How Schools Can Cultivate a Culture of Creativity — And Why It Matters

Author: | Category: 21st-Century Skills

The Partnership for 21st-Century Skills introduced the Four Cs: collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. Each of those Four Cs is essential for innovation, entrepreneurship, technology, and solving global challenges: in other words, for succeeding in the 21st century. However, one of these skills seems particularly challenging to understand and intentionally implement. That skill is creativity.

Many find creativity difficult to identify, teach and enhance. How can educators create the cultural conditions to foster creativity rather than limit it? Here are three recommendations:

Define and Refine Creativity (Beyond the Arts)

If creativity is essential, then as educators, we need to define — or redefine — it.

Many people think of creativity in terms of performing and visual arts — music, drawing, painting, singing or acting. Of course those are creative endeavors. But so are entrepreneurship, engineering, product development, marketing and so on.

Really, creativity is part of everything. Creativity exists in our decision-making regarding how we work, what we produce, whom we partner with, where we work, what tools we use and more.

Unfortunately, many believe creativity is an innate skill that can’t be developed and practiced. In other words, they think either we’re creative or we’re not. This is our first hurdle as educators. We need to help learners see that creativity is a vital aspect of every professional and personal endeavor. Creativity occurs whenever we focus our energy, time and resources on developing something. It’s not innate or an accident. It’s a process we all have capacity for but have to invest in as well.

Disrupt the Routine

We often hear that learners need routine in order to feel comfortable, experience lower anxiety, and be able to produce and perform. Yes, we can keep our rubrics, forms and systems. But if we want to encourage creativity, we might need to break routine, which can lead to complacency and automation.

As Tom Robbins writes in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, “In times of widespread chaos and confusion, it has been the duty of more advanced human beings – artists, scientists, clowns and philosophers – to create order. In times such as ours, however, when there is too much order, too much management, too much programming and control, it becomes the duty of superior men and women to fling their favorite monkey wrenches into the machinery.”

Let’s disrupt the routine. If we want innovation, entrepreneurship, leadership and growth – all creative endeavors – success depends on how we push the boundaries, reshape the environment and rewrite the rules.

Fight Fear

Nothing stifles creativity more than fear. Many of us, both learners and facilitators, work from a place of fear. We’re afraid of failure, exposure, ridicule, expectations, being judged, the unknown, operating outside our systems and norm and so much more. These fears are normal, but they are limiting.

For authentic creativity to occur, we need to remove barriers that are foundational to our educational systems. Many rules, policies, expectations, assessments, data collections, curricula, traditions and instructional and grading practices explicitly inhibit creativity.

So once we define/redefine creativity, disrupt the routine, and overcome fear, what would our educational culture look like?

Here are seven signs that educators are cultivating a culture of creativity:

  1. We’ll start the school year right, with an emphasis on creativity.
  2. We’ll recognize and reward creativity across all disciplines and endeavors.
  3. We’ll share stories about our own and learners’ creative endeavors (blogging, social media, web content, videos).
  4. We’ll host, coordinate and facilitate school-wide challenges, contests and competitions related to projects and other endeavors that require creativity.
  5. We’ll allow learners to solve real-world problems.
  6. We’ll add and create elective courses for learners, and we’ll offer “lame duck school days” to facilitators so they can create short or long-term experiences related to their passions, interests and sense of creativity.
  7. We’ll throw wrenches into schedules, routines, expectations and past practices.

In the end, creativity is a mind-set. All learners, facilitators and leaders can be creative if they have the freedom, trust, opportunities, and resources as well as great challenges and expectations.

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