An address by Milton Wong, Chancellor Emeritus of Simon Fraser University, to the 2006 Canada’s Outstanding Principals Colloquium at the University of Toronto.

In a school in Ottawa, Ontario—a junior high school in a downtown neighbourhood—there was once an extensive music program. Then funding cuts to education in the mid-nineties by the provincial government forced the school to cancel its music program. For almost 10 years, there was no talk of resurrecting it.Fast-forward to the fall of 2004. At the start of the school year, one parent talks to another about getting an extracurricular band program started. That second parent, a stay-at-home dad, also happens to be a former substitute teacher with a background in music. “I could teach it,” he offers.

So this father approaches the principal of the school to ask about starting an extracurricular band program that he could lead. This wouldn’t be part of the regular curriculum—there would be a charge to parents for it. But at least there would be music.

The new principal, who has been gaining a reputation in the school community as a flexible, open-minded and approachable person, thinks this is an excellent idea. Maybe the government isn’t willing to fund music, but if the parents were willing, then the school would make it happen.

So the principal and the substitute teacher wandered the school’s hallways together to discover what resources they might already have at their disposal. The principal carried a heavy old ring of keys which she tried on a variety of doors, opening closets and peering into dark storage areas.

They were finally rewarded when they opened a door and found themselves staring at an enormous collection of instruments that had been locked away for almost a decade.

For ten years, students had come and gone from this school without the opportunity to take part in a music program while dozens of instruments had languished, unplayed, in a locked closet.

This true story has much to tell us about the complex interplay of economics, politics, community initiatives, parenting, and the vision of a principal when it comes to the quality of education. It is a potent metaphor for the freeing of imagination and the unlocking of creativity. For the power of a vision and the importance of exploring and sharing that vision. For creative solutions and the gains that can be made by pushing established boundaries.

It also tells us what can happen to creative expression when education becomes a power struggle over numbers and dollars.

And it provides us with a good starting point for a discussion of the capacity of imagination to effect positive change and maximize creativity….