At BSJ our mission is ‘to inspire, challenge and nurture for excellence’.
But what does it mean ‘to inspire’? What is ‘inspiration’? And why is it so important?
What got me thinking about this was actually a lack of inspiration. I try to write a blog post every Friday, but yesterday I didn’t have anything particularly interesting that I felt inspired to write about. So, last night I sought the help of the littlest member of my family…
‘Oscar’, I said over dinner, ‘I can’t think of anything to write my blog post about today. Any ideas?’
And Oscar said ‘2+2=fish’.
Like a good student of TOK I didn’t just dismiss this out of hand. Rather I asked ‘what do you mean?’ And eight year old Oscar took a post it and a pen and showed me that yes indeed 2+2=fish:
So this inspiration from my son inspired me to write about inspiration. Google’s dictionary defines ‘inspiration’ as ‘being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.’ Now that seems both easy and difficult at the same time. All you really need is mental stimulation – ok that’s the easy bit. But, where do you get that from? And how can school ‘inspire’ you?
Reflecting on this, I think the first step to being inspired is to be aware. You really have to pay attention to what’s going on around you because actually this is likely your source of inspiration. I’m always struck by the frequency with which students turn to the internet when asked for ideas. In literature we give students texts to read and one of the first things they do is look up how someone else has interpreted it, but actually this is really not the point of IB literary study – plus literature is about making meaning for you as much as it is about critically assessing the meanings others have made. Similarly in TOK, we’ve started the essay with our year 13 students and they cannot go online to check what they should write their essays about, they have to use what they’ve learned through both shared and personal knowledge and apply TOK concepts to it. This is the whole point of TOK. In the same way, the Extended Essay requires students to come up with their own idea for a research topic and question – there is no point doing what someone else has already done – that won’t add anything to the body of knowledge already in the world and it isn’t the point of the Extended Essay.
So the IB Core is asking students to be inspired and to have inspiration. As a school then, what we do is create the space and the experiences where inspiration can happen. I’m writing this while watching my older son create an animal which can survive in the desert. He’s writing about how his Sponge Spike Snake is covered in spikes which can soak up and store water when needed, but can also turn into hard spikes for protection and sand-digging. This is his Year 5 homework. And I know that this comes after work on animal adaptation and survival and a trip to Taman Mini to see how animals survive. He’s really enjoying the creative process and so I think that’s the perfect example of how, at BSJ, we create that space for inspiration.
But, creating experiences is one part of the picture, the other is the student’s ability to pay attention to those experiences, to reflect on them and to produce something creative out of them.
It’s not easy to pay attention these days. Distraction is everywhere and we are more and more multitasking with technology. How then do we just stop, and pay attention to the world around us? The popularity of mindfulness seems to be a response to this.
So to seek inspiration and to become creative, perhaps practising focus and managing distraction is a great starting point. If we can fully experience what happens around us and stay in the moment we can find inspiration. Perhaps this is something our IB students can think about when they are stuck for ideas to blog about. What’s happened around you? What did it make you think about? Can you apply TOK concepts to it and think out loud in a blog post?
And, if you really get stuck for inspiration, you can always ask an eight year old.