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EdTech & Design, Engagement, Opinion, Promising Practices

The Space for Imagination in Our Schools

Working to step beyond boundaries

It’s one thing to agree that more imagination is needed in our 21st century schools. It’s another thing to actually step aside and make room for that imagination to live and grow. Creating a model of school that will encourage, honour and nurture imagination on the part of both students and teachers will take vision and it will take courage.

It will take a vision that values dreaming about the future just as much as learning about the past. It will take a vision that understands that creativity and innovation are not cheerleaders chanting from the sidelines for some pre-established truth, but important catalysts on our journey to explore and discover what can be known about the world. And it will take a vision that is grounded in the belief that schools can and should be places of deep engagement and engaging depth!

One practical way to begin to make this type of vision a reality is to establish imaginative spaces within our schools, both physically and conceptually.

A complaint that I’ve heard from a number of my colleagues, especially the ones that have recently moved into new school buildings, is that classroom space is getting smaller and less functional. Many comment that the physicality of their classroom is preventing them from developing the type of program that they dream about running. Alternative groupings, teacher-student conference areas and claiming spaces for physical movement and artistic exploration is all very challenging.

Imaginative work is both inspired and supported by physical environment, and if teachers and students don’t have access to spaces that invite a certain degree of “spreading out” then it is unlikely that creativity is going to take flight!

Beyond physical environment, conceptual/temporal (!) space is also important for imaginative work to be taken seriously. Currently, I would suspect that most school days are subject to a set of fairly rigid timetables, with very little space for thinking beyond the borders established by traditional curriculum.

But, what would happen if we were to set aside an extended portion of each day to step outside the traditional curriculum boundaries and the accompanying instructional strategies and allow for some imaginative freedom? This could involve work in the Arts, design projects, work outside of the school building, or outside the school firewalls! What would happen if, each and every day, students and teachers and members of the larger community had the opportunity to collaborate on ideas that mattered to them and had that work matter to others.

We can talk about imagination and creativity all we want, but the reality of the schools that I know these days leads me to believe that things are becoming more and more defined for us on every level: curriculum expectations, teaching strategies, timetable allotments and our ability to bring a sense of individuality to our work as teachers.

Imagination, by its very nature, defies boundaries and borders, and until we decide to give teachers and students the ability to re-imagine what time and space could look like in our schools, then there’s not a great deal of chance that transformation will occur.

But, I believe we can do it. I believe that there are enough educators and parents who have a different sort of vision of what this space called school could look and feel like. I believe that there is a growing energy and sense of courage building around the need to make room for imagination in our schools and in our communities.

Schools are currently locked into a way of thinking that claims that if our work as teachers is well-planned, well-defined and well-executed, then students will be more successful. The spirit of imagination challenges that notion.

Consider what might have happened if Martin Luther King had stood up and declared, “I have a plan.” Do you think he would have been able to inspire an entire nation into action. Instead, his words were, “I have a dream”. And dreaming, my friends, is what imagination is all about!

So, let’s continue to dream about the education that we want for our children, and let’s continue to push for more dreaming and imagination in the work that we do in this place and space called school!

Meet the Expert

Stephen Hurley

Stephen Hurley

Education Consultant, Catalyst, voicED Radio

Stephen Hurley is a recently retired teacher from the Dufferin Peel District School Board in Ontario. Stephen continues to work to open up public spaces for vibrant conversations about transformation of education systems across Canada.

Stephen Hurley est un enseignant récemment retraité de la Dufferin Peel District School Board en Ontario. Stephen continue de travailler à ouvrir des espaces publics pour des conversations dynamiques sur la transformation des systèmes éducatifs partout au Canada.

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