Inspired Classrooms

Seven steps to cultivating creativity


Many educators and parents are troubled by the disappearance of creativity in education. Sir Ken Robinson, an education scholar, recently said, “Creativity is as important now in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.” His concern about the current state of education is that “we are educating people out of their creativity capacities.”

Creativity is a key skill identified for the 21st century workplace. Yet much about our current educational climate defeats creativity in schools—rigid curricula that do not allow for deep exploration of ideas; high-stakes testing that creates a culture where mistakes are not learning opportunities but something to be avoided; and a lack of resources in our funding-starved schools. Everyday these “creativity killers” creep into our classrooms.

Teachers can take seven simple steps to create an environment that is friendly toward creativity. Here are some ways to embed creativity in your classroom.

 Do what I do.

Modeling creative behavior is a key skill for teachers of creative classrooms, say Joan Isenberg and Mary Jalongo, authors of Creative Thinking and Arts-based Learning. They encourage teachers to foster creativity by engaging in “democratic interactions” with students by holding high expectations, listening to students with respect, providing students with decision-making opportunities, and expecting students to accept the consequences of those decisions.

 Freedom, with limits.

Creativity is not uncontrolled chaos in the classroom. Far from it. First, a creative classroom requires the teacher to provide firm, fair, and reasonable limits. All creative work in the real world has limits, too, be it time or finances, or the laws of gravity. The freedom comes from student decision making and ownership of learning. Giving students the freedom to explore and experiment with ideas within limits develops and fine-tunes creative thinking.

 Solve problems.

Beginning in about fourth grade, problem solving is an avenue to creative thinking. Often called “problem-based learning,” students must identify problems, possible outcomes—and potential pitfalls to those outcomes—and, ultimately, a solution. Problem-based learning requires investigation, imagination, and revision—all important creative processes.

Once upon a time.

Storytelling is a powerful method to convey a point to students. Brin Best and Will Thomas, authors of The Creative Teaching & Learning Toolkit, suggest that both factual and fictional stories can illustrate and instruct in a creative way.

 Hello, world.

Look for opportunities within the curriculum to bring the outside world into the classroom. Some possibilities include a discussion about a local event, or a video about what’s happening in another part of the world. Connecting student learning to real world situations and issues is a platform for greater student engagement and critical thinking, which are key components of creativity.

 Solo artist and collaborator.

Creative work typically requires both independent and collaborative work. Look for opportunities for assignments and projects to incorporate these orientations together, suggest Dominic Wyse and Pam Dowson, authors of The Really Useful Creativity Book.

 Play is creative work.

Play can be misunderstood as wasted time. For children under 10, play is an active form of deep experiential learning and can take many forms, including games, dramatic play, and constructive (or problem-solving) play. Joan Isenberg and Mary Jalongo encourage teachers to use reflection with play to help students identify their learning and build on it in future opportunities to play. Dress-up clothes, puppets, and board games are all instructional tools that are play-based.

The arts are often thought of as the curricular area that fosters creativity. But Mark Runco at the University of Georgia reminds us that creativity is a necessary tool across the curriculum—including technology, math, and science. Creativity contributes to a complete education.



Patti Saraniero
Original Writer

Editors & Producers

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor

Tiffany Bryant
Assistant Manager, Audience Enrichment

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