Creativities for Teaching
Artists and entrepreneurs get most of the creativity credit, but teachers are and need to be the most creative people of all. A teacher is, in a sense, dozens of other professions all rolled into one. To accomplish the many tasks set before us, we must become engineers, doctors, social workers, stage directors, artists, technicians, accountants, managers, marketers, and so on. We must solve oodles of problems and make hundreds of decisions as we teach, assess, reflect, and plan. So how do we do all these things with large groups of diverse students in a very limited amount of time? With creativities.
Effective teachers use four overlapping dimensions of creativity, which I call creativities: discovering, problem solving, expressing, and interpreting. These creativities emerged as I worked with teachers who were succeeding in highly challenging classrooms and schools. Teachers described their thinking as they solved a variety of problems. I then made connections other professions and considered how the creativities of engineers, doctors, farmers, advertisers, artists, and others apply to teaching.
The Need for Creativity
The primary reason for fostering our teacher creativity is improving learning for our students. Many struggling schools and classrooms have reached a point where only creativity can help us teach so many things to so many different students in the time allotted with the resources at hand.
A secondary reason is that we teachers need to feel that we are creative. We are like those eccentric artists who are driven by the zeal to express themselves through images or performance, or like scientists who seek to discover new worlds or solve environmental problems. Creating effective instruction fills us with energy and purpose. When students “get it” or produce excellent products or do well on tests and essays, we get energized. We see our “art” become what it was supposed to become.
And yet, many new and prospective teachers become quickly disillusioned when they realize that one of their main reasons for entering the profession—to teach in creative and engaging ways—is being squeezed away by scripted curriculum programs and lessons driven by multiple choice tests. Teachers in many settings have been stripped of their ability to express, through teaching, who they are and what they are passionate about. What we do shapes us, and if our work is hemmed in and overly controlled by policies and people who don’t know our students, then our effectiveness withers.
Creativity is the process of coming up with a new and useful idea (Sternberg, 1999). This idea may take the form of a theory, process, or product that fills some need. New means that the creative idea hasn’t existed before in the given setting. For example, a teacher might come up with the idea of using an analogy of a clogged funnel to clarify a concept in physics. She had never seen or heard of that analogy before; she created it to fit her classroom context. She may bring a funnel into the classroom to further illustrate her point. Useful means that the innovation serves a purpose. The teacher had a particular goal in mind when thinking of the funnel analogy. If it works, it was creative. If it doesn’t work, it was a creative attempt, or “step,” as Thomas Edison called his first 1,100 light bulb trials. Most creative products and ideas are either: 1) ways to solve problems shared by a group of people, 2) ways to expand knowledge, or 3) ways to express ideas and thoughts to others. These three purposes exist in abundance every day in every successful school. (Click
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