Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Spotlight on ICSC Faculty Member: Dr. Sue Keller-Mathers

by Diane R. Bessel
Assistant Professor, Undergraduate Program Director of Sociology and Social Work
Daemen College

1.     I would like to begin our time together asking you to share a bit of your personal creativity story. Can you share a little bit about your background and how it led you to working in the field of creativity?

Sue went to school at Buffalo State College in the Elementary Education program. When she finished college, there were no teaching jobs available in Buffalo so she moved to New Orleans. She took a course on gifted education at Tulane University. While there, she went to a conference and saw Don Treffinger speak in Baton Rouge. It was her “a-ha moment.” Sue discovered that she liked creativity and couldn’t believe that there was a program that would bring her back Buffalo. She’s been here ever since.

2.     What did your earliest work in creativity look like?

Sue’s earliest work in creativity started with her interest in the Creative Problem Solving Process (CPS). She stated that she always knew she would go back and teach. She decided to bring CPS to younger grades including gifted and talented Kindergarten through 5th grade students. Her colleague and mentor, Mary Murdock, was very active in gifted education and introduced Sue to the National Association of Gifted Children. Sue suggests that this group really nurtured the use of creativity in education and has been a helpful network for her.

3.     How do you do creative problem solving with young kids?

Sue states that one can do CPS with kids as young as pre-kindergarten starting with basic creativity skills and tools using hands on items. With fourth graders, you can move into table facilitations.

Sue stated that she started out working on five-day programs for educators and business people with Scott Isaksen, Roger Firestien, and Don Treffinger. She also worked with Kristin Puccio on an early project where they sought to develop a model for teaching CPS to kids. This included 20 hours of training with 1st graders to answer the question - Can you teach young children to solve problems? Sue stated that you would be amazed by a kid’s ability to just “get it.” The work resulted in two books (Big Tools for Young Thinkers- S. Keller-Mathers & K. Puccio and Adventures in Real Problem Solving by K. Puccio, S. Keller-Mathers & D. Treffinger).

Sue indicates that the key to teaching young children CPS is multiple modes of engagement – more visual, symbols, and movement. For example, when doing the Pluses, Potentials, Concerns, Options (PPCO) you use a plus sign and brain drawing (not brain writing). When working with Marie Mance, Sue brought in 4th graders to share their experience with students in Marie Mance’s CRS 304 facilitation class where the 4th graders were able to share their facilitation experiences with the undergraduates.  

Sue worked with some of her youngest children for several years. She has caught up with two of the students -Hassan & Whitney – one is now an independent filmmakers and the other is interested in sustainability issues and has worked with not-for-profits. Several people – including these students - have stated that their early work on creativity was very beneficial for them in terms of their development and even career prospects.

4.     I first got to know you related to your work on female leaders and their creativity. Could you give any updates on those efforts? Any plans for continuing this research?

Sue hasn’t really continued with this work in a few years though she did write an article with Jane Piirto on Mary Meeker (in A Century of Contributions to Gifted Education, Edited by A. Robinson and J. Jolly) and advises graduate students on their work in this area. Sue indicates that she would like to reconnect on these issues some time in the future and that she remains interested in women’s models of creativity.

5.     Are there current projects that you are working on that you are excited about?

Sue states that she has never lost passion for CPS and that she is still doing quite a bit in schools. She also has a deep love for the Torrance Incubation model as it supports creative teaching and learning.

Recently, Sue has done some work using the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT) using a pre and post-test design for a school in Pennsylvania. She has not yet published this research.

She is also doing TTCT in Colorado where she interpreted data for the teachers for use with the students. Sue indicated that there is an interview with the Founders of the school on the website with an emphasis on partnership for 21st century skills. The project is taking place in Durango, Colorado at the DAVINCI School of Creativity and Innovation. The school’s leadership decided to give kids more variety and moved to the use of small learning communities (expeditionary learning; international baccalaureate, and DAVINCI which is and arts centered – creativity focused learning community. The developers of the school had done great work on their arts curriculum and it was going very well but they realized that they didn’t have enough grounding in creativity. The group did a fair bit of research and landed on and connected with the Torrance Incubation model approach. Sue recently did her last visit with the group where she debriefed on TTCT and did faculty observations and a workshop.

6. Other work that you would like to share?

In her work with Bright Lights Consulting (with Tony Pagliaroli & Miriam Kelley), there is some work on design thinking within the Buffalo Public Schools developing. Sue also did some consulting with Pennsylvania Department of transportation engineers training them on CPS and its importance in their craft.  She is also preparing to write a new book on creativity teaching for Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade and is in the process of talking to a publisher.

7.     What was most important to you as you were starting out in creative studies?

Sue indicates one of the most important aspects of graduate school in creative studies is an individual’s cohort – the people who you take classes with and got through the program. This group becomes your core network. These are the relationships you count on and you can call if they need something – ask for advice, get support for projects. This includes colleagues locally and the larger creativity community through conferences, etc.  

8.     Advocacy for creative education and funding for creativity research seems very important to you. Can you speak to your efforts to advocate on these issues?

Sue states that she is always advocating, always looking for ways to make needs and resources come together. Most recently, Sue has been trying to help school districts see the integral part creative education can play. This includes educating on what creative education is, what it does strengthening schools, and why it is important. She just finished some survey work in Pennsylvania for a school district and for a superintendent (Mike Ferraro). They wanted to know about creativity: what it is; why it is important; what degrees are linked with creativity; what activities can be accomplished using creativity; key concepts; etc. They had a 98% response rate and nearly 35% of focus group participants indicated that they were extremely interested in what creativity education would look like in their schools and were willing to be part of the start up project. The superintendent really wants to move on this.

9. What are your hopes for the future of the ICSC?

Sue indicates that ICSC is experiencing a boom time with continued growth that strengthens that program’s position on campus and its hold on the field and beyond. Sue is most interested in academic programs with a focus on teaching and learning. The program is contemplating developing a doctoral program. The program needs move through this process carefully as it redefines itself.

Now that Sue has secured tenure and promotion she feels as though she can do more of what she wants to do. She stated that there are fewer women leaders/full professors in higher education. She has experienced her work in higher education as a joyful time and she feels that she has done what she needed to do to progress through the ranks at the college. 

10. Finally, what is your definition of creativity?

Sue shared that she took part in a neat project on creativity where she was asked to use props, symbols, and other representations to describe her definition of creativity. She was photographed by LeeAnne White, one of the program’s students who is a professional photographer.

Sue brought items that represented the essence of her talents and beliefs about creativity. She created this definition: “I believe…..You will find your creative path when you are in rhyme with nature and expressing your authentic self.  The creative spirit can be alive and well in all of us through the everyday ways we interact and the potential for extraordinary thinking and doing.” Sue’s journal, computer, travel pack and dog, Zydeco, all represent balance, nature, discovery, action, interactions, thinking, inspiration and the desire to create.

Below is some additional Information about DAVINCI School of Creativity and Innovation provided by Sue.

DAVINCI School of Creativity and Innovation
“Our administration challenged us with dream up your ideal school” Krista Karpel, DAVINCI Teacher

A student working on a CAD project enthusiastically asked me if I’d like to see his design for the house chosen as the annual charity fundraiser. He led me to the outdoor building site where teachers and students were actively building his design.  The DAVINCI Learning Community encourages the original thinker to be comfortable as someone who feels different, develops students’ areas of passion and teaches creativity deliberately. At DAVINCI, I observed authentic learning, harnessing multiple talents and students feeling comfortable to express themselves.

Conceptualizing a Small Learning Community

“The core of what pushes artistic thinking is creativity”  Krista Karpel

DAVINCI was a grassroots initiative by teachers with a passion for building a unique arts infused school inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s innovative thinking.  Conceptualized using the P21 skills, the teachers searched for research based creativity concepts and skills to support the development of deliberate creativity. This began a partnership that spanned concept development to the implementation of a new school.

The DAVINCI Way of Learning
“The ideas I get from my creativity course in foundations I get to try some of that out in my Math and German class as well so I find that my teaching had become more creative.”
Sabina  Furtauer, DAVINCI Teacher

Students focus on applying creative thinking in all their courses and understanding the basic tenets of visual and performing arts and the use of technology in all fields. DAVINCI learning community for 9th and 10th graders is built on the four Pillars of discover, connect, create and reflect.  In the Foundation courses students in 9th grade focus on the DAVINCI way of learning in Visual Arts, Theater and Creative thinking the first semester and technology, music and engineering/STEM in the second semester. In 10th grade students take Robotics, Digital Arts and Entrepreneurship. In the capstone course, students engage in deliberate creative process to conceptualize, design, build and present their outcomes to a public audience.

Deliberate Creativity
Video Clip:

All these new creativity skills I am trying to weave in to what I am doing. I as a teacher get really excited. The students are producing better work. I knew going through school and teaching school that was always missing”  Roxie Mitchell , DAVINCI Teacher

Although the educators at the school worked hard to set up a creative environment, teach in creative ways and nurture student creativity, they recognized that learning more about the scholarly work in the field of creativity was important. They began to implement the 4 P’s of creativity: Creative Person, Creative Process, Creative Product and Creative Press/Environment

They engaged their students in the development of a set of 18 creativity skills identified by E. Paul Torrance
and taught deliberate divergent and convergent tools.

Supplemental Links:

“What we were really trying to do is create a school which took the best of art, that creativity piece that allowed the students to be successful  and put it into all the core areas and also trying to address what was happening in the world… preparing students to be part of the creative economy.” Roxie Mitchell 

Halfway through their second year, they are well on their way to doing this successfully.

About Dr. Sue Keller-Mathers

A former classroom and talent development teacher, Susan Keller-Mathers is an Associate Professor of Creativity at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State. She teaches in the Master of Science degree program in Creativity and works with educators, businesses and non-for-profits to bring more deliberate creativity into the professions with Bright Lights Innovations. Dr. Keller-Mathers can be reached at

About Diane R. Bessel

Diane R. Bessel, PhD, LMSW, CNM is a student in the Creativity and Change Leadership Certificate Program. She recently joined the faculty at Daemen College as Assistant Professor and Undergraduate Program Director of the Sociology and Social Work Department. Prior to joining Daemen College, she served as the Director of Research, Investments, and Advocacy at the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County where she was responsible for regularly assessing community trends for the purposes of coordinated planning and decision-making. Bessel uses the skills she has acquired through the ICSC program in her consulting work with non-profit organizations, government groups, collaborative initiatives, and foundations.

No comments: