Sustained improvement resembles the improvisation of jazz

Dennis Sparks

For some reason I associate this time of year with creativity and energy. Perhaps it has to do with the holidays or religious celebrations. Or maybe it’s the fresh start provided by a new year.

That may be why I was drawn to this inspiring story about the human compulsion to create, a drive which seems to have defined the life of the story’s subject, artist and author Betty Abbott Sheinis.

Like Sheinis, children make up stories and games and images of the world that are uniquely their own in the same natural way they learn to walk and talk.

Unfortunately, it’s a desire that diminishes for most children as they grow older—often because their creativity is neglected or even suppressed in schools—so that by the time they are adults their creative impulses may be extinguished and they believe that they no longer have creative abilities.

Likewise, the creative impulses of educators are suppressed as current reform models view improvement as a technical process in which experts tell teachers and principals what to do and policymakers hold them accountable for the results.

Sustained improvement, however, is far more complex and nuanced. At its best it is a creative act in which educators apply available research in continuously evolving ways to invent solutions to the most pressing problems they face and then use various forms of evidence to determine the effectiveness of those solutions.

Seen this way, the continuous improvement of teaching and learning and leadership is more like the improvisation of jazz than adherence to a symphonic score under the direction of a conductor.

And like all creative acts, inventing solutions and determining the effectiveness of those inventions releases an energy in the school community which is essential to maintaining the momentum of improvement across time.

 

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2 Responses to “Sustained improvement resembles the improvisation of jazz”


  1. 1 G. Michael Abbott December 27, 2012 at 9:28 am

    Interesting observation about a children’s book, jazz and children and the educational reform movement. Carrot and stick “motivators,” and scripted jobs may work on an assembly line, but not with teaching, which requires sustained, thoughtful engagement with students. Teaching is not a production line with teachers stuffing knowledge into them. As you said, it’s nuanced, too nuanced to be scripted. But then, lots of money is being made in charter schools, and in making textbooks, tests, and technical gizmos by pushing these thoughtless policies onto teachers and children. These reforms are sucking the life out of genuine education. A generation of children may be damaged before we see what we’ve done.

    Mike

  2. 2 Jim Knight December 27, 2012 at 11:21 am

    I’ve always thought the idea of presenting was a lot like Jazz, too. We start out with a plan and then improvise based on the plan. Structure is important, like the melody of the songs–without melody it’s just noise, but the real fun is what happens when we improvise.


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