When we define and embrace our own creativity, we thrive. And when their teachers thrive, students will learn to thrive as well. We can take responsibility for thriving by giving ourselves the powerful gift of being creative.
Revisiting the Beginner's Mind
This week I went to a mixed media paint party with my sister and a couple of other friends. When we arrived, we met up with another eight students who were ready to learn from a local artist. The energy was a mix of "I barely made it" to "I can't wait for this indulgence of time and creativity."
As we got settled, the artist announced the surprise assignment: "We are painting abstract self-portraits." That put some of us on edge. It wasn't a landscape or a cherry blossom -- it was the human face! Didn't DaVinci work on the Mona Lisa for quite awhile (some say as long as 14 years)?
Well, I'm not a visual artist of any sort. Even scrapbooking is beyond me. So this was a stretch.
As I wove in and out of frustration and progress over the next three hours, doing everything from finger-painting to spray-painting, I exulted in the process. The flow of creating was a distraction from my work at school, a shared experience with friends old and new, and a reminder of the joy in the young-at-heart experience of the beginner's mind. It focused my attention in a refreshing and purposeful way. I think this must be some of the reason that adult coloring books line the shelves of our bookstores and airports.
Pleasures and Benefits of Creativity
Why is being creative an important gift for educators to give themselves? How does embracing ourselves as creative beings cultivate a vibrant professional life?
My paint party taught me three principles about giving myself the gift of creativity:
1. Creating gives the experience of escape.
Whether we create in an art studio, garden, or garage, we gather visceral experiences through the process of creating. We learn how our body feels in the moments of frustration, how to move through them, and how to continue looking for breakthroughs. We realize the power of flow, and we recognize the goodness of that timeless experience of focus. We become makers, and in doing so, we find ways of teaching our students to become makers.
In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert describes it this way:
We all need something that helps us to forget ourselves for a while -- to momentarily forget our age, our gender, our socioeconomic background, our duties, our failures, and all that we have lost and screwed up. We need something that takes us so far out of ourselves that we forget to eat, forget to pee, forget to mow the lawn, forget to resent our enemies, forget to brood over our insecurities. . . creative living can do it.
2. Being creative builds community.
Whether they're art journaling at the side table in their bedrooms or playing second-chair violin in the local orchestra, creatives find each other and build community. Consider the communities, either virtual or in your neighborhood, all built around creative endeavors. Relationships of common interest and common process are powerful and refreshing forces of attraction. Building a community of creativity is encouraging and offers a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. That's a great gift for a teacher who spends all day in a classroom with children.
Community, a sense of belonging, an experience of "we're all in this together" -- these things are completely transferable to our classrooms. The template for building community is the same everywhere. We create safety, bind it with encouragement, wrap it in common interest, and we have community.
3. Being creative is life-giving.
Gilbert again gives words and wisdom to this principle:
Let inspiration lead you wherever it wants to lead you. Keep in mind that for most of history, people just made things. . . We make things because we like making things. . . because human beings are possessed of something special, something extra, something unnecessarily rich, something that the novelist Marilynne Robinson calls "an overabundance that is magical."
When we create, we touch the part of us that's committed to thriving. Call it spiritual, divine, or magic. Whatever the words you use, it's a good gift to engage our creativity outside of the classroom.
When you feel worn out or lackluster, please consider giving yourself the gift of being creative. It will take some intentionality, but remember that you're a teacher -- a master at intentionality.
- How have you successfully been creative this year?
- How will you celebrate your success?
- What is a creative risk that you can take this month?