Imagining Futures: Creativity
Imagining futures is partly about using creativity in teaching.
Imagine yourself at the back of a class, watching a lesson unfold. The teacher circulates the room, an encouraging presence. The students, gathered in groups around colourful tables, are alight, energetically calling out words to each other and hurriedly scribbling them out in coloured texta over a large sheet of butcher’s paper. The electricity of each new idea causes students to leap out of their chair with pointed fingers in the air, calling: “I know, I know!”, “what about…?!” “what if…?!”. The timer on the TV screen runs down to zero and is met with a disappointed “awww!” followed by quiet from the class.
The teacher asks, what type of thinking did we just practice?
We were brainstorming!
Yes, and what does that mean? What kind of thinking do we do when we brainstorm?
We shared our ideas
We came up with lots of ideas
We bounced off each other
Why did we use brainstorming today?
- We needed to think of ideas for our project
- The teacher continues to prompt:
- What was helpful about doing a brainstorm as a group?
- Why is it important to think of more than one idea, rather than going with our first idea that pops into our heads?
- Could we have approached this task differently today?
- When else could we use brainstorming to help us?
- Can you think of a job where a professional might use brainstorming?
As a tertiary lecturer with preservice teachers, when I set out to write this article on creativity in teaching and learning, I wondered if academic rigour, strict conventions, and course regulations were getting in the way of our preservice teachers’ freedom to be creative.
However, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that in fact, our Tabor preservice teachers are constantly exercising their imagination. Just as we created a mental image of the classroom described above, and the students in that classroom imagined solutions to a problem, our preservice teachers are constantly operating in a space of their imagined futures.
In its simplest form, to imagine is to visualise, or to “form…a mental picture” (Cambridge University Press, 2022). People can powerfully use their imagination to “represent possibilities other than the actual, to represent times other than the present, and to represent perspectives other than [their] own” (Liao & Gendler, 2020).
Preservice teachers imagine interactions with students, parents and colleagues, stepping into their shoes to understand perspectives that are different from their own. They jostle with moral dilemmas and conflict resolution in imagined role-plays. They imagine the impact of their teaching on student academic and affective outcomes. They imagine how they will operate in hypothetical classrooms, with fictional resources. They read documents and imagine the many possibilities for breathing life into the curriculum and pastoral care. Preservice teachers reflect on things that happened in their previous placement and imagine other ways of differentiating the lessons or managing behaviour.
This kind of reflective imagining is a central process for learning. John Dewey (cited in Chambliss, 1991, p. 40) went as far as to say that “all learning is carried on through the medium of imagery”, as we engage in a continuous cycle of imagining and taking action to bring the imagined possibilities into reality (Chambliss, 1991).
Of course, when planning for our ‘future classrooms’, we defer to research - there are steps, processes, models, frameworks, and policies to follow. In Tabor’s praxis model, we use reason to determine the most logical path based on research and evidence, and we use our memories of what has worked well in the past or what we have observed in the classroom. Perhaps more importantly, we recognise that there is no fixed path, rather an array of solutions. Teachers who can imagine varied solutions will indeed be knowledgeable and effective practitioners.
The uniqueness of Tabor’s education courses is in the emphasis on personal formation, of imagining the self amid the theories and structures, because, as it is recognised in research, the quality of the teacher is the single greatest source of influence on student success at school (Hattie, 2003). Drawing inspiration from Parker Palmer’s (2017, p. 2) concept that “we teach who we are”, Tabor preservice teachers ask the challenging questions - not just ‘how might such and such recommend that you act in this scenario?’ but, ‘how could I respond to this scenario in a way that is authentic?’, ‘how might I operate with integrity within this system?’, ‘in this context would my belief system create a just or an unjust outcome?’
Describing this as imagining a mental picture of hypothetical classroom environments does not quite capture the richness of the learning that occurs from such deep reflection. Perhaps it would be better described using the Old French, imaginer, meaning to “sculpt, carve, paint; decorate, embellish” (Online Etymology Dictionary, 2022). Preservice teachers are artists, imaginatively sculpting their future classrooms, spending the time to embellish them with layers of purposeful detail.
Like the teacher in the opening story, by making imagination more explicit in our vocabulary, preservice teachers will be able to name when they are using their imagination, thus building their metacognitive skills, and enabling them to teach this to their own students.
Teachers, be encouraged – as we make space for students to be creative, allow time for imagining, for idea generation, for percolation, for group discussion, so students, irrespective of their age or discipline, will be enabled to meaningful learning and action.
“The question is not whether we possess the ability to imagine; it is to find ways of enlarging the scope in which our imagination plays and works and to make more substantial the actualities that our imagination makes possible.” (Chambliss, 1991, p. 43)
Cambridge University Press (2022). Imagine. In Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved December 12, 2021, from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/imagine
Chambliss, J. J. (1991). John Dewey’s idea of imagination in Philosophy and Education. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 25(4), 43–49. https://doi.org/10.2307/3332902
Hattie, J. (2003). Teachers make a difference, what is the research evidence? Paper presented at the Building Teacher Quality: What does the research tell us. ACER Research Conference, Melbourne,Australia. Retrieved from http://research.acer.edu.au/research_conference_2003/4/
Liao, S. & Gendler, T. (2020). Imagination. In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2020 edition). Retrieved December 12, 2021, from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/imagination/
Online Etymology Dictionary (2022). Imagine (v.). https://www.etymonline.com/word/imagine?ref=etymonline_crossreference
Palmer, P. (2017). The courage to teach (20th ed.). Jossey Bass.