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Connecting Creativity, Imagination, and Play

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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In particular, the fluid ability to read multiple emotional cues and to exercise a meta-awareness of one's own somatic body states and the chains of reasoning that flow from these is strongly correlated with success in working as a change agent.





The posting below gives a nice overview of emotional intelligence and its role in the higher education environment. It is from Chapter 3 -- Connecting Creativity, Imagination, and Play, in the book Engaging Imagination: Helping Students Become Creative and Reflective Thinkers, by Alison James and Stephen D. Brookfield. Published by Jossey-Bass , A Wiley Brand. One Montgomery Street, Suite 1200, San Francisco, CA 94104 - 4594 []. Copyright © 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.




Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Emotional Intelligence


Emotional intelligence is embedded both in self-awareness and in an ability to read others' emotions and craft appropriate responses.  Goleman argues that mathematically and technically derived notions of IQ have little relevance to success in real life, particularly for members of a growing number of professions that place relationships at their center.  Successful practitioners in what are broadly called the "human service professions" (education, social work, management, health care, advertising, training and human resources development, and so on) reach levels of expertise and positions of leadership because of their ability to be aware of their emotions in the moment and over time.  This allows them to stand back and change their behavior in ways that build teams, bolster morale, and improve performance.  This is because the limbic system of the brain (the part that controls emotions) is far more influential in determining how we respond to situations than is the rational left brain.  Hence, anyone working in fluid situations involving colleagues and clients relies far more on the limbic system.  By way of contrast, anyone engaged in an isolated analysis of technical data, or facing work conditions that remain stable, taps into the rational part of the brain.


In particular, the fluid ability to read multiple emotional cues and to exercise a meta-awareness of one's own somatic body states and the chains of reasoning that flow from these is strongly correlated with success in working as a change agent.  Although Goleman's work is typically framed within corporations, we believe the same is true in social movements (Preskill and Brookfield, 2008; Brookfield and Holst, 2010).  Consequently, if we are preparing students to work in these professions we need to develop these skills knowing that they are not best assessed or demonstrated through written tests or reflections calmly drafted long after moments of stress, anxiety, or decision have passed.


The kind of brain research that Goleman has popularized is but the tip of a much deeper and broader iceberg of research and theorizing that has caused a paradigm shift in the comprehension of mind-body relationships and how people process information.  In A Whole New Mind (2008), Pink draws on this research to articulate differences between left-directed thinkers (analytical, logical, emotionless, objective) and right-directed thinkers (empathic, artistic, conceptual).  This has included a complete revision of our understanding of the usefulness of the right side of the brain, the part that controls emotions, creativity, and instinct.  From early twentieth-century assumptions of it as a deficient and superfluous part of the organ, there has developed an acceptance of the inter-dependence of the workings of our two cranial hemispheres.  As Robinson (2011) writes, "Academic work focuses on certain sorts of verbal and mathematical reasoning: on writing factual and critical essays, verbal discussions and mathematical analyses.  These are all very important forms of ability.  But if human intelligence was limited to them, most of human culture would never have happened" (p. 65).


Thomas West, in In the Mind's Eye (2009), states the case for moving away from intelligence that is solely measured through read-write traditions to one giving equal legitimacy to different ways of knowing and showing.  His book celebrates the visual modes of thought present in many great minds at work, not just in art and design but in science, engineering, medicine, and mathematics.  His definition of visual thinking can equally apply to the creative, nonlinear, multilayered emanations of reflection we will explore:


We may consider "visual thinking" as that form of thought in which images are generated or recalled in the mind and are manipulated, overlaid, translated, associated with other similar forms (as with a metaphor), rotated, increased or reduced in size, distorted, or otherwise transformed gradually from one familiar image into another. (p. 21)


West argues that the symmetrical/asymmetrical formation of the two cranial hemispheres accounts for the range in people's thinking abilities.  His perspective is driven in some measure by his own experience of being profoundly dyslexic and diagnosed as such well into his adult years.  Dyslexia is a classic example of how an alternative mode of processing information in an environment that measures academic success through the written word can put learners at a distinct disadvantage.


We have thankfully traveled a very long distance from the days when dyslexia was wrongly equated with being lazy or stupid; however, associations with the "remedial" still linger in some minds with reference to alternative assessments or modes of learning.  The now-extensive literature on dyslexia in general and in the arts in particular argues that students who have difficulties in reading and writing because of dyslexia or a specific learning difficulty may have matching or surpassing strengths in other ways - what Eide and Eide (2012) call the "dyslexic advantage."  Most of us have heard of these other strengths - lateral thinking, big picture visualization, alternative ways of problem solving, innovation and entrepreneurship, artistry and creative dexterity - as well as being regaled with lists of famous individuals with dyslexia such as Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill, and Richard Branson.


These limbic strengths are certainly manifested in the domains of the arts and design, but it would be a grave mistake to assume they are limited to these. Essentially, any work that requires formulating responses to unforeseen situations depends on its actors to access these strengths.  Teaching - the profession that we assume many readers work in - is a prime example.  The one thing you can depend on in a world of what seems like daily exponential leaps in technology, and hence in the ways students access, interpret, and use information, is that whatever you learned in graduate school regarding classroom management procedures, learning design, or student assessment will almost certainly be outdated by the time you enter your first job.  Again, in postsecondary classrooms the one constant you can anticipate is the ever-increasing diversity of learners you will have to face.  This will be a diversity not only in terms of students' racial and cultural backgrounds, or their identity politics, but also in their levels of readiness for learning and their ways of processing information.


Creative teachers are open to using many pedagogic models, including problem based or inquiry based learning, dependent on the context for learning.  They ask themselves what different kinds of students they are dealing with, what they wish the students to be able to know or do, how best to use the time and other resources available to them, and what successful colleagues have done that they can steal.  From this mélange of contextual factors, decisions and strategies emerge that are tried out, some of which are then modified further, whilst others are dropped. Unless you choose to sleepwalk your way through your teaching days and ignore how students are responding to learning, no matter what the discipline you teach, your work as a teacher is inherently creative.


Figure 3.1 suggests the different kind of domain groupings that can organize our thinking about multimodal and multisensory forms of teaching that foster students' creative reflection.  The figure is a visual of the possibilities for practice in an engaging classroom, and we believe it applies to a multitude of disciplines and subject matter boundaries, from fashion design to engineering, art history to real estate management, psychology to business studies.  Although these modes are represented cyclically, they also cut across the circle in other ways.


Figure 3.1 Multimodal Forms of Reflection (note: the various phrases are all connected with arrows in a clockwise direction)



  • Collaborarively in conjunction with other                          Visually - in all kinds of images
  • modes and through exploration                                      as well as drawn, diaggrammatic forms




  • Discursively, in groups                                                 Textuall, in writing, using word play
  • as well as dialogically and                                            and triggers
  • through listening 




  •                                            Physically and spatially, 
  •                                            through kinesthetic and 
  •                                            movement based activities




Brookfield, S.D. and holst, J.D. Radicalizing Learning: Adult Education for a Just World, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.

Eide, B.L., and Eide, F.F. The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. New York: Plume, 2002.


Pink, D.H. A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future.  New York: Penguin, 2008.


Preskill, S.J., and Brookfield, S.D. Learning as a Way of Leading: Lessons from the Struggle for Social Justice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008.


Robinson, K. Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative.  Chichester, UK: Capstone, 2011.


West, T.G. In the Mind's Eye: Creative Visual Thinkers, Gifted Dyslexics and the Rise of Visual Technologies.  Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2009.