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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Recontexting as Creativity

Recontexting as Creativity

By Dr. Steve Gruenert
Associate Professor and Department Chairperson
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

At what point does the ability to do something well transfer to other activities, unrelated activities to that which we have expertise?

Do accomplished musicians have competencies related to playing music that could inform their abilities to play golf? Could a professional photographer bring those skills to excel at cooking? Does teaching math well or having many successful years as a coach provide support for a person interested in becoming a principal?

A conceptual leap is needed to inform unrelated activities. A level of creativity is needed to make the connection between what we may be very good at and what we aspire to become good at while envisioning our capabilities. Perhaps some people are able to make connections between disparate skills quite easily while others struggle to find the significance of the crossover.

If we were to assume that all people have something they have devoted quality time to; something they believe that puts them above average in performance, then this capacity would have the potential to provide a thread, if not a scaffold, of required mental/physical competence to move forward more quickly toward reaching above average performance in a new area.

The trick is to identify the areas of which we believe we have a high level of mastery and tease out the fundamentals of that activity, while looking for application to other activities.

How does one know if they have above average abilities?

What criteria exist to inform this awareness?

Let’s look at some examples and try to identify any obvious connections:

·      A math teacher who is seeking to become a professional poker player.
·      A construction worker who wants to become a sculptor.
·      A science teacher who wants to become a professional fisherman.
·      A policeman who wants to become a corporate lawyer.
·      An Air Force pilot who wants to race boats.
·      A person who has recently quit smoking, now going on a diet.
·      An actor who wants to become a politician.

Now for the more challenging connections:

·      A CPA who wants to learn to play the piano.
·      A crop farmer who wants to become a classroom teacher.
·      A lawyer who wants to write poetry.
·      A bank executive who wants to become an astronomer.
·      The ability to balance a quadratic formula and the ability to navigate a politically charged argument.
·      An ability to remain calm when faced with deadlines at work, and parachuting.
·      An air traffic controller who builds sailboats.
·      A New York cab driver who wants to grow vegetables in his own garden.
·      A boxer who likes to collect stamps.
·      A businessman who wants to become a principal.

If the obvious connections from the first group were actually obvious and the connections between the pairs in the second group were more difficult, is that an indication of a limitation imposed by one’s intellect or one’s cultural upbringing?

Would those who are experts in the field desired (let’s call them veterans) be better able to find the connections as opposed to those people who know little of the field?

Could the opposite be true also?

Is it possible that the expertise one builds throughout a lifetime actually debilitate one’s capacity to do well in other non-related activities: The better one becomes at leadership, the worse he or she become at driving? Some professions require quick reflexes while others demand a measured approach. Some require logic while others may require creativity. In some aspects, we may be training ourselves not to do well, or to identify with those who do well, in certain fields.

Do school leaders who have been removed from classroom duties tend not to recognize good teaching over time? Perhaps the context of leadership recalibrates our perspective of what good teachers do – and maybe it is inaccurate.

The use of analogies to inform our daily lives occurs quite often without much interruption of thought, as does the use of metaphors when we help others understand something we hope to convey using the simplest of terms. When we explain something complex to others, something we seem to understand (algebra, perspective drawing, the golf swing), we will try to use language they understand. We seek to identify what they already know (prior knowledge) and try to help them make the conceptual leap to the more complex concept.

This is teaching.

Yet, how often do we do this within ourselves?

Is there a point to which we think there are no connections between activities, thus losing out on a potential head start to mastery of something new?


Dr. Steve Gruenert encourages you to offer your perspectives on his conceptual piece above by commenting on this blog or contacting him at

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