One Workplace attended the thought-provoking event, ieSONOMA 2017, a few months back with the charming and inspiring Sir Ken Robinson. Robinson spoke on creativity, education, innovation, and the future of learning. We were so inspired by his thoughts, we wanted to share a recap of them with you in hopes of inspiring you as well.

Creativity In Schools

Sir Ken Robinson walked onto the stage after the host read through his remarkable biography. “Sir”, referring to his knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for Service to the Arts in 2003; Ken has been an educator, writer, researcher, advertiser, and speaker for most of his life. His 2006 TedTalk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” has been viewed online over 45 million times. His books are widely popular with educators, administrators, parents, and communities. He is passionate about his work and it exudes from his very presence.

Robinson opened his presentation reflecting on the relativity of time. He recently took notice on the way our culture uses the word “decade”. A decade is a reasonably short amount of time, but we use it because it gives the illusion of something much longer. Robinson reminisced about driving in his car in LA one day and hearing a car commercial declare, “proudly serving LA Country for almost half a decade.” So, four years? The large auditorium of local Bay Area teachers and supporters listening to the story roared in laughter—the statement seemed wildly dramatic. It was then widely agreed upon that “half a decade” sounded like a much more impressive feat than four years.

Robinson then recounted a story of inverse proportions about Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing to speak with the Chinese premier, Zhou Enlai. Nixon knew that Zhou was a student of Western History and thus asked him how he felt the French Revolution impacted the Western Civilization. Zhou famously replied, “it is too early to say”. They visited in the year 1972, the revolution took place in 1789. (This statement has since been analyzed and rebutted, but the story still holds value.)

When thinking of the future of education, we cannot allow ourselves to only think of the next decade of students. It is simply too short of time to be able to analyze the impacts. In a world addicted to analytics and data, we always want to know the immediate impacts of our changes. Robinson urged the need to think generationally and how our education is affecting our children and grandchildren. It is much too small of a mindset to focus on the here and now in education because the future of our well-being depends on it. How students and children are learning currently will only come to fruition when they have children themselves and begin to see the impacts of the education system.

Children just now starting Kindergarten will retire roughly at age sixty, in the year 2077. If you stop to analyze the impacts of that timeframe, we can begin to discuss the influences of how their education can shape our world around us. When we think about that duration of time and all the education, both formal and informal, that happens within, we can start to imagine how these learners can impact the world in a big way.

The Difference of Learning, Education, & School

Children are learning organisms from the day they are born. In a matter of around three years, infants grow into toddlers and learn to speak. The incredible phenomenon of learning to communicate and doing so in complete sentences within that small of a timeframe is something to admire. Children and adults enjoy learning. Learning is gaining information about a subject in which you’re interested, or something that you gain reward from knowing. An example of learning to communicate gives you many advantages, especially when you are too young to complete most tasks yourself. The difference between learning and education is that not everyone enjoys being educated. Education is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “the field of study that deals mainly with methods of teaching and learning in schools”. School is then the medium in which children receive knowledge. So, if students love learning, why do some dislike the idea of school?

Robinson clarifies that when children do not graduate school, it is not them who have failed the system, but the system that failed the child. A student who does not graduate is fed up with school, not learning. It is a significant difference that we believe goes overlooked. A school at its best is a community of learners. We need to encourage their self-driven curiosity and inquisition into what might be, not a structured standardized format. The standardization stifles creativity, which is at the heart of learning.

School is a designed systematic process. Robinson stated in his presentation, “If you design a system to do something, don’t be surprised if it does it.” The school system wasn’t intended to elicit creativity and innovation. It was inherently designed to train workers and employees to complete systematic jobs. It worked well in its origin, but not much has changed since. Teachers have done a wonderful job of adapting the way that they teach with the changing times, but we also need to alter the way that schools are designed to encourage exploration into their unknown. We should create spaces and communities of wonder, curiosity, and innovation.

How Might We?

How might we create these spaces to encourage wonder and excitement in a self-driven and inspired manner? We need to allow choice and control throughout physical aspects of the school day, much like they have at home. As we learned from Robinson, every student loves learning, but not all love school. We need to redefine what a classroom is, and what it means for students and teachers to use one. Classrooms should be places that support a student’s love of learning as well as their individuality. It should allow for various types of learners to feel comfortable and to provide the resources to create their own learning environment in which they feel they can take ownership.

Redefining what a classroom looks and feels like is no small challenge. Supporting different settings, learning zones, postures, and activities can help to inspire students to use their innate curiosity and adapt their classroom as a tool to help them learn. We’d love to talk to you about how to encourage your students to take ownership of their learning environments, in hopes of taking your school one step further into thinking generationally about space, school, creativity and their impacts on our students.