Sandy Brown Jensen:  Mind on Fire!

Sandy Brown Jensen: Mind on Fire!

Meet Sandy Brown Jensen, creative writing instructor, photographer and Digital Storyteller.

As a creative writing instructor, I work daily thinking of ways to encourage creativity.

I am on a journey to learn everything I can to be a digital storyteller.  I am gathering allies and helpers as I walk the perilous Road of Trials into the dark Belly of the Whale.  I fail and I succeed; I find the White Goddess only to lose her again in my search for the elixir of life in the magical bottle of digital storytelling.  I hope someday to become Mistress of Two Worlds, but as I plunge deeper and deeper into the jungle of multimedia, I need friends and companions to whistle with me on my way down the road.

Let me introduce myself here:


When I am asked questions such as, “What is your definition of creativity? Why is creativity important to you? How do you foster your own creativity?” I want to escape the confines of text and turn to the magical powers of the digital story. In this video, “The Current is Everything,” I answer those questions.

As a creative writing instructor, I work daily thinking of ways to encourage creativity in my students, but there is a larger world to reach, and I do that by telling stories, thinking out loud about the creative process in my digital stories. This video, “Water, Air, Earth, Fire” tells the story of how I personally learned about the creative process.

However, in post-internet days, I draw inspiration from the magic of an online cohort called DS106. In this digital story, I connect the virtual world with the real. It incidentally tells of how I met Cathleen Nardi and through her ended up HERE.

I added the Creative Inspiration Challenge for five days to two other daily challenges I follow. I have been doing them for so long that I probably work a whole lot faster than the average digital artist because, yes, I DO have a day job! I enjoy jumping sideways out of the box, if I can, so for example, with the word prompt “home,” I posted a short video of rough surf at the Devil’s Churn on the Oregon Coast because all of Oregon is my home and that is a place I particularly love.

It is perhaps worth adding that I have a photography website at Mind on, and I have an artist’s statement posted there that is still true for me:

In my photography, I attempt to make things look as if they were imbued with a dramatic underlying force.

I photograph to discover traces of the luminous fingerprints of the divine.

Photography takes me out of my head and into the world of light and shadow, form and composition.

I seek source imagery–those images that for me are emerging from some fresh spring of the world right now.

There is a relationship with memory, dream, and reflection to be explored, photographed, suggested, and known.


Image courtesy of Sandy Brown Jensen


Check out Sandy’s Digital Storytelling blog:   Mind on Fire.

Aurora Sidell:  Be bold, have fun and explore your creativity!

Aurora Sidell: Be bold, have fun and explore your creativity!

Aurora Sidell joined the tribe a while back and keeps coming back to recharge her creative batteries.  We are so glad to share her passionate energy with you.

What is your current Job Title?

I am a 3rd Grade teacher at a wonderful elementary school in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

How long have you been in this field?

This is the beginning of my 7th year as an elementary school teacher and each year I learn more about the profession and what truly guides education.

Why is creativity important to you?

Creativity is more than important to me…It is vital to for me to tap into my brain, soul, myself. Being creative helps me find an inner peace, self confidence and self awareness that I quickly lose in this fast paced, work and go, world. When I sit down with a project, painting,collage,  piece of jewelry or anything artistic I am brought back to a sharper more mindful state of existing. When I am creative I am a better friend, co worker and teacher.

Creativity with my teaching (my job) is also incredibly important. Students are much more easily reached when their is creativity involved. They are interested and focused on the lesson or ideas at hand. When a child is asked to memorize something like figurative language they will quickly forget a worksheet or quick writing activity. Pair the writing with creativity, a collage, poster or drawing and they have that knowledge ingrained in their brain. It is so fun to watch students color and create while learning and growing.

How do you foster your own creativity?

Fostering ones own creativity can be tricky at times. I was incredibly lucky as a child growing up in an alternative, progressive community surrounded by very creative, conscious people. Even with my roots firmly grounded in the soil of creativity I am constantly looking for ideas, inspiration and communities (in a class or other). I foster my own creativity by looking at other people’s creativity – photos, collages, videos, paintings, crafts and anything that is a product of creativity. It is easy to lose creative focus if you become too distant/distracted/busy. I carry a little sketchbook/journal around with me and on a great day it leaves the depths of my bag. I find that it is best to keep going, an object in motion tends to stay in motion, keep looking and being inspired daily is a must.

How does creativity affect your daily work/job?

Creativity affects my daily work in two ways: First, it makes required curriculum a lot more fun for me and the students. Second, my mood is much more relaxed and I am more enthusiastic when creativity is part of my daily routine in or out of my workplace . They say the teacher dictates the feel/vibe of the classroom and it is true. I owe it to my students to have creativity in my life and to share that enthusiasm for the arts withem. The day is always better when both the students and I feel good about what we have created –  extra bonus when it is aesthetically pleasing.

In what ways do you encourage creativity in others?

Encouraging creativity in others is not done through force or with restrictions. I like to lead through example when comes to encouraging creativity. I share creative projects through social media sites, online groups or classes (like and sharing fun classroom projects/activities with my fellow teachers in the building. I feel strongly about supporting local art programs, local artists and student art shows. I would like to think that a creative vibe is contagious.

In what ways did the Practice Creativity Challenge affect your thinking?

The Practice Creativity Challenge affected my thinking through a creative reset. I was given  inspiration outside my daily creative circle. There is something to be said about the gently timeline of a challenge like this one where a group of creative people are brought together.  My thinking has been expanded and new ideas have been generated. Enthusiasm and inspiration has been continued.

What advice might you give to a friend or colleague who wants to be creative?

I would (and have) suggest a guided creative challenge just like Practice Creativity Challenge or join an online group of artists through social media. There truly is an abundance of creativity at our fingertips when it comes to this digital era and the internet . Find what is pleasing to your senses. Be bold, have fun and explore your creativity. Copy, emulate and really above all just go for it – there is wrong way to be creative!

Aurora Sidell

image courtesy of Aurora Sidell


AnnaLouise Myers:  Hold Fire in your Heart

AnnaLouise Myers: Hold Fire in your Heart

We are delighted to introduce you to AnnaLouise Myers, recipient of our Pay it Forward program.  AnnaLouise continues to inspire her students in the daily practice of creativity.

Where do you Teach?

Normal Park Museum Magnet, a public school in Chattanooga, TN


Visual Art

How long have you been teaching?

20 Years

Why is creativity important to you?

The ability to create is what makes us human.  To be able to imagine, dream, plan, and think, then take those ideas and bring them into fruition is an amazing experience.  The result may not always be beautiful or easy, but it’s about the experience, that path that makes the journey so important.

On a less serious note, for me, creativity is what keeps life interesting.  I thrive on seeing new ideas, new ways of putting old things together, new twists on old ideas and so forth. I’m in the habit of  looking for signs of creative thinking in just about everything.

How do you foster your own creativity?

Being able to dedicate oneself fully to family and also work can make it challenging to find the time to foster one’s creativity. Right now, I focus on the little things.  Taking photographs, making tiny sketches, working in an altered book.  These are all little things I can pick up and put down without any stress or pressures to get something huge finished.

In what ways do you encourage creativity in your students?

I try to always search for the next great lesson that will connect my students to their learning.  If it’s not something I think is interesting or fascinating, they won’t either.  An engaging topic will grab a student and take them farther. 

Students in my class have the ability to make a lot of decisions about their projects.  These decision-making opportunities allow them to feel more confident in their decisions and in their learning, very important.  There are also some days that the students have the chance to just “Create”.  They are given very vague criteria (i.e. your creation must be less than 10 inches square and you cannot use tape and a box of recycled material to make it happen.  Those days are always very messy, but I feel it is critical to give kids the opportunity to just make something.

I also hope my students know they are able to make mistakes and use those mistakes to take them in different directions than what they might have originally planned.  When I am demonstrating a lesson or technique, I will talk out loud and model my thought process, including pointing out the things I am proud of and those things I want to improve upon. 

How have your students demonstrated their creativity?

I am lucky to be in a position where students are required to demonstrate their learning through hands-on, creative ways.  In the art studio, students are able to show the science, social studies, language arts and math standards in a wide variety of methods, all while further enhancing their visual art skills.  My students will go into the world with an understanding of how to show their ideas in a visual and creative way, and that is invaluable.

In what ways did the Creative Awareness Challenge affect your thinking?

Working in education is all consuming.  It was great to remind myself of the little things that make life and teaching awesome.  To take time to notice the creative process unfolding around me all day long was a great experience.

What advice might you give to a new teacher who is just starting out — and wants to be creative?

First, listen to your instincts.  Is this lesson/topic interesting?  Is this something I would want to do?  Is there a more “hands-on way” I could teach this topic?  Do the really students have to sit down, in straight rows to learn?  You will have to work very hard.  Start with the standards.  Decide how to make that topic amazing!  How can the students learn that topic by building and making something?  Once you combine the facts (standards) with a creative learning process and then doing everything you can to help, guide and assist the children, they will reach to amazing heights.

Secondly, find wonderful mentors.  They are out there!  Find other creative and inspiring teachers who are doing great things.  They may be in your own building or you may have to travel farther, but find that person who can support and empower you to continue following your instincts.

Can you give us one of your favorite teaching stories (something that inspired you — or made you laugh or cry??

There’s not just one favorite teaching story.  I love it when the disgruntled and angry teen actually smiles.  I love seeing the student who “can’t draw” tell me they signed up for extra art classes.  I love giving the student who always finishes early a challenging, “hard” project that pushes his/her abilities.  I love seeing students talking to their parents with deep academic vocabulary about what they have made.  I love hearing that little voice in the grocery store yell, “Hey!  Art teacher!”.  I love when students come to my room before the day begins or volunteer to stay late because they have developed that passion and work ethic.  I love hearing how students embrace creativity, in any genre, as they leave my school and venture on towards their future.  I love the light behind the eyes of a student who just figured out “I can!”.


Photo Courtesy of AnnaLouise Myers

Lisa Bloom:  “Idea Marathoner”

Lisa Bloom: “Idea Marathoner”

What is your current Job Title?

Professor of Education

How long have you been in this field?

30 Years

Why is creativity important to you?

With the heavy emphasis on high stakes assessment and increasing standardization and commercialization of teaching practices in the public schools, little room is left in the public school curriculum for nurturing and enhancing creativity and innovation in children. At the college level, we are seeing a generation of fact absorbers rather than problem solvers and innovators. I worry that the current generation of college students, though they are good test takers, are narrowly focused on what they have to do to get an “A” in a course  or as  my college aged son says  “play the game”.    I worry about the problems that plague the world like climate change, racism, the growing the gap between the rich and the poor, sustainability and so on. Our children, youth and college  students are going to need to be highly creative and innovative in order  to bring about positive sustainable solutions to the problems facing us.

On a less serious note, for me, creativity is what keeps life interesting.  I thrive on seeing new ideas, new ways of putting old things together, new twists on old ideas and so forth. I’m in the habit of  looking  for signs of creative thinking in just about every thing.

How do you foster your own creativity?

I read, write, draw, doodle, listen to music, and share any crazy idea I have with family,  friends and colleagues.  Recently,  I have been doing my own “idea marathon”.  I had attended a session at a conference on creativity in which  Japanese researcher, Takeo Higuchi shared the idea of an “idea marathon”.  It is a daily process where you think of at least one idea, write it down and talk about it with someone.   It is actually great fun, especially the part about sharing ideas with others.

How does creativity affect your daily work/job?

Creativity infiltrates my work life in several ways.    I have been engaged in  research on promoting creativity in children.    I am amazed at the creative potential in children when they have the opportunity for flexing those muscles.   I direct a creativity camp for children in the summers and teach a course for teachers in creative thinking and problem solving.  One of the things we do in creativity camp is teach the teachers and their students to use SCAMPER a process created by Bob Eberle.  SCAMPER is an acronym for taking an idea or product and changing it in new ways by considering possibilities for change such as substitution (S) ,  combination (C) , adaptation (A) , modification (M),  putting to another use (P), eliminating (E), or Reversing (R).   Using this process, we’ve had children create working hover crafts, airplanes from pizza boxes, squirrel proof bird feeders and so on.

I also try to be creative in my own teaching.  I am always looking for creative ways for presenting material and engaging college students in inquiry, reflection and  learning.

In what ways do you encourage creativity in others?

I hope that I encourage creativity by making the conditions right for creativity to flourish.  To that end, I use open ended assignments, give students choices,  and encourage risk taking.  But I think the most important thing I do in the area of fostering creativity is by encouraging my students to talk about and share their ideas with others.   Not until we have shared an idea can we unleash its full creative potential.  Finally, two of my  colleagues and I are currently designing a study around using an idea marathon with college students and intend to begin data collection in the near future.

In what ways did the Practice Creativity Challenge affect your thinking?

It was nice to see how other people interpreted the same prompts that were offered in the Creativity Challenge but most importantly, it was great to interact with other people who were in pursuit of creativity enhancement.

What advice might you give to a friend or colleague who wants to be creative?

Develop a mindset for creativity by thinking of yourself as creative, practicing creativity and talking about it with others .  And never, ever, ever say “I’m just not very creative.”


Image courtesy of: Lisa Bloom

PJ Anderson:  Image Maker

PJ Anderson: Image Maker

When PJ joined our #practicecreativity challenge we were thrilled.  His deep contemplation for the daily challenges and thoughtful work inspired us – and his stories behind the work took our breath away. Learn a little more about this image maker who seeks to connect and support fellow creative minds.

Tell us a little bit about your work:

I am an image maker.  It ties together much of what has turned out to be a portfolio career. Currently, I operate a commercial photography business that has also diversified into marketing, graphic design and social media consulting.  I am also a reporter and photojournalist for the local paper. For fun, I am a bartender at a historic opera house that houses a restaurant, two bars and event space. At the end of the day, I’m an artist who does a lot of other things to maintain a livelihood and to keep in motion.

What is your definition of creativity?

To me, creativity is interpreting things in a new way or from a different perspective.  It is applying these interpretations to solving problems or building works that improve the human condition.

What kind of things do you do to get your “creative juices” flowing? (What inspires you)?

Being in nature is the greatest driver of my inspiration.  Part of that is probably just that I can be alone and away from distraction to observe the world around me. Another driver is when someone presents me with a problem that needs to be solved.

Who would you say has been one of your main influences?

I think it might be funny that a creative would say that scientist is one of their main influences, but for me, I’d have to say that Carl Sagan is one of my greatest influences. I think many believe science to be a rigid thing, a required class in school. However, scientists are to me the greatest explorers.  They are always pushing to understand more of the universe around us. This requires the ability to see beyond common accepted thought and stretch the imagination.

How did you discover that you were a creative thinker? 

Not sure when I identified myself as a creative thinker. Certainly over the years family, friends, teachers and co-workers kept reinforcing that I was indeed creative. Fortunately,for the most part,  I had a lot of support and wasn’t pushed to be something that I wasn’t. There were definitely pitfalls and obstacles along the way- I nearly had the art beat out of me by a college art professor who sadly had a very narrow vision. Ironic.

What are some challenges you face?

Since I’ve left the traditional corporate world, I’ve had tons of intrinsic rewards and benefits to my work. It is still a constant battle to obtain financial compensation anywhere close to what I enjoyed in a traditional job. My wife and family have been ridiculously supportive, but it has been a burden.

How do you encourage creativity in others?

I still feel everyone has something to offer creatively.  That feeling has taken a beating at times when people refuse to live up to their potential, either from self-doubt or pressures placed upon them by society, family or work. Some creatives, like me, fight a constant battle with themselves about their value as an artist/creative. I find it so rewarding to talk to other creatives and talk about this common thread. It helps to understand we are not alone in the struggle. A musician friend and I often sit at an old beat up wooden table in the back of them room at the historic opera hall. We call it the “therapy table”  and so many rewarding conversations have ensued. I feel a million times better about my work after one of these sessions.

In what ways did the Practice Creativity Challenge affect your thinking?

I totally had no clue what to expect and came in with really no preconceived notions of what the challenge would be like. It was so great to explore tasks that I’ve never done or haven’t done in a very long time. Looking at the world in a different way helps break out of ruts we can get stuck in. AND once again, sharing and networking with other creatives might be the greatest benefit of all.

What advice would you give to other people who are motivated to become more creative?

Find a collaborator or a group that can challenge and support you.  J.R.R. Tolkien, CS Lewis and other were part of an informal literary group called the Inklings, that encouraged and supported each other.  Hemingway went to Paris and surrounded himself with other writers, painters and creatives. I love to be involved in creative communities and keep looking for people to add to my circle

What would you like your creative legacy to be? 

I don’t often think of legacy.  I hope I’ve brought some unique vision to people. I hope I’ve created some art that created an emotion in people. I hope I’ve inspired a few to approach life in a different way or to see things in more ways that just the traditional perspective

Anything else you’d like to add?
Don’t quit. Think big.  Don’t let them talk you out of it.

photo courtesy of PJ Anderson

photo courtesy of PJ Anderson

Kate Wells, Creative Edu(kate)r

Kate Wells, Creative Edu(kate)r

We invite you to explore an inspired by this interview with creative leader and teacher, Kate Wells. Kate’s way of fostering her own creativity —  “I have an area in my house with plenty of space and materials to feed my creativity.”


Where do you teach:  I teach at Tunstall Middle School in Dry Fork, Virginia.  It is located in the south-central part of the state, on the North Carolina border.

How many students in your school:  There are approximately 700 students in my school, grades six through eight.
Subject: I teach English language arts and US history (1865 to present) to sixth graders.

How long have you been teaching? I tell my students that I know every trick they can think of because I have been in the sixth grade for ten years.  Prior to coming to Tunstall Middle School, I had a variety of teaching assignments in adult basic education, pre-school, and reading remediation for first and second graders.  I was born to be a teacher, but I fought my calling for a number of years.Why is creativity important to you?  In an increasingly multiple-choice, high-stakes educational environment, I feel it is essential for both students and teachers to express themselves through creativity.  Each school year, more and more students come into my classroom without the ability to “think outside the box” or to problem solve.

How do you foster your own creativity? It is truly a daily struggle to foster my own creativity. The responsibilities of life seem to be yelling much louder than the peaceful whisper of my creative muse; however, I have an area in my house with plenty of space and materials to feed my creativity.
In what ways do you encourage creativity in your students? One way that I encourage creativity in my students is through the use of our interactive history notebook.  Each day as we read and annotate our history text, we summarize the key content and concepts through drawing.  The students love to laugh at my stick cows and lumpy buffalo. When they see my drawings on the board, they students are more willing to take a risk with their own “picture notes”.
Photo courtesy of Kate Wells

Photo courtesy of
Kate Wells

How have you had your students demonstrated their creativity? My students demonstrate creativity daily through the picture notes in history. In addition, the students plan and implement a demonstration for our “Academic Showcase” night to show their parents what they have been learning in the classroom. I also have a favorite unit that I save for the end of the school year because it’s not on “the test”. As an introduction to drama, the students dig into my boxes of material for costumes, make their own props and perform fractured fairy tales or modernized myths.  It is one of their favorite units of the year!
In what ways did the Practice Creativity Challenge affect your thinking? The Practice Creativity Challenge helped me to realize that I have to be intentional about my passion for creativity.  If I try to wait for the perfect time to be creative, there will always be something more pressing that must be done first. Since participating in the challenge, my mantra (which I creatively borrowed from Cathleen Nardi) is “Practice Creativity Every Damn Day!”

What advice might you give a new teacher who is just starting out – but also wants to be creative? Trust your instincts. If you are inspired by creativity, your enthusiasm will rub off on your students.  Don’t be afraid to try doing something in a different way.Can you give us one of your favorite teaching stories (something that inspired or made you laugh/cry?)  The stories that inspire me are the everyday moments of being a teacher — like when I see “the lightbulb” go on for a student who finally understands a new concept, the student who stops to help another classmate who has dropped her books in the hall, the student who comes back by my classroom from a previous year just to say hello. These are the moments that make my day.

photo courtesy of Kate Wells

photo courtesy of
Kate Wells