Head Lines: March 2018

Julie Rousseau on Cultivating Creativity

In my 26 years as an educator, I have seen many educational trends come and go.  Like in many sectors, there will often be the “flavour of the day”. From shifts in school choice to personalized learning to online learning, the educational landscape is constantly evolving. This, for the most part, is a good thing. But one constant in education that I have noticed taking on increasing importance is the need for us to cultivate creativity with our students.

Of course, the focus on foundational literacies and academics continue to be of significant importance but cultivating creativity in all aspects of the curriculum is key to the success of our Yorkies as they prepare for future careers.

In this popular Ted Talk, Sir Ken Robinson makes the powerful point that students leaving our classrooms and universities will be entering a workforce that none of us can visualize. Learning a narrow or specific skill set no longer has the value in today’s world that it once did. With increasing use of technology and globalization, the tasks and jobs that once were held in the hands and minds of humans are increasingly being taken over by automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence. As such, it is important for us to recognize that creativity is what will distinguish humans from automation and augmented intelligence and why creativity is a skill and disposition that will be highly valuable in the future workforce. This trend toward valuing creativity goes beyond the “innovation” buzzword that we often see. In fact, a 2010 survey of over 1500 executives found that creativity is valued as one of the most important skills of the modern world. This article, by Anthony Wood, further solidifies that creativity is the engine of progress in our modern society.

So what does this mean for the learning environment we wish to create for our Yorkies? It means that we need to see our students’ creative capacities for the richness that they are. At York House, our teachers continually seek to empower our girls to engage in cognitive, social and/or physical learning experiences that allow them to develop their creativity. On a daily basis, our girls are encouraged to:

  • Generate ideas: We encourage our girls to keep generating ideas through graphic organizers, mind maps, and a plethora of reflective activities.
  • Continually Review: We encourage girls to draft and redraft an idea, concept, solution, or product from varying perspectives such as audience and cultural viewpoints.
  • Dialogue: Our Yorkies participate in structured conversations where dialogue with reflection can lead to new ideas. This year we have introduced the Harkness approach to dialogue in our English classes at the Senior School.
  • Make mistakes through trial and error. Finding issues or problems is a great opportunity to see a new approach or design something better.
  • Give things time. Providing an opportunity for ideas to percolate for some time is a great way to return to creative work with a fresh perspective. Great work takes time…ask an artist!
  • Keep a work portfolio. Many of our teachers have students keep a journal or workbook where they can sketch out their thoughts and see the progression of their ideas and concepts. This is a great way to make student thinking visible.
  • Research! Yes, research is a way to become more creative. Researching allows students to deepen their knowledge and to find out about new ideas and/or recycle old ideas into new ones.
  • Critiquing work. At all grades levels, we encourage our girls to reflect not only on their work but to provide feedback and suggestions to their peers. This is a great way for students to express their thinking and to also think about their thinking which is what is called, “meta-cognition”.
  • Problem find and problem solve. Whether it occurs in the science lab, math class or sewing class, students are encouraged to find problems and in relation to these, discuss, ideate, prototype and design solutions to these problems.
  • Communicate. Communicating thoughts and ideas in various ways is a great way to express one’s creativity, uniqueness and identity.

Being creative means continually refining these skills and ensuring that we seek to educate the whole child. I am thrilled to invite you to view this video about our Junior School STEAM program which seeks to do just that. Our student response to this type of learning has been overwhelmingly positive and we look forward to expanding these types of experiential learning opportunities at all grade levels. This will require creativity on our part as well as we support the development of this type of learning environment for our students and teachers both in and outside of the classroom.

As we head off for spring break, I hope that you and your daughters will have time to recharge and re-energize. Whether it is on the court, in the classroom, or on a canvas, I am sure we will have many more opportunities to witness our Yorkies’ outstanding creative works during their final term at school.



Head Lines: January 2018

As one year ends, and a new year begins, it is important to not only take stock of the previous year’s accomplishments but to also consider the learning opportunities that come from the mistakes and setbacks we have each experienced. In my new role as Acting Head of School, I find it fitting that we not only consider the learning opportunities we face as a school but also the opportunity we have to role model the foundation of resilience for all of our Yorkies. I look forward to connecting with parents individually and collectively and engaging in ongoing conversations with you regularly, either in person or via my Head Lines blog.

As a parent and educator, I have learned to appreciate that meaningful growth and renewal can often come from setbacks. Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe it is important to cultivate a healthy and active relationship with achievement. Setting goals and establishing benchmarks to reach these are essential skills for both students and adults. However, I also feel it is imperative that we encourage students to be resilient and learn how to deal with disappointments.

The key to viewing setbacks, failures, and sorrows as opportunities for growth is really about cultivating what Carol Dweck, a Stanford Psychologist, calls a “growth mindset”. Carol Dweck, who pioneered this research, began studying students’ beliefs about intelligence because she was interested in the question of why some students are so resilient in the face of challenges while others are not. Her research of “Fixed vs Growth Mindsets” has shown that the view students adopt of themselves profoundly affects the way they learn. As parents, I encourage you to view her Ted Talk, “The Power of Yet”. What Carol Dweck’s research yielded was that students generally hold one of two very different beliefs about intelligence. Some students have what she calls a “fixed mindset”;  the belief that intelligence is a fixed trait that doesn’t change much. So, like eye colour, these students believe they are born with a certain amount of intelligence and there’s not much they can do to change it. Other students have a very different belief about intelligence – a growth mindset. They see it more like a muscle that grows with effort.

According to Dweck’s research, it turns out that these beliefs act like lenses through which students interpret their day-to-day experiences in school, particularly experiences of adversity. It turns out that students can draw very different conclusions about the meaning of the same events.

What it comes down to, is that these interpretations – these lenses – are what shape the narrative our Yorkies use to make sense of their world. Therefore, the meaning we all make of events is what determines the behaviours we choose to engage in. If a student believes there isn’t a point in trying, then even the best teacher or the most encouraging parent may not be able to reach them. It’s like the old saying goes…“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.” So it is important to note that mindsets, at any age, affect the goals students have, how they view effort and how they respond to challenges and failures on a daily basis.

So what can be done to empower a growth mindset? It turns out that the brain’s neuroplasticity allows it to change when it learns new things. Last year, during one of our parent evening Tiger Talks, Dr. Joann Deak shared with us the importance of stretching “our brain elastics”. Brain research suggests that through persistence and trying challenging things, students’ beliefs or mindsets can be changed and that, when they are, students can experience success. It is important to note that our interactions with our girls can have a significant influence on shaping their mindsets.

As parents and educators, we must ask ourselves some key questions about how we view  learning:

  • What beliefs are being reinforced?
  • What goals are being promoted?
  • Are mistakes valued?

To that effect, I would like to share with you some suggestions found in Carol Dweck’s research on the language we should use when praising or encouraging young minds.

Try Not To Focus On:

  • Qualities commonly interpreted as stable such as the talent or intelligence of your child: e.g. “ You are so intelligent. Look at how well you did on this project.”

Do Focus On:

  • Seeing the effort and strategies used by your child: “I like how you tried a new way to solve that problem.” or “I can tell you have put a lot of effort into this project.”
  • Seeing your child’s abilities improving over time with practice: “You’ve been practising and I can see it’s paying off.”
  • Use the word, “yet” to indicate that your child is on a learning curve that can be reached with time and effort. Instead of saying, “Maybe learning languages isn’t one or your strengths,” add a “yet” to the end of the statement: “Maybe learning languages isn’t one of your strengths, yet.”
  • Viewing mistakes and being challenged as a natural and necessary part of your daughter’s learning: “You’ve made some mistakes but what a great opportunity to learn. Being challenged is when your brain grows the most.”

This last one is so important because students are often really scared of making mistakes, but mistakes are an essential part of the learning process. When your daughter comes home from school today, try asking her, “What was the best mistake you made today?” Have your daughter reflect on her best mistake from a growth mindset point of view and have her explain why this was her best mistake. This will set the stage for an interesting discussion. Don’t be surprised if your daughter looks at you with confusion at first. Try this often and be persistent. It will pay off.

Finally, as parents and teachers, it is important for us to role-model how we ourselves have experienced growth and learning from our own setbacks and failures. Let’s share with our girls the lessons we’ve learned…the hard way. Showing a little vulnerability is an admission to our girls that as adults, we don’t always have all the answers and that we too, can fall short of perfection, and that is just fine.

I look forward to making many new connections with our York House School community. May this new year be filled with the satisfaction of goals achieved as well as numerous opportunities for renewal and growth. May we all “grow through what we go through” in 2018.


Mme Julie Rousseau
Acting Head of School