Photo Credit: Jewish Press

I’ve spent over three decades in the classroom – in one capacity or another. I have learned, taught, mentored, and observed. Recently, I came across a book that speaks to those who are teachers – and those who are tasked with teaching the next generation in and outside of the classroom. The Wild Card: 7 Steps to an Educator’s Creative Breakthrough, by Hope and Wade King is a must-read for anyone who is interested in inspiring children to learn.

The authors begin by saying very clearly that, Teachers don’t generally identify themselves as creative professionals, at least not in the way that designers, artists, writers, architects, filmmakers, and even florists do. People with a strong desire to create something out of nothing don’t typically choose education for their life’s work. Sure, we know that kids have active imaginations and respond well to creative play. But in this era of standardized testing and scripted curriculums, teachers often feel limited as to what they can do in the classroom. Some educators think of creativity in terms of “arts and crafts” and decide creativity is not in the cards for them because they teach science or history rather than art or music. We’re here to tell you that no matter what subject or grade you teach, you can make your classroom a vibrant, creative space – and that there are important reasons to do so…

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We’re going to give you a new definition of creativity as it applies to teaching. We’re going to show you that creativity can become your mindset in the classroom, whether or not you’re “craftsy,” and that you can tap into your own inner well of inspiration (Yes, you have one!) to motivate your students and allow them to reach their full potential because they are engaged with learning… Because in the game of life, children have no control over the hand they are dealt. You, as a teacher, are the wild card that can make a difference in students’ lives. And you can’t do that if your classroom is static and uninspiring.

Our schools are immersed in standards, educational assessments, and prescribed curricula. All of these things are ultimately good – they help create standardized and measurable learning goals. That said, many teachers find these criteria to be limiting and frustrating. The authors argue that these don’t have to be restrictive; instead, the teacher can be the wild card that changes the way children learn and grow.

They share seven steps towards a creative breakthrough: awareness, desire, reflection, engagement, authenticity, grit, and persistence. Each of these steps has very specific meaning within the context of creativity and education.

The first step, as when dealing with most problems, is to gain an awareness of where you are starting from. The authors ask teachers to imagine they are in a professional development seminar – one that their principal told them they must attend. While at the seminar, are the teachers taking copious notes and adding to the discussion or are they making grocery lists and lesson plans for the next week? Most teachers who are forced to go to a professional development seminar report giving only 15% of their attention to the lectures. Now, imagine what our students feel like. They are forced to go to school every day. Can we blame them for their lack of enthusiasm? Of course, teachers are not responsible to be entertainers – but if we engage our students and they become invested in their learning, we will not have to work as hard for them to retain the information they are learning.

Once we recognize the challenge we are dealing with, we can move forward in addressing it. So awareness looks like this: asking ourselves the tough questions. Do my students feel that they are going to learn from me today or do they feel trapped in my classroom? Awareness is the first step towards building an engaging and exciting classroom.

After awareness, the rest of the steps help educators delve into the why and the how of getting students invested in their learning. The end of the book even includes a toolbox with many great hands-on tools for getting creative in the classroom. This book got me thinking: how can we inspire more teachers to be the wild card that our children really deserve?

Pick up a copy of the book and let me know what you think.

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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@gmail.com.