I have had the pleasure and honour of visiting a few schools where creativity in all forms flourishes. These schools are run by Heads who have a very strong vision of what educating children is all about, who are rebels and who do what they profoundly believe is right for children, despite the system.

The knowledge we have gained from recent discoveries about the ways people learn has become an integral part of their daily practice. I congratulate all those people who have proved to the world that it is possible to run a ‘perfect’ school.

So is creativity possible in schools?
The first right answer is YES; the second right answer is NO.

It is theoretically possible, and it is even possible in practice, but only under certain conditions. In the present climate, in the system within which teachers operate, and with the kind of education teachers receive, it is most unlikely that true creativity will be seen at schools except as a concept referred to in government documents gathering dust on shelves and in (often meaningless) mission statements.

Why do we need to incorporate creativity into our educational system?
Creativity is one of the three key requirements in today’s world, which is changing at an unprecedented speed. The amount of information we can pass on to pupils in the time they are at school is very limited. On the other hand, access to all kinds of information has become incredibly easy. So it’s not what we teach that matters so much as making sure pupils know how to learn. Businesses all over the world have repeatedly expressed what they expect from their work force. The new ‘survival requirements’ are:

  • confidence that we know how to learn;
  • being able to deal positively with change (practically and emotionally);
  • flexibility and creativity in the ways we think.

What is creativity and what kind of creativity are we talking about?
There are more than 120 different definitions of creativity, but in the school context are we talking about creativity in arts, a creative response to everyday situations, or creativity in coming up with new ideas?

And what about the definition of ‘new’ ideas? Does ‘new’ mean different ways of looking at things, putting together what is known in different ways, or coming up with truly novel ideas?

Since both thinking and arts are included in the curriculum, the focus in this article is on creative thinking and creativity in arts. We are looking at inspiring different ways of seeing things and breaking the established patterns of thinking, at encouraging freedom in self-expression and change of attitudes.

Why is developing creativity so often an empty phrase in the present system?
Schooling in its essence is anti-creative. In fact schooling and creativity are contradictions in terms. A quick comparison of the values that pre-vail at school and the essential values and prerequisites of creativity, highlight their contradictory characteristics.

At present the situation in most schools is that lip service is paid to the idea that mistakes are OK, that individuality is valued and that new ideas are always welcome. In fact mistakes are punished, conformity is rewarded and what we really expect is regurgitation of information. Almost unknown within the system are lateral thinking, safety to take risks and make mistakes, playing with ideas, appreciating the value of the ‘slow mind’ (associated with creativity and wisdom) and breaking the established patterns of thinking.

How exactly can you do it?
The purpose of this article is to stir up your thinking and emotions on the subject of creativity in schools.

When you have given these questions time to brew, when you’ve talked about them with friends interested in developing learners’ creativity, please go to www.inspiredlearning.info where you will find some practical suggestions.

Essence of creativity Essence of schooling
Many possible answers One correct answer
Safety to take risks and get it wrong Unsafe to take risks (ridicule, punishment, sarcasm)
Mistakes are crucial feedback Mistakes are punished (lower grades)
Rules may need to be broken Following rules is rewarded
Suspended judgement Constant judgement
New ideas count Perfected skills count
Ambiguity is welcome Clarity and order are expected
Playfulness and freedom Seriousness and organisation
Lateral thinking Logical thinking
‘Slow mind’ at work ‘Fast brain’ at work
Relaxed environment (time available) Stressful environment (correctness required in limited time)
Individuality truly valued Conformity and team effort valued

Six pre-requisites of developing creativity at school

  1. Create an environment in which pupils feel safe to take risks and get things wrong.
  2. Develop a habit of always looking for the second right answer, and the third…
  3. Encourage pupils to regularly re-visit and re-examine all the rules, and change them if appropriate.
  4. Find the right balance between teaching skills and inspiring creative expression.
  5. Learn to suspend judgement.
  6. Allow the ‘slow thinking, dreamy, playful mind’ the time it needs to come up with new ideas.

 This article first appeared in Teaching Expertise, April 2005.

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