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Teachers, Don't Let Anyone Tell You You're Not Creative

Raising creative students calls for creative teachers

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The three little pigs are hungry and call the wolf to see if he wants to come for dinner. Of course, their real motive is to eat him for dinner. They had invited him several times before, but he had always managed to escape. When he arrives, the pigs once again shove the wolf into the oven, put an apple in his mouth, and head to the grocery store to get potatoes to have with their roast wolf. The wolf flees the scene, another apple in tow. Discouraged by the wolf’s escape, the pigs give up on having roast wolf for dinner. One of the pigs asks the others if they feel like hamburger. The scene ends with his saying into the phone, “Hey, Mr. Cow, would you like to join us for dinner?”

—Getty

Students in my 6th grade drama class created this fractured fairy tale a couple years ago. I was amazed at the group’s sophisticated, humorous, and creative result. In my 25 years as a drama teacher (now retired), I never ceased to be amazed at the endless creativity of my students.

Creativity—the process of having intuitive, imaginative, fresh, and original ideas, often involving insight, invention, and aesthetics—is a fundamental life force that needs to also be a fundamental focus of our education system. However, the dilemma in the past decade or more of the “21st-century approach” to education is that teachers and students have been subjected to an education system that is product-driven rather than process-driven. Teachers’ and students’ creativity has often been left behind in a data-driven scramble to get students to perform well on standardized tests. Thankfully, over the past few years as a tutor, I have noticed the education pendulum swinging back in the direction of a process-driven approach to delivering education, underpinned by creativity.

Infusing passion and creativity into education is beneficial to students, teachers, society, and the world. Tapping into individual creativity is a springboard for individual growth and wisdom. In short, creativity is an essential component of what it truly means to be educated. Sir Ken Robinson, renown for his work in the field of creativity, noted at a TED conference that education systems around the world are “educating people out of their creative capacities” by limiting the scope of education to only what’s in students’ heads.

"Creativity is an essential component of what it truly means to be educated."

Being creative is even more essential to our existence than the traditional 3 R’s—reading, writing, and ’rithmetic. It is critical that we create learning environments that inspire individuals to grow creatively. As models for their students, educators must be allowed to express their own personal and professional creativity. If they themselves are not in touch with the creative process, it is unlikely that they will effectively ignite creativity in students.

In school, students are introduced to the learning process and to the socializing process but seldom to the creative process. Rather, teachers develop “creative” lessons ad hoc because creativity is not respected as an essential life skill. Creativity for its own sake needs to become an important part of a school’s curriculum, equivalent to reading, writing, math, and computer literacy. Schools need to set aside time during the day or week to focus on getting students’ creativity flowing, not as an extension of academic work. The focus of this endeavor should not be on evaluating students’ creativity or collecting data to demonstrate their growth.

School districts should hire creativity specialists, similar to the role of specialists for literacy, students with special needs, and the talented and gifted. Their function would be to develop creativity programs within schools at all levels, to help facilitate such programs, and to act as collaborators with teachers who implement these programs. Districts also need to offer educators professional development in nurturing their students’ creativity. Educators have had to deliver packaged curricula and take prescribed professional-development classes for so long that offering such classes would allow them to break out of their straitjackets. Teacher-training programs should also follow suit.

Several years ago, I offered my fellow educators one such professional-development course. We did a variety of activities to ignite personal creativity. We danced, sang, painted, drummed, played assimilation games, wrote, reflected, and embraced the creative process. We bonded from our opportunity to share spontaneously and enthusiastically, to be personally creative, and to laugh heartily—an amazing dynamic that carried over to the rest of our work.

Many of the participating high school and middle school teachers begged me to offer it again. They loved the relaxed, open atmosphere and camaraderie that had developed. Some said they felt deflated when the course finished. They found it therapeutic because it relieved stress and freed them from their everyday concerns. By igniting their own creativity, they felt more confident to stimulate creativity in their students. Some had come into the class claiming they weren’t imaginative, but left realizing that we all are. I realized after teaching the course just how often teachers’ individual needs are neglected.

To be creative, an individual must take an exclusive journey to the recesses of the soul. This journey includes facing fears, taking risks, making mistakes, taking responsibility, being committed, accepting successes (and failures), and embracing the joys of personal expression. Such a venture is what life and education should be about, adding depth, meaning, and understanding. Isn’t that what we should be striving for as a society? By making creativity the focus of education, we can put the fun back into what has been, in my professional opinion, a dysfunctional education system.

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