Creative Imagination

Published on: Author: bette Leave a comment

We arrived in Quartzsite, Arizona yesterday and will be here for a couple of weeks for the “Really Big” RV show.  It’s a pretty amazing phenomenon:  thousands of RVer’s descend on this tiny border town every winter to “boon dock” on BLM land and escape the weather at home.  There’s not much to do here except to spend hour upon hour wandering around the enormous RV show tent – and, of course, for me – to write.


My writing process these days is really all about sorting through ideas that I’ve been filing away for many many years . . . and today I found one that is worth keeping.



When I left classroom teaching in 1998,  I really wasn’t ready to leave education entirely.   So when Richard and I moved to Oregon,  I began attending national educational conferences and met some truly amazing educators.  For almost 14 years I’ve been following their work and have become increasingly more frustrated as I’ve seen mainstream education move even further away from what I’ve come to know as “Natural Learning.”


I met Dr. William Spady at the ASCD Convention in San Francisco in 1999.  I was so captivated by his work that when Steve Swisher, the superintendent of Brookings-Harbor School District encouraged me to rally the community around a small charter school,  I embraced Dr. Spady’s Natural Learning model as the framework within which we would plan the curriculum for the school.  At that time he was calling that framework “The Five C’s”  –  and that finally brings me to the reason I began writing this morning.


Buried deep in an old  file was a folded piece of chart paper with the words “CREATIVE IMAGINATION” in the center and a bunch of Post-it notes with words or phrases that emerged from an early brainstorming session.  “Creative Imagination” was one of Dr. Spady’s  FIVE  C’s.   (The other four were “Collaborative Interaction” – “Competent Implementation” – “Compassionate Involvement” and “Conscious Identity.”  I’m sure I’ll write about each of those later . . . but not today!)



Since I had never really wanted to leave education entirely when I retired,  I packed up boxes and boxes and boxes of 30 years of teaching stuff and moved it all to Oregon.     For several years our living room, office, and garage looked a lot more like an elementary school classroom than a home!


After I met Dr. Spady (Bill)  he invited me to work together with an amazing network of people on a private school venture called “HeartLight International.”    That was when I first learned about his “Five C’s” and became excited about their potential to transform education.  So, in  2002  when I began working with HeartLight,  Richard and I  rented a nice little office space and I was able to move all the boxes downtown and reclaim my home.


Now that  I finally had a framework that made sense to me,  I got five empty boxes and labeled them according to the “Five C’s.”    Then I started a sorting process that I have never (and may not ever)  finish.     I would open one of the “old” boxes . . . pick up a piece of paper . . . or a file folder . . . or a booklet . . . or book . . . and put it in one of the new boxes labeled with the “FIVE C’s.”


Before long I had to add boxes to a couple of the “C’s.”   The one that filled first was “COMPETENT IMPLEMENTATION,”  and I realized that most of the materials  for the traditional subjects I taught belonged there.   Competency requires both skills and a working knowledge of the basic concepts upon which civilization rests.   It is appropriate that we pass that knowledge on to our children . . . but preparing our young for their future must involve much more.


The second box to spill over was “COOPERATIVE INTERACTION” and I soon realized that was because of my work as an elementary school counselor and my belief in the importance of developing Social/Emotional Intelligence in children from a very young age.


I never needed a second box for “COMPASSIONATE INVOLVEMENT,”  but the first box filled with with things like  “Project Based Learning,”  “Permaculture” and “Service Learning.”    Not surprisingly, “CONSCIOUS IDENTITY” was almost empty.    “School” in our society is far more about shaping children to “fit” into our preconceived “boxes” than helping them to explore and understand their own uniqueness.


What did surprise me, however, was that the “CREATIVE IMAGINATION” box was also almost empty.   When I was teaching I honestly believed that I was helping children develop “creativity.”  However . . . as I kept running across the “lessons” I had taught in art, music, writing, and even physical education and dance . . . I realized that almost all of them belonged in the box marked “COMPETENT IMPLEMENTATION.”   For the most part they were lessons aimed at developing and practicing skills and teaching concepts rather than devoting time to letting creative imagination run free!



Several years later another experience brought me back to wondering about how creativity can be fostered in the classroom.    It took place when the Upper Checto Charter School Planning Team and I were beginning to create curriculum using the  “Five C’s Learning System Framework.”    When we began to brainstorm curriculum components that would fit into the CREATIVE IMAGINATION aspect of the framework, the first few words came easily:

  • ART

No one was surprised at this since these are the traditional school subjects that are most often thought of to be “creative.”   Then as we dug a bit deeper some more interesting ideas began to emerge:

  • METACOGNITION – (Thinking about Thinking)

It wasn’t until the last two ideas came out that we really began to get at the core truth about CREATIVE IMAGINATION.   This also  probably sums up the reason that educators who wish to promote truly innovative and flexible school models find it harder and harder to flourish in today’s school culture:

  • TIME

So now I’m going to put that chart and all the Post It notes in the trash.   Even as I do that I find myself daydreaming as my mind drifts off across the windy Arizona landscape.   I wonder if  educators in this country will ever slow down long enough to see CREATIVE IMAGINATION as something that can be nurtured in a child.   Unfortunately it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen very soon because it will always take time, patience, and perhaps the trust to let children daydream.   Yes . . . even in class!


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