Guest post by Peter H. Reynolds.
Celebrating Educators Who Understand We Need More Creative Ways to Reach ALL Learners
People often ask me how I got to where I am today – New York Times best-selling author/illustrator, filmmaker, owner of several multimedia companies and children’s retail venture. The truth is, my life changed because of some dedicated teachers – who were able to use their creativity to unlock my own.
Most notably there was Mr. Matson, my 7th grade math teacher in Chelmsford, MA. Math class might seem like an unlikely place to get my life’s “Destiny Booster Rocket”, but that is indeed what happened. Mr. Matson noticed me doodling non-stop and challenged me to put my art energy to good use teaching math concepts to other students. I responded with a story – a comic book, which he smartly pointed out could also be a storyboard – a plan for making a film. And shortly thereafter, I made my first animated film to teach math – at age 12. Talent and purpose fused together make a powerful combination.
Fast forward to today – that’s what my educational media & software development company FableVision does every day – with groups like PBS KIDS, Jim Henson Productions, Reading Is Fundamental, National Academy of Sciences, National Writing Project, and Simon & Schuster.
Prior to launching FableVision, I attended Fitchburg State College and Mass Art. Both schools inspired me to be creative, but also to use my skills to communicate. Inspired to be a lover of life-long learning by the amazing teachers in my life, I chose to use my talents and gifts to help all learners succeed. After 30 years of exploring how technology can help visual and “off the path” thinkers solve problems and express what they know – Fitchburg University awarded me my honorary doctorate. Pretty cool place to land for that 7th grade “distracted” doodler.
But my story is the story of so many misunderstood learners out there. That’s why on my school visits – both in person and virtual – one of my favorite things I do now is to make sure I deliver that same message of creative “dot connecting” that I got so many years ago – that literally changed my life. Lately, I’ve been using Skype to “visit” schools and organizations without having to leave my studio. This is an exciting new tool for connecting with my audience – no matter where they are. I usually will talk to the whole school at an assembly- sharing my books, including “The Dot“, “Ish“, “Rose’s Garden”, “So Few of Me,” and “The North Star” – and my newest book “I’m Here.” Because I am always encouraging kids to “make their mark”, I often end up doing an animation lesson using animation software that my educational media & software company FableVision created called Animation-ish.
I will also ask schools to pick out some of those students who can see themselves pursuing a creative journey as a career. It’s always fun to fan those flames of creativity.
But it’s important to note, that, while I LOVE talking to kids – my message is also aimed at their teachers. I remind them that if we are asking our children to try to “make their mark” - to be brave and original, to write, to have a mission, to be civic-ally engaged, to sing, to write poetry, to be creative – then we grown ups must do all of the above as well. We must show them that these are rewarding pursuits that make us whole.
It’s important for administrators, teachers and parents to understand that the arts allow students to “show what they know” in a more varied, rich and meaningful ways. And creative thinking allows us to solve challenging problems with innovation solutions. I firmly believe that these kind of innovators and creative problem-solvers will be key to solving the world’s toughest challenges – including in the areas of science, technology, engineering & math (STEM.)
To foster that mission, my twin brother Paul and I have actually just launched our own non-profit organization called The Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning & Creativity (TLC). The Center serves as a retreat & recharge center where we invite creative educators to come join us – to be inspired, to learn new ways to reach ALL learners and to help us research & develop innovative learner-centric tools and resources to use in the classroom – and all the places we learn (library, community center, home, museum, etc.) There are too many wonderful teachers who leave the profession because they’ve hit the wall of bureaucracy and testing – teachers who’ve seen the joy of teaching and learning evaporate before their eyes. We aim to do our level best to make sure we don’t lose our any more of our best teachers. And we think that’s a pretty exciting way to use our creativity for the decades to come.
This is an exciting time for education – in schools, libraries, home schools, etc. Tools suddenly are at our fingertips that allow all of us to connect and learn in new ways – and to show what we know in ways we could have only dreamed about a few decades ago.
*top image copyright I’m Here by Peter H. Reynolds.