Creativity Matters: A Conversation with David Osher


David Osher, SoLD Alliance partner and Vice President and Institute Fellow at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), an organization that is focused on increasing the effectiveness of education at all levels through rigorous research and evaluation, training, and technical assistance, discusses the importance of finding creative solutions to educational problems spurred by the COVID pandemic.

Q: The lessons from the science of learning and development are inherently hopeful. What are the strengths that young people and their communities are bringing to this crisis?

People are learning 24/7 and they’re adapting 24/7, some of that learning is conscious, some of that learning is unconscious. We are always in the process of adaptation, and I am seeing that not just in the United States but worldwide. All sorts of people acting in innovative and creative ways. In some cases, they’re finding for the first time that they can enjoy learning because they’re in different spaces.

There are many people struggling terribly in these moments. But some school districts have been making good adaptations, such as a community college that ended up installing wi-fi hot spots in its parking lot. This benefited not only the people who needed access to Wi-Fi, but also students who needed a quiet place to work. It basically turned into a virtual library. There are these wonderful points of creativity that are happening.

Q: What’s one piece of concrete advice drawing from the science of learning and development that you would elevate for every educator or other adult supporting young people?

Emotions matter, and different people experience emotions in different ways. How we act and support different people is more or less effective if we’re also acting with a sensitivity to cultural responsiveness, gender responsiveness, and age appropriate responsiveness. It’s dependent on people’s ability to tune in to each other and to connect. And to do that deeply requires being emotionally ready yourself.

Q: What is the education issue that is around the corner that you hope people start addressing now? How would knowledge from the science help us advance equity as we take it on.

We need to focus on robust equity, not just on mediocre or disempowering outcomes, while addressing the needs of the moment. Some people think that the needs of the moment require that we double down on academic basics and that everything else is less important. That will not work; it will contribute to more inequity. Learning should never just be about basics; learning should always be transformative. This requires strong social, emotional, and cultural conditions for learning and should include meaning making; rich cognitive, aesthetic, and emotional experiences; and understanding how the world works, where it is unjust, and how to act on the world and address injustice.. If we don’t deal with the robust elements of learning and development, we will not equip our students for their future which is rich with challenges for economic and physical survival, but also with opportunities to do good–opportunities that require empathy, compassion, and creativity. We need to support individual and community agency and equip learners to deal with increasingly hard issues if we are to save our world, eliminate disparities, dismantle institutionalized racism and privilege, and promote individual and community thriving.

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