When I was a kid, I loved watching reality TV. Okay, it wasn’t really reality TV. It was PBS. However, I would watch an entire season of This Old House, as Bob Vila walked viewers step-by-step through a cumbersome restoration process. This never included a “choose these three options” or “surprise ending.” Instead, the homeowners were part of the process; and, on some level, so were the viewers.
This was the same way I felt watching Bob Ross paint happy little trees. I knew there were better artists out there. My mom had taken us to museums with famous paintings. But I loved watching Bob Ross. The same goes with the segments on Wonderful World of Disney, where I got the chance to see how they animated the films. I loved seeing the painstakingly slow process of animation. I also loved watching the field trips with Mr. Rogers, when we would leave his neighborhood and visit a factory or a shop to learn about how they made crayons or built a table.
You would think this demystifying element would destroy the magic, but that’s not what happened. Instead, I realized that making is magic.
I felt inspired.
I remember as a child looking around my house at one point and realizing, “Holy crap, someone made this stuff. Someone started with an idea and made a design and now it’s in our house.” I wanted to learn more about how things were made. And, ultimately, that curiosity inspired my creativity:
Showing Your Work
Austin Kleon describes this as “showing your work.” It’s the idea that we should share our creative journey with others. It’s what happens when you make videos showing your creative process or when you share snapshots of your work on social media. It’s what happens when you put yourself out there in a creative community.
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You see this with kids who engage with an online community centered around their interests. I saw this when a girl in my eighth grade class showed me her five novels she had already published on Wattpad and then shared her Tumblr where she asked for feedback in the characters and plots she developed. I noticed this when my kids started playing Minecraft and began watching and creating Minecraft videos.
Henry Jenkins describes these as “participatory cultures.” He includes the following elements:
- Low barriers to participation
- Strong support for sharing
- Informal mentorship
- Members who believe their contributions matter and value the participation of others
- Social cohesion
Participatory cultures are often creative and open rather than consumer-oriented or closed. They are multi-age, interest-based, and centered on shared interests. They are, in many respects, the opposite of an industrial school model.
Participatory cultures remind us that creativity isn’t a solitary endeavor. It is nearly always to and from a community. Great ideas rarely happen in isolation. Instead, they are a part of the constant sharing back and forth of what we are learning, doing, and making. This is why it’s so valuable to show our work.
Seven Reasons to Show Your Work
I’ve been think about this idea of “showing your work.” A few weeks ago, I wrote a post describing how I refine my lessons. I almost didn’t post it, because, honestly, who wants to read a post describing how to modify a unit plan. To my surprise, it was one of the most read posts the entire month.
- Showing your work encourages metacognition. When you show your work, you are forced to communicate what you did and how you did it in a way that others understand. It becomes a chance to reflect on your work but also clarify misconceptions and catch any blind spots.
- Innovation skyrockets when people show their work. Edward Clapp, a researcher at Project Zero, reminds us to look at creative ideas as stories with their own biographies. Instead of focusing on a single founder, what you see is that great ideas are often the result of a network of information in a community of transparency. When you show your work, you are helping to build this type of community.
- It builds confidence. You see this when students share their process with the world. As they realize that others are watching and noticing, they internalize the idea that they are creative thinkers and problem-solvers.
- It can lead to collaborative partnerships. When I think of my favorite collaborative projects, I notice a trend. They are nearly all people I met years ago on Twitter. What began as an exchange of ideas eventually became a chance to show our work and that morphed into a collaborative relationship. In some cases, these fellow educators have become close friends.
- You get pushback. This is actually one of the biggest reasons people avoid showing their work. What happens if the haters show up? The bad news is, they will. You’ll get thumbs down on your YouTube videos. You’ll get trolls on your Twitter feed. But you’ll also get constructive feedback. People will question your process. Sometimes it will hurt. But if you’re humble about it, you’ll grow. You’ll learn a new way of doing things.
- It’s a chance to mentor others. Think of the last time you were stuck in how to do something. Where did you go for an answer? It’s possible you called someone on the phone, but there’s a higher likelihood you went to YouTube or you visited a website. When this happens, there’s an informal mentoring process going on. Too often, we think our work isn’t anything special, because it doesn’t seem new or impressive. But there’s a good chance it’s new and impressive to someone.
- You can change the narrative. This is especially true of teachers. There are so many stories of how awful schools are and how out-of-touch teachers are. When you show your work, you get to change the narrative by showing evidence of the great things happening in your classroom.
When you share your journey, you are being courageous. You are saying to the world, “I’m not afraid to be known.”
You might be feeling like your work isn’t all that awesome. But I guarantee you it’s awesome to someone. When you choose to show your work, you are not only participating in the creative culture of education, but you are actually redefining it. You are helping other teachers become better at their craft. You are transforming education for students you don’t even know.
Listen to the Podcast
Just click on the audio below to listen to this Creative Classroom podcast. You can also listen to it on the go by subscribing on iTunes (ideal for iPhone users) or Google Play and Stitcher (ideal for Android users)