I’m not creative!

I'm Not Creative

Uncovering the lie to reveal creative confidence in ourselves

I’m not creative!” is a typical statement. It is also a lie that’s often repeated in our minds, typically when we watch an artistic person at work, like a painter, sketch artist, glass blower, or jeweler. Unfortunately, many of us didn’t get to take Creativity 1 in high school and have likely forgotten how creative we were as children. So, as we entered college, we probably pursued interests in careers that minimized our perceived weaknesses, tapped our strengths and promised financial rewards. As we progressed through our profession, our thinking continued to devolve into a belief that we are not “creative” in any application of the word. The loss of our creative self can happen to any of us. This condition is particularly sad for education professionals who influence and guide our children.

For many educators, the thought of doing something “creative” in classrooms conjures up arts and crafts projects best reserved for arts education and “artsy-type” teachers. For others, creativity and its cousin, ‘innovation’ are tantalizing experiences dancing just outside their reach or reserved for those in business who invent technology products. Creativity in classrooms unlocks the windows of exploration in learning and frees the student to imagine. Einstein believed this to be true when he said,

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.

Education, by design, disseminates information with the hope that students will make something knowledgeable about it to advance into a career or at least, be a productive citizen. The process of transforming data into coherent knowledge structures in a student’s mind is a creative process but woefully underemphasized in today’s curriculum. Linkedin, the career networking site, conducted a survey and found employers are looking beyond the hard skills and seeking employees with a particular set of soft skills. A “creative thinker” is ranked in the top 10 most requested soft skills.

If schools were teaching creativity, then it follows that employees would demonstrate creative skills. However, an Adobe Systems poll of five thousand people from five countries on three continents reports that 80 percent of people feel that unlocking creative potential is critical to economic growth. Only 25 percent of these people think that they’re living up to their creative potential. What the other 75 percent are missing is creative confidence.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Creativity masterminds David Kelley and Tom Kelley are brothers who have a life mission to promote “creative confidence.” In their book, “Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All,” they contend that everyone has the capacity to be creative. The difference between the innovators from the rest of us, they add, is “believing in your ability to create change in the world around you.”

If creativity is good for innovation in business and for solving problems in the world, it should be good for education, too. Teaching students how to develop creative confidence would be right in every discipline and academic contexts. Why isn’t creativity at the center of the core subjects taught in schools?

I imagine the challenge is that creativity, like art, is a subjective topic to evaluate, making it difficult for educators to apply a letter grade or numerical value to student’s work. Let’s consider creativity is inherent in all the work a student does, including the processes by which they accomplish assignments and especially projects. It may be challenging to evaluate someone else’s work process and even more, their degree of creativity if you don’t believe you have any yourself. It is perplexing to find a way to measure what you don’t understand adequately.

How might an educator develop their creativity and better yet, their creative confidence?

The Kelley brothers are experts in helping people develop creative capacity drawn from 40 years of creative thinking work. David Kelley is the founder of both IDEO, the global design firm, and the Stanford d.school, a centerpiece of design thinking. Tom Kelley, a partner at IDEO, is also the author of “The Art of Innovation.”

They suggest that creative confidence “is like a muscle — it can be strengthened and nurtured through effort and experience.” Creativity is inherent in everyone. Educators are surrounded daily by opportunities for creatively solving problems. Looking to bring the benefits of design thinking to education, the Stanford d.school has created the K12 Lab Network to “inspire and develop the creative confidence of educators and support innovators catalyzing powerful models for teaching and learning.” Educators can download design thinking and creativity resources from the K12 Lab Network to get started. The underlying premise of design thinking is when you commit to seeking a solution to an open-ended challenge; you stretch your creative thinking and develop a new perspective on your creative potential. Design thinking stimulates creativity within all disciplines using imaginative and visual thinking strategies.

Not ready for a design challenge, yet? Reading the articles and books written by other educators seeking to transform the teaching and learning paradigm is an excellent way to jump-start the innovation transformation in yourself and education. I suggest these two books:

John Spencer and AJ Juliani, Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student [Amazon]

George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity [Amazon]

Couros advocates for educators to take hold of their creative potential to transform the learning experience for students. He suggests that experience is the best teacher. In Launch, Spencer and Juliani promote developing a new mindset that embraces failing as a viable outcome of learning. Both are foundational to creating a culture of safe risk-taking in the classroom.

An entry-level step for educators is to draw from the decades of training in creative thinking that have produced a variety of strategies, techniques, and challenge-based experiences to nurture creative confidence. Teachers can show their students how to represent ideas with simple sketches (e.g., thumbnail sketches or sketchnotes), by encouraging students to ask “why?” questions, by creating collaborative community bulletin boards for sharing ideas, and leading “thought walks” to promote students’ daydreaming.

What might happen if teachers developed creative confidence?
How might schools be different if they nurtured students’ creative confidence?

Positively changed! Teachers would let go of the long-held beliefs and practices about theirs and their students’ creative potential and move towards exploring the possibilities, rather than living within self-imposed limitations. It is more likely that opportunities for meaningful teaching and learning would arise in schools, leading to a cultural transformation of innovation. Students and teachers are more likely to thrive in other areas of life when developing the creative confidence to engage in learning challenges with fresh perspectives.

Erasing the self-taught lie, “I’m not creative,” while simultaneously uncovering the educator’s creative confidence is the first step towards unleashing the creative potential of their students. If we embrace the possibility of creativity in each of us and become the creative spark our students need us to be, the opportunities our students will be prepared to engage are as infinite as our imaginations.


Adobe Systems. “Study Reveals Global Creativity Gap.” Study Reveals Global Creativity Gap, Adobe Systems, Inc., 23 Apr. 2012, www.adobe.com/aboutadobe/pressroom/pressreleases/201204/042312AdobeGlobalCreativityStudy.html.

Brathwaite, Shimon. “4 Soft Skills Every Tech Professional Should Have.” Business News Daily. N. p., 2017. Web. 13 Nov. 2017. http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/7860-skills-employers-want.html

Couros, George. The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., 2015.

“K12 Lab Network.” Stanford D.school, 27 Sept. 2017, http://dschool.stanford.edu/programs/k12-lab-network.

Kelley, Tom, and David Kelley. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential within Us All. William Collins, 2015.

McNeal, Marguerite. “The Top Skills Employers Need in 2016.” EdSurge, EdSurge, 20 Oct. 2016, www.edsurge.com/news/2016-10-20-the-top-skills-employers-need-in-2016-according-to-linkedin.

Spencer, John, and A. J. Juliani. LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring out the Maker in Every Student. Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., 2016.


Photo Credit of Lightbulb by LED Supermarket on Pexels.com [https://www.pexels.com/photo/bulb-close-up-electricity-energy-577514/]

Yes, I’m Still Unpacking ISTE 2017

Two weeks after ISTE 2017 in San Antonio, Texas, I’m still unpacking my suitcase and sorting through the experience. It was an enormous 4-day gathering of 21,000 energetic educational technology educators and vendors with thousands of sessions and events to attend.


The first thing I discovered upon returning home was unexpectedly inside my suitcase. The TSA had generously given me a free travel resource flyer! It included websites about how to pack my bags, suggestions for securing my luggage with TSA approved locks, and of course, a short statement about my good luck that my bag was selected for inspection. I would have preferred a pound of Texas brisket .

I’m sure it will take more weeks to unpack my reflections and experiences about ISTE 2017 along with all the presenters’ online resources, vendor flyers, vendor tschotkas, stickers, and business cards. These represent the deluge of artifacts of attendance, but the impressions are much more valuable.

Overall, my best experiences flowed from one person to the next rather than from any event or presentation to the next. The events were destinations on my daily schedule that designated a pathway to reach 15K steps and meet interesting people. It was about the journey, after all, and the other travelers along the way. I enjoyed walking with the intention of finding a serendipitous interruption, thanks to advice from Bill Selak (@billselak). I found tremendous value in saying “yes” to the chance to linger a bit longer between event destinations. The learning that happened outside the scheduled presentation rooms, in the hallways, byways, and bloggers’ cafe, were, for the most part, more valuable than the scheduled destination.

The first “yes” pathway was the evening before the conference started. I was invited to a great Mexican restaurant, Tomatillo’s Cantina, where friends of friends and soon-to-be-friends gathered in an interesting collage of compatriots and experiences. We were a group brought together by one man, Rushton Hurley (@rushtonh). We were four principals from New Zealand (Andrew, Patty, Simon, and Tony) and folks from Michigan (@dprindle), Maine, and California, to name a few I can still remember. I really enjoyed saying “yes” to the unexpected chance to socialize over a great meal and discover new, interesting colleagues and friends.

That good experience inspired me to say “yes” to another dinner invite. My friend, George Garcia (@edtechchamp), from Santa Clara Unified School District, introduced me to his TOSA Chat (#TOSAchat) peer, Ann Kozma (@AnnKozma723). Our greetings and exclamations sounded like we had been friends forever. That evening they invited me to the fantabulous Fullerton (California) School District (@FullertonSD) TOSA team dinner. That was definitely an over the top fun, interesting, and way cool night. Ann’s smile and exuberance were infectiously joyful. Being a part of their group inspired me to consider moving to Fullerton! Reflections about this experience, include: The first “yes” made it easier for the second “yes.” As Rushton has often stated, “What better way to enjoy a meal than with fantastically interesting people!” For me to have said “yes” rather than “Oh, sorry, I can’t join you. I have a presentation to finish for tomorrow,” was a major advancement over my previous conference experiences.

Jad Abumrad, host and creator of NPR’s Radiolab program, was the opening keynote presenter. His presentation was a story of his journey to find his voice. Voice! This really resonated with my quest to find my own professional voice as an education consultant. Jad offered us the idea that finding one’s voice requires perseverance and overcoming the “gut churn” that no one may be listening. Say “yes” to the potentially gut-churning opportunity because your passion won’t let you quit. His presentation was deep and metaphorical. For days afterward, I was still unpacking it. During a reflective conversation with Noah Geisel (@SenorG), a Spanish teacher, and blogger, we uncovered nuances of Jad’s presentation that connected to education. We mused together as he wrote this blog post for Medium about Jad’s keynote, “Sound is a Touch at a Distance” How did that meeting happen? While taking another “yes” pathway with friend and colleague, Jon Corippo (@jcorippo), Innovation Director with CUE, Inc., we walked into the conference press room where Noah was writing. It turned out to be an amazing twofer serendipitous opportunity.

When I actually entered a presentation session, the “yes” attitude continued to lead me into conversations with other attendees and presenters. In the past, it would have been easier for me to quickly leave the room for the next destination. I decided to bet on the chance I might be able to get 2-minutes of the presenter’s time and learn something more. I scored when I reconnected with eQuatIO guru, John McCowan (@Texthelp), the artistically enlightened and heART inspired Aussie, Cathy Hunt (@art_cathyhunt), and visual literacy craftsperson, Ken Shelton (@k_shelton). While watching Ken’s presentation, “Storytelling, Creativity, and Communication through Effective Presentation Design,” I had the extraordinary added benefit of sitting next to the consummate learner and teacher, Kathy Shrock (@KathySchrock)! Another twofer gold payoff for saying “yes!” and allowing serendipity to be a trusted friend.

Serendipity knows Matt Miller (@jmattmiller), too! He’s the author of Ditch that Textbook (http://www.ditchthattextbook.com). We had the fun of crossing each others’ paths at least two times a day while among 21K people spread out over umpteen acres of floor space. The first pathway crossing with Matt occurred with friends Jon Corippo and Andrew Schwab (@anotherschwab) on the Expo Hall floor. The cheery Paulette Donnellon (@sdpaulette) of Gooru appeared. It has taken three ISTE conferences for me to finally connect with her for more than a hot second. A “yes” attitude to serendipity can even hop, skip and jump over itself through space and time.

The Exhibitors in the Expo Hall were everywhere, so I systematically walked the rows and columns. My wife, The Gloria (@glori2glory), an edtech 5th-grade teacher, decided to give me targeted objectives instead of allowing my wandering ways to lead me randomly. She was cheeky enough to post my “#HoneyDo” list of exhibitors to visit on Twitter. There’s nothing like group accountability among my PLN to keep me on the “yes” track!

Taking the humorous high road through my honey-do list, I crafted a sympathetic line for each vendor I visited. Generally, it was something like, “Hello, my name is Steve, I’m Gloria’s husband. [dramatic pause] I’m on a mission to find _________. Can you help me stay in her good graces when I return home?” Add the image of a grown man’s puppy dog pleading eyes to the discussion. Quickly, I had the sympathies and good humor of new friends from: GoAnimate (@GoAnimate), Ozobot (@Ozobot), Sphero (@Sphero), Mentoring Minds (@mentoringminds), Remind (@RemindHQ), Tynker (@goTynker), and LittleBits (@littleBits). Hooraayyy…#HoneyDo #ISTE17 #Done! That was a special benefit of allowing someone else to guide my “yes” opportunities into another dimension of the conference experience.

While on the mission for Gloria, I purposely strode through the aisles with a focused gaze, trying to deflect any potential distraction from my honey-do purpose. My steely-eyed gaze must have appeared too friendly. I was interrupted by Dr. Edward Tse (@doctorET), Director of Education Strategy at Nuiteq and a developer of Snowflake, a collaborative touchscreen software. Sales pitch warning bells went off in my head when he invited me to take a closer look at a huge touchscreen mounted on a motorized stand. I’m actually surprised I said “yes” to the invitation. There was no way I would buy a $4K+ device, especially if it wouldn’t fit in my office.

By end of our 45-minute discussion, I realized the interruption was not for the purpose of learning about a cool technology (it can handle four applications simultaneously running in different locations on the screen). It was all about meeting a new friend and like-minded peer. Edward has a genuine, compelling heart and passion for education that actually surprised me for a guy pitching a software/touchscreen package. We found kinship in the idea that technology is a service for the collaborative learning experiences that bring students and teachers together in unique ways. Edward is a compelling educational technologist. Watch him on his YouTube Channel, “Ed on Edtech“. Sometimes choosing “yes” is for a different (and surprising) purpose than either party had originally thought.

Another surprising vendor encounter happened with Alec Chen, the charming senior sales manager for Ibenzer, a company that makes cool looking and rugged cases for MacBooks. Since I am not a buyer or influencer for school districts to purchase MacBook cases, I thought I could easily dismiss his coy questions about my preferences for a laptop case. This initial “no” position slowly turned into a long, friendly “yes” conversation about his life as a Chinese national living in New York and his college-abroad experiences in France. Note to self, don’t be quick to jump to “no” when an energetic, positive person selects you as a candidate for their questions.

There are more “yes” stories of unexpected paths taken and more ISTE conference reflections to unpack. I will let those settle into place, for now, allowing them to form new and deeper impressions. The significant value of the ISTE 2017 experience was the people I met. I was inspired by and sincerely appreciated their willingness to talk with me when my “yes” instincts led me to “serendipitously” interrupt their conference pathways.

I also recapped this ISTE 2017 conference experience in Storify to capture the social media viewpoint.

Breaking Out of the Visual Box


Did you know there is a professional organization that encompasses multiple disciplines?

Disciplines in the spectrum of education (all levels), instructional technology, sensory arts, art history, product design, graphic design, culinary arts, food science, textile technologies and visual arts, all find a comfortable fit in one place.

The IVLA is the International Visual Literacy Association. Founded in 1969 as an interdisciplinary collective of scholars and practitioners inspired to explore the commonalities of the visual within their different domains. My working definition of visual literacy is:

The ability to read, interpret and create visual imagery, works, projects, art, and communications including the activation of sensory and cognitive processes that are engaged in the decoding and coding of such messages presented in any media.

Doesn’t that sound like some aspect of your work? Visual literacy seems to be used by everyone who communicates using media, but without an appreciative understanding of the power of the visual language. Education systems devote extensive learning time to the written language, but not enough time for teaching students how to communicate visually. That seems to me like speaking and writing with only half of your vocabulary. I’m not talking about teaching visual literacy in art classes. I advocate that every elementary and secondary teacher introduce visual literacy in every subject. That idea has transformative potential for how students “see” the world and create their own impression upon it. The results would be divergent and out-of-the-box imaginative.

How might teachers get turned on to the idea of visual literacy?

Recently, I attended the 48th Annual Conference of the International Visual Literacy Association, “Engaging the Senses” at Concordia University, Montreal (October 5-8), where I experienced multiple mind-blowing sessions, demonstrations, plenaries (yes, they use that word), and experiences designed for all the senses. Hosted by Dr. David Howes, Professor of Anthropology at Concordia University and led by IVLA President, Dr. Karen Tardrew, National-Louis University, the 3-day event featured a breadth of presentations, papers, workshops, forums, and demonstrations to fill each day with surprising visual, taste, and auditory experiences. In the small intimate environment, I met colleagues from around the world who shared a similar passion and focus on the importance of visual literacy for understanding our world. They presented photographic literacy, digital media representation, creative digital activism, comics, and early childhood writing. I found my people! A tribe of diverse scholars and practitioners, who boldy venture across cultural and social barriers to reach youth, indigenous people, even the blind. Yes, sensory literacy because eyes are not the only way of “seeing.”

Jason Edward Lewis delivered the opening keynote session, “Populatinimaginary_jasonlewisedwardsg the Future Imaginary,” which impressively connected visual literacy, social justice, and indigenous people. It was a fascinating description of his work with indigenous youth to claim their stake in the silicon soil of cyberspace in which they can wrinkle their to
es and tell their stories for future generations. Take science fiction and mix it with ancestral legends and traditions to create the legacy that become the stories of future generations of indigenous people. See his work at
Initiative for Indigenous Futures an Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace production.

Give a careful review of the conference website and program to get a better understanding of the diversity of content.

Since returning, I have thought of all the disciplines that were (or should have been) represented and uncovered plenty of inspiring connections between my work in instructional design, educational technology, teaching at all education levels, and academic scholarship all within IVLA. The peer reviewed publication is “Journal of Visual Literacy,“ published by Taylor and Francis.

I enthusiastically encourage you to explore the possibilities of IVLA for your own professional learning. I feel confident you will be inspired to see your work, craft and scholarship through new sensory lenses. I know you will find colleagues who can help connect you more deeply into visual literacy and elevate your passion for your work.

The next conference is September 14-17, 2017 at Lesley University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The theme will be “Designing Visual Literacy Experiences” hosted in collaboration with the Harvard Art Museum (HAM). The call for proposals will be posted in early spring 2017. Mark your calendars and look for updates on the IVLA website.

I wonder what you might present to inspire IVLA 2017?