There are many problems bedevilling modern education just now. One of the most pressing is the crisis in attracting, preparing, and training the staggering number of teachers the world needs in the immediate future; 44 million by 2030. Will the world be able to recruit, prepare and retain a workforce of 44 million in only five years? Over 20 million are needed just to replace those about to leave teaching. Attrition rates for all primary teachers doubled over the 2015-2022 period to 9%, and almost one in ten commencing graduates are gone after 5 years. It is an emergency.

The Harvard report examining The Qualities of Quality: Understanding Excellence in Arts Education set out the distinctive qualities of arts education and in this post we will use the same impulse; to set out the qualities of excellence teachers need to deliver a pedagogy of creativity in their classrooms, laboratories and studios. Our observations are based on the work of hundreds of teachers who have designed and delivered Kadenze courses and, not surprisingly,  these qualities are all demonstrated  across the teaching team who planned and delivered Program 1: Your Joyful 21st Century Learning Framework, recently launched by Kadenze, Inc.

We recognise four principal ‘teacherly’ qualities which need to be incubated in those seeking creative learning with their students and communities.

Quality 1: Tolerance of ambiguity

To open teachers to the productive possibilities of co-creative learning design, a tolerance of ambiguity is a useful starting point. This involves seeking experiences which ask them to make sense of situations or stimuli in which meaning is deliberately ambiguous, rich with facets which are dissimilar, unfamiliar, or thorny.  For arts scholar Maxine Greene this is best be done by engaging frequently with artworks. Greene  describes artworks as being “variously meaningful” in that they lead to multiple interpretations and meanings that are specific to each viewer or listener. In such cases meaning is plural and various, a product of conceptual and sensory knowledge, imagination, intuition and memory.

However, the research suggests this will be a difficulty for many teachers as an intolerance of ambiguity has often been viewed as a tendency to perceive ambiguous situations or material as threatening. Of course, for teachers whose educational system denies them professional respect and autonomy, treats them as a failing class presiding over slipping standards, and micro-manages them to accept that modern ‘teaching’ is reading externally prepared scripts aloud, we cannot be surprised they are uneasy when the ‘next big thing’ comes along. In such instances, the shrewd response is to be cynical, sceptical and mistrusting.  Sadly, this will paralyse these teachers. Prospering at this time when AI is bewitching with its artificial magic, thriving in ‘dumb’ administrative systems, and correcting the effects of inequity requires us to live in spaces of emergence, and openminded and thorough criticality, not self-protective rejection.

Of course, being tolerant of ambiguity does not mean being tolerant of every educational fashion that comes into view. It is important all teachers stand on the firm foundations of their beliefs. In my case for instance, that centres on the non-physical aspects of human consciousness, best captured in the philosophical field called aesthetics. While my aesthetic self asks me to be tolerant of ambiguity, I have little tolerance for blanket pronouncements like “There is one agreed science of learning” (No, not one single science) nor “Good teaching will follow if you do this!” (No, good teaching depends on the complex interplay between purposes and outcomes).

Quality 2: Forceful engagement with diversity in education

For too long teachers have been locked into teaching a specified age cohort, often in the same classroom, year after year. There can be advantages to this but it is no longer fit for purpose in a world which demands deeper understandings of difference, diversity and equity in its educational systems. Teachers need to build their diversity skill-sets and the capacity to adapt classroom practises in a thoughtful and speedy way. One way to unsettle established and comforting certainties about the world is to ensure teachers seek out diverse experiences with the learning communities they encounter. 

There are two dimensions of this. Firstly, for teachers to engage with the diversity which already exists within educational settings. How can teachers move across the educational spectrum, from early childhood, primary, secondary, college, higher education and beyond? How might teachers engage with students in informal settings (such as with volunteer organisations) or with corporate clients (such as adult learners seeking culture change)? Are there opportunities to serve as education officers in the creative and cultural infrastructure of a place? Perhaps accompanying science exhibitions, museums or performing arts centres. How might they extend their educational knowhow by engaging as teaching artists in such settings? 

For instance, our instructor Paul Makeham, moved from being a celebrated teacher and Head of School in a major Australian university to taking on the role as Director of Corporate Education for the faculty. Paul acknowledges that this change had a huge impact on his understanding of education observing “what was offered to learners in corporate settings has to be relevant (nothing new there) but it had to be delivered creatively. Mixing creative risk with precarious playfulness for mid-career high achievers required an inventiveness like never before.”

The second gift a diversity agenda offers is when teachers are required to come to terms, first-hand, with how diverse worldviews are valued and respected as different knowledge systems. Being able to scaffold learning in cross cultural environments is a key capacity for teachers as they design and deliver courses which truly reflect post-colonial mindsets. Meeting these challenges is essential to engage meaningfully and respectfully with First Nations peoples of the world, and can bring an openness and receptiveness of alternative, non-western knowledge systems as powerful meaning making methods in their own right.

Our instructor Jackie Kauli knows this dynamic perfectly. While her childhood education was a ‘good’ one, Konai Helu Thaman’s view resonates deeply with her, for she now acknowledges she was “learning to think in the language of strangers”. Jackie says “there were both advantages and disadvantages with my educational childhood, but a major purpose since has been to synthesise knowledge systems. My educational childhood allowed me to recognise and appreciate diverse views”.

Quality 3: Forceful strategic engagement with the educational system of which they are a part.

While there are significant differences across systems of education globally (start by checking out Finland), it is important to note that many modern educational systems are surprisingly alike. For most, education is compulsory, learning happens in classrooms which typically face one way to students gathered according to age, and a prime purpose is to ensure learners contribute meaningfully to the economic wellbeing of themselves and the nation. It is essential teachers understand how their educational system works, how it wields its power, how to refocus its mission (if necessary) and use their know-how and courage for the benefit of learners.

Being system-savvy Is hard won and in our team of instructors, is probably best exemplified by Amanda Morris. After leadership posts in Asia-Pacific universities, Amanda was appointed Executive Director Conservatoire at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney, Australia’s leading acting school. After gaining international recognition for producing StageStruck, which won the first British Academy Award for Interactive Entertainment, she then joined Kadenze Inc. and sharpened her expertise in the ecology of digital learning environments. Today she is Director of The Academy of the Arts at Charles Darwin University.  When we analyse the different systems of education Amanda has successfully navigated and outshone in, it is no surprise to see her working in one of the most complex yet needed area of Australian education, starting with groundbreaking courses like The Pedagogy of Indigenous Knowledge Sharing through Creative and Cultural Practices

Quality 4: Displaying ‘Learnability’, driven by creative nous and experimentation

Some time ago software developers recognised it was important to design products which users could quickly master and learn with ease and common-sense intuition. Ideally, they do not need bloated instruction manuals. Such products are high in learnability. Now the notion has been extended, so some learning specialists are asserting that learnability is an essential skill set for any future workforce. The enthusiasm to learn and to keep learning new things, and embracing the challenges which come with learnability, will be central for flourishing in the age of adaptability we are about to enter.

When it comes to learnability, John Holyoke, another of our instructors, is the classic prototype for us all. John had been a teaching artist, instructional design coach and lead facilitator at Lincoln Center Education (LCE), NYC for 20 years when the COVID quarantine year hit. Immediately he was forced to become a ‘super-learnability learner’, solely focussing on remote learning using digital means. It was his creative intelligence re-learned which led to Lincoln Center’s Pop-Up Classroom series, and he curated events and workshops in Lincoln Center Activate, for an online professional learning community. In 2023 John was appointed Associate Director, Instructional Design and Delivery, leading digital learning projects and education-related professional development. John also flexed his learnability muscles with Kadenze, working as a strategic consultant to our Technology Enabled Creative Learning (TECL) framework.

Teaching is a noble profession, so why should it be so difficult to meet this impending shortfall? Many reasons, with multiple interpretations which are specific to each teacher and potential recruit. The danger is that, in the rush to recruit, we grasp at bodies who can fill a gap, rather than those with the capacity to tolerate ambiguity, who know how to engage in and with diversity, have the savvy to prosper in the educational system which employs them, and takes learnability personally; the qualities that underpin the nobility of character, motivation and skill we need to embed in an expanded teaching workforce.

This post written by Professor Emeritus Brad Haseman and Dr. Jacki Kaulie, two of the instructors on the Program 1: Your Joyful 21st Century Learning Framework.

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash