As school leaders, we set a vision for our school and have a philosophy for learning that guides our leadership. Sometimes our visions grow, change, and merge into new ones; sometimes they are rooted in long-held beliefs. Sometimes our master plans blast off quickly, and sometimes they require a meticulous process that grinds along a windy road. It is magical when our vision for learning in our school becomes a reality! It energizes us, gives us reason to celebrate, and helps us set our next course. Our brand new Creativity Lab at Cedar Crest Middle School is the focus of our NASSP Virtual Tour, and it encapsulates our vision, philosophy, and passion for student agency, engagement, learning, and growth.

What is a Creativity Lab?

I believe there is little that we teach students that is more important than understanding how to learn, taking ownership of their educations, and learning how to think critically and solve problems. Our Creativity Lab seeks to address these priorities in a way that empowers our students, embraces their interests, and allows them to pursue their passions. Our vision for this course is to offer students an understanding of how to learn and advocate for themselves while providing them opportunities to think, create, and problem-solve in a safe and supportive environment.        

Why a Creativity Lab?

This spring, like so many other schools, we found ourselves at a crossroads. We were looking to make significant changes to our master schedule but also make sure our changes were meaningful and relevant to our students. Our vision for our Creativity Lab was to create a space for students to learn how to take control of their learning. We recognized that our students needed to have opportunities to learn how to become agents of their learning, and we knew that we needed to provide that structure for them to learn and grow. We needed to offer them the space necessary to experiment, advocate, explore, find success, and fail forward.         

What Does Student Learning Look Like?

This brand new trimester course lends itself to critical thinking, problem-solving, student agency, collaboration, and 21stcentury skills that students need for their postsecondary school lives. We often hear that getting the right people in the right places is the most critical component in our planning. We are so fortunate to have Mr. Ray Truex (@TruexCreateLab on Twitter) leading the learning within our new space! Mr. Truex’s background in curriculum and his 25 years of experience as an outstanding English teacher lend themselves to defining our curriculum for this unique learning opportunity for our students.  

The development of the curriculum was the most challenging and exciting part of this process.  It was fun to give Mr. Truex complete creative control to develop a curriculum with some college and career standards and the design thinking process to guide his planning. In designing the curriculum, Mr. Truex was thoughtful in keeping the focus of the class on the students—their interests, passions, aptitudes, and curiosities. His understanding of what it means to be a core content area teacher serves him well in defining a space for student learning while maintaining high expectations and embracing student agency. 

While we functioned under a “no rules” mantra in the design, Mr. Truex collaborated with our guidance counselors and STEM teachers to integrate our college and career readiness standards and our existing STEM curriculum to define a plan for our students to embrace their learning and empower them to try new things. With a focus on digital citizenship, conflict resolution, product innovation, real-world problem-solving, and student agency, the students are able to craft their learning to meet their needs and interests while gaining a better understanding of what it means to be a member of a larger community.  

From passion projects to career exploration and design thinking to product development, our students have the opportunity to guide their own learning and get feedback from their teacher and classmates. It has been fun to watch them design their projects, expand their thinking, understand their learning, advocate for what they want, and take the ownership they deserve.  

It has been a grand experiment, and the early results are exciting to share! We received positive feedback from our students, families, and teachers. We watch students and staff members actively use their agency to take ownership of the growth and learning that is taking place. The students love this class and appreciate being able to use their interest to drive their learning. We engage our students and empower them to follow their passions while encouraging them to take the first steps on their journey of agency and ownership.

Agency. Critical thinking. Empowerment. Engagement. Interest. Passion. Problem-solving. What if you could wrap all of these ideas into one beautiful plan for our schools? We have tried to do that this year through our new Creativity Lab! We can’t wait to give you a little insight during our NASSP Virtual Tour.  

This blog is part of NASSP’s Virtual Tour Series. Be sure to visit NASSP’s Facebook page on January 28 at 9:30 a.m. (ET) to participate in the live tour and join Mariah at 9:00 p.m. (ET) on January 31 for a Pau Hana, an informal virtual networking session to ask questions and keep the conversation going. 

About the Author

Dr. Mariah Rackley was named one of the Digital Principals of the Year for 2018 by NASSP.  She is in her 20th year of serving the students, families, and staff at Cedar Crest Middle School; this is her 12th year as the building principal. Mariah’s professional interests include leadership, student agency, personalized learning, innovation, creativity, and motivation theory. Follow her on Twitter (@DrRackleyCCMS).

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