“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Pablo Picasso
Creativity is the way we move forward personally and as a society. It is the way we show our souls and it is how we solve our tricky problems. What most people don’t realise is that creativity can be learned. Even if people’s creative talent varies. It is a skill like any other that can be practised and improved.
We reinforce the erroneous belief that creativity is purely innate when we say to kids, “Don’t worry, I’m not creative either”. We also support this false assumption when we assign creativity a gender. There is a perception that creativity is a feminine trait. That’s untrue.
As parents and teachers, we know how important creativity is. Yet, we tend to rob our kids of this joy. As little people, they imagine and explore fresh ideas and worlds, but we are frightened by nonconformity and so work to make them ‘normal’. Our version of normal is ‘adult’. So, we end up with lots of conforming little adults.
Having done that, we then expect them to make their creativity reappear in subjects such as Drama, Art and Dance. We also have to reteach creative thinking across the curriculum in order to achieve deep learning. It’s absurd.
Mrs Jennifer Oaten, Santa Maria College’s Deputy Principal, Teaching and Learning says, “Creativity is one of the essential parts of deep learning.” She says there are elements of creativity that we must develop in students until creativity again becomes part of their mindset. These stages are:
SOME OF THE BARRIERS TO CREATIVITY IN SCHOOLS:
Understanding of creativity – Studies show teachers have widely varying understandings of creativity and their understanding is often incomplete. The silver lining is that professional development is shown to have a strong impact on teachers’ attitudes. (Mullet et al)
Bravery – There is a chance it won’t work and it will reflect badly on them and the school. Parents question what is going on and why it is different to what has been happening for generations. Will the kids still hit the almighty, government-prescribed benchmarks? There is also the fear of not being the expert in the room. We have to give up control. Remember, teachers grew up with that traditional model of education, just like parents.
Skills – What is creativity and how do you teach it? How do you assess it? How do you compare different forms of creativity? Teachers aren’t taught the skills of creativity, it is just assumed that they know them.
Time – Being creative takes time. It doesn’t fit nicely into hour-long periods. We have a curriculum that is mandated and there are already so many interruptions and out of class time spent on non-core business. That said, it is a good excuse to hide behind. In early and middle years of education there is plenty of opportunity to take kids off the timetable and do amazing things with them.
Kids are used to strict boundaries and scaffolding. If you give them the freedom and time to be creative sometimes they don’t cope. It’s a bit like opening the door to a birdcage and the bird stays still. Some kids embrace the opportunity and blossom. Some freeze. Being creative takes confidence and bravery. It also requires that students are not limited by a fear of failure.
According to the work of Bryan Greetham, the ten characteristics we need to cultivate in kids to enable them to be creative thinkers are:
- The ability to declutter the mind
- The skills to design solutions rather than just finding them
- Naïve, childlike thinking that takes nothing for granted
- The ability to find good problems
- The skills to look for causes, effects and possible solutions
- Openness to new ideas
- The ability to suspend judgement
- Determination and resourcefulness
- Courage in their thinking
Developing these skills in our kids is an area where parents and teachers can work together for great outcomes. Some of the ways we can do that:
- Ask great, ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions
- Have a solutions-based approach to problems. I like the idea of a 20/80 approach. You can spend 20% of your time talking about a problem, but 80% on developing solutions
- Create an environment that is non-judgemental but challenging
- Promote mindfulness to clear the mind and create room for creativity
For schools to be creative environments they must have leadership that encourages, facilitates and fosters creativity. There must also be a deep concern for students as people first. That means, despite the pressures, not having testing and benchmarks front of mind. This all emanates from a culture of trust. We all need to trust teachers to be professional and give them the training and license to be creative in their programs. If we want to foster creativity, schools need to model that behaviour for kids.
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Linda Stade has worked in various teaching and management roles in education for twenty-five years. She has worked in government and private schools, country and city, single sex and co-ed. Currently she is the Research Officer at Santa Maria College, Western Australia.
Greetham, Bryan. 2016. Smart Thinking: How to Think Conceptually, Design Solutions and Make Decisions. London: Palgrave MacMillian.