Teaching is a creative art as much as painting, writing, composing, or dancing. Teachers who are radical learners constantly tap into their imaginations to create the best learning environments. Much of the challenge and joy of teaching comes from creating learning experiences that work for kids.

Twyla’s Tharp’s The Creative Habit is packed with ideas that empower people to exploit the full power of their imagination.  One of her best ideas is called scratching.

In describing scratching, Tharp writes that this is a creative act that all of us engage in. But, for me at least, until I read Tharp’s book, it had never had a name.  Here is what she writes:

You know how you scratch away at a lottery ticket to see if you’ve won? That’s what I’m doing when I begin a piece. I’m digging through everything to find something. It’s like clawing at the side of a mountain to get a toehold, a grip, some sort of traction to keep moving upward and onward.

Scratching takes many shapes. A fashion designer is scratching when he visits vintage clothing stores …

A film director is scratching when she grabs a flight to Rome, trusting that she will get her next big idea in that inspiring city …

An architect is scratching when he walks through a rock quarry, studying the algebraic connections of fallen rocks …

Tharp suggests lots of ways to scratch for ideas, including “reading, conversation, environment, culture, heroes, mentors, nature – all are lottery tickets for creativity.”  Scratching, she writes, “is a wildly unruly process … it’s about unleashing furious mindless energy and watching it bounce off everything in your path … [it’s] where creativity begins.  It is the moment when your ideas take flight and begin to defy gravity.  If you try to rein it in, you’ll never know how high you can fly.”

There are many places where educators can scratch for ideas. Teachers’ lottery tickets can be books, especially innovative books on learning such as Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mindor Sir Ken Robinson’s The Element; ancient texts on learning, written by authors such as Charlotte Mason or John Dewey; or books by iconoclasts such as John Taylor Gotto. It can also be conversations with other teachers, students, mentors, coaches, or other educators. Other places to scratch for ideas include the web – by viewing presenters on TED or asking questions throughTwitter or Facebook; or simply by mining their memories of great teachers and great learning experiences.  Teachers can even scratch for ideas by thinking about failed learning experiences, and flipping those experiences around to make them successful.

Every creative person has his or her lottery tickets to scratch.  For radical learners, the prize is meaningful, inspiring, and fun learning.  How do you scratch for ideas?  We’d love to know.