Collective creativity as an essential condition for a real profession of teaching: new in paperback

Some of the more rabid edu-twitterers hate creativity as a concept. At times, it seems, mostly because they hate Ken Robinson. And they hate Ken Robinson because he is really, really popular with teachers (and the wider public) and makes an awful lot of money from an entirely different view of education to the one they seek to espouse. The twitterers really want to be as popular as Ken Robinson and perhaps make as much money as Ken Robinson but are endlessly frustrated that their view doesn’t win the day. Most of all, they detest his influence, the reach of his ideas and the esteem in which people hold him.

So they throw around words like ‘charlatan’ and ‘spurious’ in as many 800-word spurts of bile as their little fingers can pump out.

Never mind, edu-twitterers/Gove-troopers. One day….

Love Ken Robinson - if only for his capacity to raise the blood pressure of the neo-cons...
Love Ken Robinson – if only for his capacity to raise the blood pressure of the neo-cons…

But creativity, in general, has come in for quite a bit of stick from the destructive reformers of education recently, particularly when it is associated with a kind of pedagogy that is caricatured as ‘progressive’. It has also become synonymous with laissez-faire approaches to teaching and a devaluation of historically-accumulated and developing bodies of knowledge.

When approaches to creativity in teaching focus on the exceptional or ‘gifted’ individual teacher or propose a superficial layering-over usual practice with some glitter and balloons (now I am caricaturing, of course), I am also not sure creativity is that helpful. It seems to become either a magical quality that is unattainable by most or a meaningless label that can cover up some awful practice.

Annalisa Sannino from Helsinki University and I edited the first book on creativity from an activity-theoretical (neo-Vygotskian) perspective and it is now out in paperback. It is focused around the concept of collective creativity – in other words, creativity as a social phenomenon, in historical context, and not just the property of a god-like class of individuals or visible in instances of idiosyncratic behaviour.

In my chapters, I develop the concept of professional creativity, specifically with reference to school teaching. Two pre-conditions, I argue, are essential for professional creativity to develop and to become the key characteristic of professional’s work: 1. the possibility of intellectual interdependence – meaning that professionals have access to and opportunities to contribute to the historically-accumulating bodies of knowledge that have grown up within their professional fields (a key but not single determiner of expertise; akin to a collective, professional memory); 2. the potential for individual agency within working conditions that allow for relative autonomy – not absolute autonomy, the freedom to do as one please regardless. But the higher standard of relative autonomy where professionals such as teachers are responsible to other citizens including the young people they teach. Intellectual interdependence and relative autonomy.

Chapter 9 from the book is available to download from the Chapters section of this website.

Other chapters in the book draw on research in the worlds of business and management, laboratory science, music and literature, emergency and rescue services and leadership. Authors include Annalisa Sannino, Yrjö Engeström, Karin Johansson, Sten Ludvigsen, Gerhard Fischer and Katsuhiro Yamazumi. It’s a very international book!

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