated in a lively discussion about how and when to assess creativity.  My personal thoughts on this are still stewing a bit.  I’m not totally convinced that we need to measure creativity.  After all, isn’t the whole point of creativity to develop something new?  How do you grade something that the world has never seen before?  I will say that one of the participants, Mary Ann Miers brought up the point that we must start thinking of “measurement” as “transparency” instead.  Measurement has such negative connotations.  Instead, if we think of it as being transparent, it becomes more about seeing the process of creativity and assessing how the creativity occurred.  I thought this was a much better way to look at the assessment piece of this conversation.

I’m eager to hear your opinions on what was shared at this conference.  Do you think that creativity can be measured?  If so, how?  What do you think about “controlled creativity” that was described in #2 above?  Let’s keep these conversations going….they are shaping our world, right now!