Courageous Creativity 2019 Conference Report

I've just returned from 3 days of Disney magic at the Courageous Creativity Conference at the Paradise Pier Hotel in the Disneyland resort. The conference is focused on improving arts education in California. I love Disney and I've drawn something before so I'm in!


Our opening keynote was given by Disney VP of Live Entertainment Matt Conover. Matt spoke last year and left me with the year-defining quote, "No experience is too small to be excellent." This year he did not focus on creativity but on courage.

Matt came out strong with an early contender for next year's quote of the year. "Have the courage to do what you are passionate about." As someone who has been put in his place more than once by leaders saying "I know you're passionate about this but..." the reminder that it takes courage to follow passion was powerful. This is something, especially those in a large, established, public school bureaucracy have to remember constantly. This is also something we need to instill in our students. It is too easy to give up on passion after being beat down over and over again. It takes courage to step up and try again knowing rejection is possible.

He gave the example of one of the shows he produced for the Disney Cruise lines. The show was fine but safe and notably not Disney. It functioned but so what? It had no passion and, therefore, nothing to set it apart. "What is it that only you can do?" he asked. That is the value one brings to a project or classroom. Anyone can print worksheets from TPT. I can do so much more.

He closed with a story from the grand opening celebration of Shanghai Disney. They had planned this huge outdoor gala with the Shanghai Symphony. Then, it rained. Matt, wisely, had recorded the previous day's rehearsals. He brought all 700+ press and dignitaries into a theater and played the show. At the end, they cheered wildly. They thought all had gone according to plan.

This was a great lesson on both leadership and the importance of having a back up plan. Great leaders keep calm under pressure and make things work. Stuff goes wrong in our classrooms all the time. An unexpected fire drill? Well, there goes period 3. Projector went down? Let's load up those personal screens. Power is out? Uh, let's all take naps I guess. Whatever the glitch we have got to be ready. "The copy machine was down." just isn't a valid excuse to provide a less-than-excellent experience for our students.


Our day started with an excellent breakfast buffet and then our excursions. I chose to do a backstage tour of the Hyperion Theater at Disney California Adventure where Frozen Live! is performed. I don't know much about theater but I sure learned a ton. The amount of work that goes on behind the stage is stunning. We saw a sign that read "Days Since Cancelled Performance: 0" We later heard about the number of effects that require pinpoint placement or else they don't happen. I asked how often does the audience see the entire show with no missed effects. The answer: "About 75% of the time." It is good to be reminded that even on a show with the budget they have things can go wrong and, when it does, a great show (or lesson!) is still possible.

My next breakout session was on the art of making movie trailers. We did an activity where we had 100 still images from Back to the Future and had to arrange a new trailer. Awesome, fun and something I'll definitely do with my elective kids.

My last breakout was about making students into "creatives." We did a bunch of theater-game like activities and discussed the different aspects of creativity. I surely hope we see a push toward creativity standards for students going forward. The new arts standards which, like the ELD standards are supposed to be used in all classes and grade levels, are a great start. I hope they become a thing.

Thursday night our group had entry into Galaxy's Edge. I've already been in myself so I took the opportunity to see the new Tale of the Lion King live show at DCA and sleep. Both were great!


We started with another great breakfast and then had a two-hour panel with a bunch of Imagineers. If you've read my stuff or participated in my PD you know that I think Imagineers are the coolest people on the planet so listening to them talk for two hours was a true joy. I could go on and on about what they had to say but I'll keep it to a few choice points.

Kirstin Makela noted that her love of Disney came from her visits to the park where one gets "lost in the stories and forgets where they are." That is exactly what I am aiming for in my classroom. I want my kids so immersed that all those "I hate school!" feelings fade away, if only for that 50 minutes. She also later noted that we, as teachers can help kids by connecting their passions to ways to make the world a better place. Okay, fine. I'll keep doing my Change the World projects!

Caroline May discussed her upbringing in a high achieving, very academically focused school. She was looked down on for her desire to go to art school and not to an Ivy league university. She noted that once she was given the opportunity to be creative she truly flourished. We need to make sure we are providing those opportunities for our kids. I have some ideas on how to further push Choose Your Own Adventure next year to make those opportunities more common and more effective.

Justin Hirose told us "it's not hard to convince a young kid to be creative, it's hard to convince their parents to let them be creative." That's so true but I'd add adults in general including some of their teachers. Many of us have seen Ken Robinson's talk about how schools suck the creativity out of kids. It's sad and we should actively seek to counter that.

I asked Dex Tanksley what we can do in our classrooms to engage our guests the way Disney does. His answer was to treat every day as if it were our first day. We should be excited and joyful every single day. We need to remind ourselves why we got into this great profession. He said he wakes up every morning telling himself "I'm going to do something magical!" YES! I want to push myself to do that daily next year. It is just too easy to fal into routine when we do the same thing 5 times a day 5 days in a row. Each day needs to be it's own!

I ended my conference with an incredible conversation with Vanessa Hunt, archivist for Disney Imagineering. Yes, she's a Disney art historian! I'm obviously jealous. Talking with her was a true joy. She, like myself, is a self-proclaimed Disney nerd and getting to talk to someone who not only knows what I'm talking about when I mention Harper Goff's hesitation to draw the original Disneyland maps but, in fact, knows so much more and is responsible for maintaining the very map was truly a conference highlight for me. I also found she authored a book on the posters of Disneyland which, if you've followed any of the latest adventures, is something I'm heavily invested in right now for my classroom. I ordered her book immediately and I really hope I can have further discussions with her regarding my own attempt at a book. I'm so appreciative of the time she spent talking with me even if it was far shorter than I hoped!

The conference again was wonderful. Like last year I felt greatly appreciated as a teacher. Unlike last year it felt like a reunion. I saw many of the attendees I met last year and further developed those friendships and built some new ones. I can't wait to see everyone again next year. I'm inspired and ready to create courageously. This was my last scheduled educational event of the summer. Now, it is up to me.

Let the summer truly begin!