Owning My Element

My Creative Process

Sometimes a simple question spurs on an overflow of creative thinking.  My dear friend and colleague, Tana Ebaugh, often asks me these kinds of questions. Recently she asked why I blog. This in itself was a gem that prompted curious contemplation. However, then she added to the power of this question by showing me this revolutionary video.

After watching this video, I knew I had to read more about Ken Robinson. I had already watched his previous two TED talks (one that you can find in my previous post and one you can find by clicking here), and knew I had to go deeper into his ideas. The next morning I downloaded his audiobook The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. Having listened to it for three hours, I can now answer Tana’s question of why I blog.

* Above is an example of how my creative process relies on human connection and multimedia. Ken Robinson discusses how the creative process is unique to everyone, and extremely valuable to cultivate. It is this process that leads one to living out their element.

My Element

In his book, Ken Robinson talks about what it means to be in your element. You are in your element when you do what you love doing. This is only a basic definition though. It goes much deeper than that. You are in your element when time seems to stand still while you are doing the thing you’ve discovered defines your core self. When you do what you were meant to do, you are in your element. Everyone has this element, and I am grateful to have found mine. Although I knew I loved teaching teachers, it is only after having listened to his audiobook that I am able to tell you why I do, and why I think this is my element.

My desire to connect and to be heard makes me love teacher training. In this zone, I am in my element because I know that what I am saying is being absorbed and processed by my audience. If I feel that I am not understood, or that there is no desire to hear what I have to say, I immediately switch off. Whether at a party, or in a classroom, if I don’t think I’m making a clear connection with someone, I shut down. Knowing this, I am constantly looking for better ways to be heard and understood. Sometimes this means simplifying my message, or following the flow of my trainees’ needs. If they don’t need to hear what I have to say, there is no need for me to say it. I discover this need by gauging their reactions to my intellectual poking and prodding. They often tease me by saying that I am “slowly squeezing their brains”, or that “I poke them” gently through the learning process. If they are curious about the way I “squeeze” them, then I continue. If I see their eyes glazing over, it’s time for me to change my tune.

Being among a group of people who share my love of teaching also fuels my element. With my trainees, we are on a similar level. Even though we teach in different contexts and are from different backgrounds, ultimately we are in the business of sharing and guiding individuals through the process of learning. This common plain creates a willingness for reciprocal listening: I want to listen to them as much as they want to listen to me. In a sense, we feed off each others’ experiences. Without this kind of shared community, be it with my trainees, or my colleagues/friends, my light doesn’t shine so brightly. It is through their light that I can see my own.

This is why I blog. I blog because teachers who share my passion will read what I have to say. It is the perfect blend of community and communication. My blog is a multimedia reflection of my element.

A quote from The Element: In the 19th century, William James became one of the founding thinkers of modern psychology. By then it was becoming more widely understood that our ideas and ways of thinking could imprison or liberate us. James put it this way,  ‘The greatest discovery of my generation is that humans being can alter their lives by altering their attitude of mind. If you change your mind, you can change your life.’ This is the real power of creativity and the true promise of being in your element. – Ken Robinson

Thank you for the light :)

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Let Creativity Flow

“When teachers’ knowledge of themselves, their students and their professional skills do not align with the contexts in which they work there is little energy or psychic space left for being present to the learner and his learning. Both teacher and students are then deprived of creative exchange and connection between themselves, subject matter and context. (Carol R. Rodgers* and Miriam Raider-Roth)”

My dear friend and colleague Kevin Giddens posted this quote to his Facebook status a few weeks ago. It resonated with me on many levels. When my beliefs are not supported by the system I teach in, then I feel blocked; I feel frustrated. On this level of emotion I recognize that my needs for freedom and creativity are stunted because I do not feel heard by my educational community. If I am not heard, if my teaching beliefs are not valued or seen, then my creative energy cannot flow. When creativity does not flow, both teaching and learning are in jeopardy.

As a teacher trainer in Korea, I hear a version of this sentiment on a regular basis: “We don’t have the time to be creative and make new material because we have so much to do beyond teaching our classes. Not only do we have to teach, but we also have to take care of after school study classes, as well as tonnes of bureaucratic paperwork. Sometimes we’re at school until 11pm! How can we be expected to be creative?”

These teachers crave creativity.  They want to connect. They want to help their students learn. They want to be passionate teachers, but where does the “energy or psychic space left for being present to the learner and his learning” come into play in such a reality?

The energy and space comes from knowing that they are not alone in their quest for creativity and connection. It comes from knowing that there are teachers out there who have the same aspirations. As teachers, “we are our best resources”, but this does not have to be a solitary affair. “We” includes our community. This is a community of like-minded colleagues. It is a community in search of a better way. You can create this community.

We find these community members by speaking out, and sharing our fears and desires. These members may be at your schools, at training courses, and in professional organizations such as KOTESOL or TESOL. Once you speak out, you can be heard. You have taken the risk, and you realize that you are not alone. You invent your own personal peer support network. This is where creativity is possible. When your aspirations align with those of others, creativity can flow.

Creativity = Change

You make that change happen.