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Senior Pranks: Can They Be an Assessment of Creativity?

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As these weeks come to a close, schools are filled with assessment and scoring, grading, cleaning up and saying good-byes. Students are aching for unscheduled days. The pattern of September to June (or August to May) is like the sun rising and setting. It is part of the internal clock of students, parents, teachers and businesses alike. The rituals of our system emerge powerfully at the school year's end. Committees come together for banquets, proms and graduations. One of those rituals, in many communities, is the senior prank. 

In November 2013's Phi Delta Kappan, Thomas Hatch, associate professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, wrote an article entitled Innovation at the Core. In it he writes about the facets of innovation required to build capacity and bring change to schools using technical, human and social capital. Certainly, at this point, we are keenly aware that changing and improving schools is our charge.  No matter the mandates "from away" our systems need shifting.  "Effective education takes more than individual effort.  It takes an entire system to enable every child to reach high standards of learning" (p. 37).

We are members, not just leaders, of systems that have been defined by the same hours, days, months, and curriculum for over a century. Our self-interests are involved.  We benefit from those very traditions that constrain our flexibility and limit innovation. Most of us view change as within the system rather than a change of the system itself. According to Hatch,

...while fostering innovation at the core of the classroom depends on building capacity both inside and outside schools, dramatic improvements in learning may depend on rethinking our fundamental assumptions about where learning takes place.  The next revolutions in education may well occur outside schools, perhaps in the online worlds of virtual education (pp. 37-38).

Some may shudder at the thought of learning taking place outside of our buildings with none of the familiar structure or teaching. Others may see this as a possibility for only some students, the very bright, the most rural or the most socially difficult. Nevertheless, it is infiltrating the system across the land. We enter a world not controlled by our policies or under our direct supervision. It is not community based as we have historically understood that word. Student and teacher are separated even if they are remotely face-to-face. 

Herein lies the opportunity for creative leadership. We can no longer ignore the realities that technology is more readily available and in the hands of our students, faculty, and parents, that blended-learning for students can work, that flipping classrooms and even faculty meetings can make a difference.  Students are, on their own, looking to the Internet for lesson reinforcement as well as for new learning.  We can meet them out there, where they are already interested in learning.

Leading requires that we navigate today's reality in the context of the territory ahead. Planning what our schools will look like moving forward is essential. Innovation includes knowing what the barriers may be and planning around them. What may work in a very large system, may not in a very small one.  What may work in a suburban school may not work in a rural or city school system.  So the collective minds in each community need to rally around to discover the possibilities and chose their reinvention. 

What does this have to do with senior pranks?  As the senior prank season has begun, the worry about the potential destruction arises. As fond memories of creative pranks are recalled, the destruction caused by more recent ones brings concern.  Filling the dean's office with balloons from floor to ceiling, parking in all the teachers' spots before they arrive, setting up a pool and slip and slide on the field...these brought laughs and an odd kind of pride as it was discovered that the students had checked with a trusted administrator, teacher, or even law enforcement to be sure they were not doing any harm. But, the pranks have become destroying buses and graffiti on building walls and tire tracks on muddy fields. Regardless, the students attempt to be creative and can be well coordinated as a group. Some jeopardize their ability to "walk the stage" because of these ill advised year end pranks.

We wonder if we might benefit from a simple conversation about innovation. Is all change, innovation? We don't think so. We need to go to our artists and writers and invite them to talk with us about creativity and the creative process. We need witness scientists in a lab where discovery happens and a research team from around the world shares their progress. We need agility and tools and imagination.  As the year ends, we hope we have taught our graduating seniors something about all this, or, better yet, we hope we have modeled it. Survival depends on change and creativity and innovation. If we build a new environment and students live and learn in that environment, might we be able to measure our success by the level of creativity, safety, and humor with which our seniors design their prank?

Hatch, Thomas. (November 2013). Innovation at the core. PhiDelta Kappan 

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