Following the adoption of our new Core Values, SFS leaders are taking turns writing about the ways in which those values are lived out every day on our campuses. This week we are sharing with you the Core Values of Creativity and Expression. 

Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye.” — Dorothy Parker

St. Francis School has always held Creativity and Expression as esteemed, essential values to its identity. Everyone connected to the School universally speaks to the joy found here and makes direct connections between that joy and the creative expression encouraged and celebrated each day on both of our campuses. Recent examples that come to mind include vibrant paper lanterns under construction in Judy Riendeau’s Lower School art classrooms as students prepare to celebrate World Kindness Day at the first-ever Lantern Walk on the Goshen Campus, the Middle School Drama Project’s recent production of Zink, and the “function art” hanging in the Algebra II classroom at the High School. Teachers in all content areas prioritize creativity and expression: on any given day in any given classroom in any division, you will find multitudes of examples of students creating and expressing their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and new learning. But what is the value, both for the learner and the culture? Why are Creativity and Expression, as essential as they are to our identity as a school, so integral to the learning process in a Progressive school? How do these Core Values help our students grow into engaged, mindful contributors to the world around them? 

When I think about an extreme example of a learning environment without any commitment to creativity or expression, the Newberry Award-winning dystopian novel, The Giver, comes to mind. Similar to Madeleine L’Engle’s Camazotz in A Wrinkle in Time, The Giver presents a world where sameness and conformity is valued over curiosity, imagination, and expression. In The Giver’s world, no humans see color. Children are taught a strictly prescribed curriculum based on the year of their birth age. Real and unpleasant human history is forbidden as a subject of study (a topic that is somehow recently timely again, even though this novel was written in the 1990s), and children and adults alike are expected to dutifully accept the gray, seemingly peaceful society where each individual fulfills a specific role that their government has selected for them when they turn 12. 

This fictional world without imagination, creativity, and expression is a highly regulated, yet rather joyless, place. Granted, it’s an extreme example. And in our joyful School, sometimes young people do need reminding of time and place when expressing themselves. A former teacher once shared in a parent-teacher conference that my child was talking too much during class at the wrong times. He would sometimes say to my middle schooler, “You know, it is perfectly acceptable to have an unexpressed thought.” Self-expression for the sake of self-expression can sometimes be, well, not the best choice. And sometimes creativity, just for the sake of creativity, can seem random, disconnected, and rudderless.

Yet we know that when human beings feel joyful and free to express themselves, they experience less fear. They are more at ease, and brains of all ages need play to spark creativity and joy. On an even deeper level, though, when it comes to learning, what is the value of Creativity and Expression in the classroom? Michael Armstrong, a professor at Middlebury College and former headteacher at Harwell Primary School in Oxfordshire, England, writes: 

The imagination is fundamental to education in a variety of ways… [as] both an embodiment of children’s knowledge and the means to its advancement. Works build on works as children use their writing or art, their mathematics or science, to put their experience to the test, explore its significance, and represent their growing understanding in an appropriate form. Thinking and making are inextricable in their practice… Imaginative work sets the terms for the course of instruction, as teachers respond to children’s interests, enthusiasms, and concerns in ways that match the freshness of the child’s wonder to the culture’s accumulated knowledge. It is not that children’s concerns in themselves determine the curriculum, but rather that the curriculum represents a mutual exchange, never fixed, between the child’s wonder, the teacher’s experience, and the subject matter of the various arts, sciences, and technologies.

This is the magic of Progressive education: creativity and expression spark joy and a sense of connectedness. Moreover, in the Progressive classroom, personalized, respectful exploration, dialogue, and feedback are shared between teacher and students. Individuals and their learning are celebrated and nurtured within the context of community. John Dewey, a founder of Progressive education, puts it this way: “Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth, something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked.” Thus the process of creating, expressing, investigating, and refining to construct and share meaning becomes the learning process itself.