Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Learning to let go: Creativity isn’t all about me- Guest Post from Katie Grizzard

Learning to let go: Creativity isn’t all about me- Guest Post from Katie Grizzard (Prattville / @Katie_Grizzard)

Learning to let go: Creativity isn’t all about me

Creativity. Who has time for the grand production that is “creativity”? I’ve heard other teachers say it, and I’ve certainly thought it myself a time or two. See, though I would label myself as one of the  “creative types,” there doesn’t seem to be much time these days to truly “be creative.” Gone are the college days of luxuriating in cutesy coffee shops for hours writing to my heart’s content or getting up before the sun rises to write on my balcony with yet another cup of coffee.

As I sat in a meeting of teachers from all subject areas just this past week, the topic of creativity and engagement inevitably came up, as it often does in the world of education. One teacher was criticizing the newest standards and standardized tests for being so demanding that they make it “impossible to be fun and exciting.” “These standards don’t care how happy these kids are; they care about what they know!” she exasperatedly exclaimed to the group. In some ways, I agreed with this teacher.

The new standards are rigorous. They expect more intellectually from our students than has ever been expected of them before. But, and maybe this is where the power of perspective comes in to play, I have never felt that the common core standards or any curriculum limits my creativity or squelches the creative abilities of my students. In fact, I see it as quite the opposite. I see these increased expectations for our students, and, in turn, for us as teachers, as demanding of our creativity rather than detracting from it.

I also see the push towards higher-order, critical thinking as particularly linked to creativity. Creativity is defined as “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, and interpretations.” Is that critical thinking or what?? By challenging students to dig deeper, to think harder, and to not settle for what’s given to them on the surface, we are creating tomorrow’s problem solvers. We are establishing an environment where creativity is as necessary a survival tool as calculators and Google.

So in this new year, my challenge to you (any myself) is, yes, do not be afraid to take risks, to try a new projects, develop a new method for teaching an old lesson, or all the other typical things we think of when we vow to try to be more creative in the classroom. BUT, I also challenge you to reflect on the ways that creativity is already engrained as an innate desire within you and your students as human beings and to channel this.

We long to create and discover new things. We long to figure things out for ourselves, even if we don’t always realize it. It makes us feel good—accomplished even—and improves our self-confidence. Before you stay up for a week planning the perfect assignment or spend all your fee money on the latest technological gadget that promises foolproof student engagement, consider something a bit simpler but just as meaningful. On every occasion possible, let your students take the reins.

See, creativity and learning are both about letting go. The more responsibility that I have entrusted in my students, the more I realize that not only am I not the most creative person in the room, I don’t have to be. I am not the end-all-be-all, grand master of creativity, but I can be a pretty darn good facilitator of it. Sometimes we have to model creativity, and sometimes we have to get out of the way of it.

They won’t like it at first (and if you tend to be a bit of a control freak like me, you won’t either) because it’s not as easy as traditional schooling where they just sit back and listen as you provide them with all the answers, BUT do it anyway. Allow them to ask questions, but also push them to seek out their own answers. I love watching their little faces when I respond with, “I don’t know, what do you think?” Provide them with opportunities to solve real problems and make their own discoveries. This is creativity, albeit not necessarily the Pinterest DIY & Crafts board kind.

As often as you can and in all the ways that you can, let your students be responsible for their own learning. Let them struggle with a concept or an idea without swooping in at the first sign of distress, because creativity and hope are born of struggle, and we all know that the world could use a little more of both. Control is the true antithesis to creativity in the classroom or any situation. The more we can allow ourselves to let go of the reins, the more opportunities we generate for our students to discover and utilize their own creativity.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A New Definition of Creativity--Guest post from Victoria M. Whitfield

A New Definition of Creativity--Guest post from Victoria M. Whitfield (Autauga County Schools/@2live2teach)
I've always viewed creativity as something for "artsy" people or those who always think"outside of the box ." It is always something I have brushed aside, and I would often tell people how "uncreative" I was in order to not participate in creative things. To be quite honest, I never saw myself as someone who possessed creativity or would ever possess creativity. I always considered creative teachers as those far different than I.
My definition of creativity changed the moment I became a secondary instructional coach. As an instructional coach, I have the privilege of working with and observing English teachers on a daily basis. With the introduction of Alabama's new College and Career Readiness Standards in English, it is ever pertinent that these standards take on life--a life that is enriching and engaging for students.
I have listened and met with teachers who have grappled with understanding and implementing the ELA CCRS Standards. The types of lessons, strategies, and activities I have seen are nothing short of amazing. These same teachers embraced the new standards and found a way to make the standards enriching and engaging for their students. This is creativity as its best. In essence, these teachers have changed my earlier views of creativity. Creativity can no longer be considered something for those "out of the box" teachers, it must now be embraced by all. Our students' learning depends on it.
In her popular text Thrive, Meenoo Rami writes, "When you do truly creative work, you have to take risks and fail in order to succeed."
What risks have you taken in order to better your instruction and student learning? How have you embraced the CCRS Standards in your classrooms? How have you made learning come alive for your students? Why not share your approaches with other English teachers.
I look forward to seeing and hearing from you about ways you have tapped into your inner creativity as it relates to the CCRS Standards. We can only grow as a community if we share our successes as well as our failures. February is rapidly approaching. Until then, continue to make learning engaging for your students. After all, this is what creativity is at heart.
Victoria Whitfield (@2live2teach)
Autauga County School System

Friday, November 21, 2014

I'm not Creative--Guest post from Kristy Louden

As the title so accurately states, I'm not creative.  In any way.  And it's not for lack of trying.  

I come from a long line of crafty people.  My mom's creativity comes out through a variety of channels: painting Christmas decorations, sewing Halloween costumes, and putting together beautiful quilts.  My sister is similar in that she sews curtains and blankets, paints and decorates her house (like, all the time).  My dad owned a bakery for most of my life, where he designed and decorated beautiful cakes.  Even one of my brothers writes poetry and designed a piece of jewelry to help his kids feel safe when they're away from home.  I mean, come on, what happened to me?

Now, don't think I haven't tried to be creative. I have a lot of projects floating around in my brain (Thanks, Pinterest), but when I try to bring them to fruition, well, there's no fruit. Or if there is, it's all misshapen or rotten.  On top of that, I just don't really like being creative.  I can't draw. I can't paint. I can't sew (I can, but I don't enjoy it for more than ten minutes).  So, it's not all that fun.  Plus, fine motor activities hurt my hands.  

All of this transfers to me struggling to be creative in the classroom.  Since I don't like to draw/paint/etc, I sometimes forget to give my creative students an opportunity to express themselves.  Thankfully, I work with some really creative people who help me with my struggles.  

Most recently, my friend and colleague Hannah Zarzour (@hanzarz) encouraged me to try something new.  She got the idea of the Iceberg metaphor project from Kelly Gallagher (LOVE!!) and used it for The Great Gatsby last year but I was too much of a chicken to try it.  It's nice having a new teacher around to try things and remind me that it's okay to take risks, I mean, that's all your first couple years of teaching is, right?  Risks.  Anyway, the project was a success.  My students were a little confused at first because metaphors are hard (and, in full disclosure, most of them actually wrote similes, but I'll take it).  

Below you can see some of the beautiful pieces that I got.  (I'm sure you can guess that I had several that didn't make the blog, but overall I was still pretty impressed.)  I was excited to see how the kids put their thoughts into images, even those who can't draw (hey, I'm right there with them!) were thinking through their decisions and really putting their minds to Gatsby.  

These were all facing the right way when I uploaded them :(

Unfortunately, that's just one small example among not many other examples of me using creativity in the classroom.

I think it's easy for us to forget the importance of creativity in the classroom, especially as secondary teachers.  Crayons belong in elementary classrooms, right? But creativity is more than just coloring pictures. Perhaps we need to back up and reconsider what creativity even means.  I don't believe it's just drawing or painting pictures.  Students can be creative in writing, speaking, etc.  So what does creativity look like and how can we use more of it in our English classrooms? Or, how are we as teachers creative in our approach to teaching and learning?  

Sometimes we are creative in our approach to activities that in themselves may not be considered creative.  In an article from 2012 on,  Chaz Pugliese writes, "There's another reason why teachers should use (more) creativity in their classes. Just close your eyes for a few seconds, bring your students nearer: what do you see? They have very different backgrounds, different learning styles, different learning experiences, different degrees of motivation, different language levels and different intelligences and cognitive styles. Unless we bring imaginative approaches to teaching we will have failed to reach out to the very diverse cognitive and emotional needs of our students."

How do you use creativity in your classroom?  Better yet, how do you DEFINE creativity?  

As we explore this issue more leading up to the 2015 ACTE conference, I am excited to expand my ideas about creativity.  I might not be able to sew a Halloween costume, write poetry, or paint Santa on a sled, but perhaps I can use what creativity I do have to reach each one of my students through the lessons and activities I design for my classroom.  

I hope to meet you and learn with/from you at the conference!

~Kristy (@kmkteach)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The 2015 ACTE conference and blog ideas

Hey English/Language Arts teachers!  Welcome to the ACTE blog.  There are exciting changes coming for ACTE and our presence on the web.  As you can see above, we now have a website ( and a Twitter account (follow us @ALcouncilofEng).  In addition, we are hoping to make our blog a bit more active.  To do so, we need your help!  We are looking for Alabama English teachers who are willing to guest post here on the ACTE blog.  Leading up to the conference in February, we would like to focus on "Creativity in the Classroom" as it is the focus of the conference.  If you are interested, please contact us through our website. :)  We would like to continue this sharing long past the conference to help our colleagues connect and collaborate across the state.

Speaking of the conference, registration for the 2015 conference is now open.  We hope you can join us!  You can register here!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Registration is now open!

To register for the 2014 ACTE annual conference, please fill out our registration form.  Please bring your payment of $45 to the conference.  Remember, the fees go toward your annual dues to ACTE, 6 hours of STI PD credit (we will be glad to provide you with a certificate if you need it for flex time credit), and lunch.  We look forward to seeing you at this year's conference!  Please share the ACTE information with your colleagues.  If you have any questions, contact Anna Hartzog at

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Information about the 2014 ACTE Annual Conference

Join us this year at Hewitt-Trussville High School in Trussville, Alabama on February 22, 2014 for the Annual Alabama Council of Teachers of English Conference.  The website for registration will be opening in November, but please go ahead and mark your calendars!

We are now accepting proposals for break out sessions.  We are hoping to offer sessions on English Language Arts instruction for all grade levels.  If you are interested in presenting, please contact this year's Vice President and Conference Organizer, Lacey Johnson at

Thursday, January 24, 2013

2013 Conference Details

The conference is getting close, so I wanted to post some information that might be helpful.  If you have any questions, feel free to email me at  We look forward to seeing you soon!  You can still register by clicking on the link in the previous post.

Schedule: We will begin the day with registration from 8:00 – 8:30 (we will have doughnuts and coffee available during this time). At 8:30 we will begin with our keynote address. The conference will conclude after a wonderful day of break-out sessions at 3:00.

Directions: Our high school is still relatively new, so many navigation/GPS systems cannot locate it correctly (but will instead take you to our old high school building). Please use the following directions:

From Birmingham take I-59 north to exit # 143. Turn right at the end of the exit ramp. Take a left at the second traffic light (Husky Pkwy) and go down the hill to HTHS.

From Gadsden take I-59 south to exit # 143. Turn right at the end of the exit ramp. Take a left at the next traffic light (Husky Pkwy) and go down the hill to HTHS.

From I-459 head north to I-59 north to exit # 143. Turn right at the end of the exit ramp. Take a left at the second traffic light (Husky Pkwy) and go down the hill to HTHS.

Cost: The cost to participate in the conference is $45 per person (excluding session presenters) and includes lunch (Zoe's), 6 hours of STI PD credit, and 2013 membership dues for ACTE. You can either mail your check ahead of time or bring it with you on the day of the conference. When you check in at the conference, you will be issued a receipt. If your school is paying for you to attend and requires an invoice, please email our treasurer

 If you are mailing your check, please mail it to the following address –
Hewitt-Trussville High School
Attn: Lacey Johnson
6450 Husky Parkway
Trussville, AL 35173
If you are traveling from out of town, we recommend the following hotels.
Hilton Garden Inn Birmingham/Trussville
3230 Edwards Lake Parkway, Birmingham, Alabama, 35235
Approximately $85 per night
Hampton Inn Birmingham/Trussville
1940 Edwards Lake Road, Trussville, Alabama, 35235
Approximately $79 per night
Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Trussville
5911 Valley Road, I-59, Exit 141
Trussville, AL 35173 US

Approximately $99 per night

Lastly, I would like to ask you to encourage other English teachers in your departments to join us for a wonderful day of professional development. We’re less than two weeks away but still have space available for more participants.  See you soon!
-Anna Hartzog, Vice President