Over the past eight weeks, I have had a sort of creative renaissance. Throughout the program I have been pushed to find solutions where I thought they couldn’t be found, and push others to do the same. Our director Katie once said in discussion, “They say genius is the ability to take two totally unrelated things and connect them.” Over the hours toiling over work at my desk in America this was essential fact that I may have forgotten: critical thinking is inherently born out of creativity. Ideas, connections, those bits of tangential information I am renown for, they require critical and thus creative thinking. That is where my creative renaissance began.
I have loved this photo more for the experience it represents rather than the actual picture. When I gave these Shalom Primary School students the assignment of enacting the first aid procedure for a burn victim, I dreaded the idea of lecturing each step as the students acted out my words for the photos. Instead, these students began jumping at the opportunity to be actors, volunteering the idea that the kitchen in the school had caught fire and several students were trapped perilously in the flames. I handed the camera over to Collins, our designated Class 5 photographer, as the students burst into action. First they were screaming from the fire, while firefighters (students) ran onto the scene. Pulling yelping victims from the kitchen, they laid them out on the ground as the nurses (also students) tended to their wounds with toilet paper bandages, and all the while Collins snapped one excellent shot after another. Finally Eric, the ‘worst’ burn victim, was picked up by his fellow students and carried in the ambulance all the way to the classroom, wailing the entire time. It was as if I stepped into a movie, and I did not have to do any prompting. I was shocked, until I realized that I was shocked because the students had thought creatively and executed a collective idea without any interference.
One of the greatest challenges teaching here in Tanzania has been the uncertainty about whether the students will even respond. Sometimes we will begin a lesson, hand out photos, ask the students to invent a name for the person in the picture and then receive blank stares. This experience has left me hopeless for the few seconds it takes me to recover and come up with a new way of posing the question so that the students will be more receptive. It was through these lessons that I began to reevaluate my priorities as a teacher and see the importance of creativity.
LTP makes room for creativity, whether it is through participation, pictures, or play; it is a process that engages the creative process and successfully channels it directly into curriculum. My Shalom students were able to take the idea of a burn and connect it scene by scene into a story. They took on roles and personas they didn’t know and had fun while doing it. It was a critical thinking process that inspired education, and allowed students to discover their own knowledge.
Over my time as a teacher I have begun to see that teaching is more about facilitating learning rather than actually teaching information. And thus the onus is on me to be creative and find the right questions to allow students to discover their own knowledge. I have spent countless nights here debating the pros and cons of one lesson plan versus another, racking my brain for a new approach that could solve all my problems. The good news is that it is getting easier- my mind jumps, and sometimes it wanders; but overall I have seen the value in creativity. Most importantly I have given my own creativity room to bloom.
At first I thought I was here to inspire creativity in others, but I have found that in order to do that you must inspire creativity in yourself. You need creativity when you take a photo, you need creativity to write a word problem from a picture of goats, you need creativity to ask questions, and you need creativity for genius. I have seen students and teachers alike light up when they discover a new answer. It is that illuminating effect, which has driven me to make creativity a priority.