Teacher Creativity: A Manifesto for Professional Development
We talk a lot about creativity in education, but what do we mean? Some practitioners discuss best practices for promoting creative thinking in the classroom; these conversations can center on project-based learning experiences that engage problem-solving skills, while others might promote particular types of thinking such as originality (producing new and different ideas), fluency (the number of ideas generated), and flexibility (ability to deploy and adapt ideas).
Other times we might consider the outcomes students produce in response to a learning prompt; this could include using new technology to demonstrate proficiency through means other than a traditional paper or test, for example a student making a film, video game, or website.
Some creativity researchers also investigate how students interact with the creative process and evaluate the outcomes produced under specific learning conditions. They may consider various factors contributing to or hindering student creativity and discuss ways to measure creativity as part of a school’s system for accountability and assessment.
Each of these valued topics continue to move the discussion forward, but generally speaking, much of the conversation still focuses on creativity from a student perspective, and for a good reason, industry and society continue to demand the production of new and valuable ideas that can impact real-world problems and support continued innovation.
However, what about creativity from the perspective of the educator? Too many teachers struggle to connect their actions in the classroom to what we know and understand about creativity, which informs how we engage in the production of new and useful outcomes as they relate to a social context, in this case – a classroom environment.
Let’s consider a teacher that struggles to identify creative actions in themselves, may this teacher also struggle to identify creativity in others? If so, this situation creates a potential paradox in efforts to teach and promote creativity in students.
Likewise, teachers who lack creative self-efficacy may feel less empowered to act when faced with an instructional problem in the classroom. They may also need help generating ideas for using new technologies or incorporating new strategies within their practice.
Creativity supports innovation. Creativity is growth!
Future conversations targeting creativity in education must emphasize the concept of teacher creativity to help educators across the grades recognize themselves as creative professionals.
Much of this discussion is already in the literature on teacher change and instructional design frameworks. Furthermore, many websites are devoted to teacher innovation and social media is full of educators sharing new ideas about technology use in the classroom.
So what is the disconnect?
The issues may stem from some of the stereotypes of creativity, which makes it challenging for certain subject teachers to see themselves as creative educators. Art teachers might see themselves as creative simply because they teach a field commonly associated with creativity. Still, they might not be more or less creative than a science, humanities, or world languages teacher.
Perhaps the best example to discuss teacher creativity is to reflect on teacher actions during the initial stages of the global pandemic; thrust into a new environment, teachers across the grades abandoned existing practices and pursued new ways to engage and teach students from afar.
They identified new problems to solve, all while discovering useful functions inside popular applications like Zoom, Flip, Google Classroom, and Seasaw; they experimented with new ideas and iterated to make improvements as the weeks unfolded. Many teachers have continued to improve, deploy, and repurpose some of the outcomes they produced during the pandemic even after returning to a more traditional setup.
The teaching profession is highly creative.
Toward Pro-C Creativity
There are different levels of creativity* of course; when discussing producing new and useful outcomes from a student perspective, we typically talk about mini-c* outcomes of creativity. Within this context, students make new connections and develop ideas, though the impact of their actions is generally limited to the student and learning situation.
When discussing teachers addressing problems in their classroom environment, we are most likely debating little-c* creativity, which is when the effect of these actions is recognized and felt by other people in the classroom (e.g., students or colleagues) but doesn’t necessarily impact far beyond that space.
However, when teacher ideas expand beyond the classroom, they can reach pro-C* levels of creativity, which is the when the outcome fuels innovation in education because it leads to systematic change throughout a department, building, or district.
Teacher creativity is about change for the better, the effective use of technology, and problem-solving new challenges. It is part of professional growth, meeting goals, and producing an impact felt beyond your immediate self.
Training Teachers in Creativity
We must teach teachers about creativity and help them connect their creativity to the various creative frameworks studied in the field and deployed by industry. Creative Problem-Solving and Design Thinking are two popular methodologies to consider, but the best is most likely the process already deployed by a skilled and experienced classroom practitioner.
Rather than teaching specific procedures or a sequence of proposed steps for creativity, educators should learn how they already situate many of these acts inside their practice and within their approach to learning design. Connections are strengthen as teachers become more intentional in their actions and prioritize certain design principles like empathy, iteration, and using data to validate ideas.
Teachers should also learn to view their classroom as an environment full of possibilities to address instructional problems and feel empowered to take the necessary steps to improve the learning experience for every student. Likewise, teachers must learn to manage their emotions during incidents of failure, recognize bias, and commit to change despite the constraints of limited time, resources, and in some settings, a scripted curriculum.
Finally, when teachers know their idea is impacting students and is potentially valuable to colleagues, we must create opportunities for teachers to share the merits of their solution and support future adoption among colleagues.
Ultimately, a focus on teacher creativity can celebrate creativity in the teaching profession, support the effective use of new technology, and make teachers better facilitators of student creativity.
If successful, this emphasis within teacher training will increase teacher agency, promote the data use and help educators identify possibilities and interests that will support their long-term professional growth.
At the same time, teachers become better at modeling creativity to their students.
Let’s teach creativity to sustain and build a culture of innovation that starts in the classroom and expands throughout the department, building, and district.
Let’s use creativity to unleash the tremendous potential of every teacher and educator on the planet.
We are educators. We are creative professionals!
* Four C Framework
*Creativity is often investigated from a little c and big c perspective. Little c is everyday creativity, which is when the impact is limited to the individual, group, or community. In contrast, big c creativity has a significant in the world. Creativity researchers James Kaufman and Ron Beghetto developed a revised framework that identified mini-c, little-c, pro-C, and Big-C creativity.