Opportunities For Creativity In Your Teaching

contributed by Patricia Rose Upczak

Creativity is a process filled with paradox and deep emotion.

Imagine a teal green sea with gentle waves slapping the shoreline. That sea, much like creativity, has so many different moods and qualities depending on your perspective and the weather. The history of creative geniuses throughout civilization is vast and unpredictable in terms of any standard or set rules to produce them.

Often the idea of creativity is put in a special box that is limited to only certain kinds of people. This is one of our great myths. I am sure that Albert Einstein, Gandhi, David Bohn, Martha Graham, Wendell Berry, Aristotle, Pablo Picasso, Billie Holiday, Steve Jobs, Vincent Van Gogh, Mozart, Socrates, Leonardo Da Vinci, Martin Luther King, Beethoven, Charles Dickens, Carl Jung, Tesla, Galileo, Thomas Edison, Ben Franklin, and Michelangelo all came from different backgrounds, cultures, and ways of life. What they did have in common was the ability to see or feel the dynamic interconnectedness of the flow of life.

How they used their abilities is not really important for this discussion. What is important is that their creative nature was allowed to evolve and grow. When teachers allow themselves to use the kind of thinking that leads to new insights, approaches, and fresh perspectives they open up a whole new world to themselves and their students.

The material for developing creativity in students is becoming more easily accessible in the classroom. Some of the ways to develop your students’ creativity are: model creativity, question assumptions, define and refine problems, encourage idea generation, allow time for creative thinking, reward creative ideas, and the students’ products or work, and ‘make room for’ student mistakes.

Research has shown that an important characteristic of genius is immense productivity. All geniuses produce. Rembrandt produced 630 paintings and 2,000 drawings. Bach wrote a cantata every week, even when he was sick or exhausted. Thomas Edison held 1,093 patents. Another important aspect of creativity is fluent thinking, which means allowing quantities of ideas to flow.

3 Principles For Creative Thinking In Teaching

So what are the principles for creative thinking in teaching? What matters? Three principles for creative fluent thinking (of many) might be:

1) Trust

Defer judgment while coming up with ideas during lesson, unit, project, or curriculum design. Creativity is a flow. Go with it, or work against it.

2) Quantity

Quantity matters in creativity. Generate as many ideas as possible, alone and collaboratively. (Ideally alone first, then together.)

3) Productivity

In terms of the planning process, write down your ideas when they happen in some way, shape, or form. The creative process should produce something, whether a product, or creative artifacts from the creative process as you go along.

In terms of product–that is, something you can actually see or use in the process of teaching and learning–well, that could be just about anything, couldn’t it? A grouping method, a literacy strategy, a unique #edtech integration, an idea for a project, a differentiation strategy that’s easy to use, etc.

The Opportunities For Creativity In Your Teaching

Teachers often feel overwhelmed by their circumstances, with little energy to develop strategies like possibility thinking to help them or their students develop their creativity in life or school. Consider the following questions to help you see the opportunities for creativity. Keep a journal, and in that journal have a section of problems that you find “interesting” that would be worthwhile to resolve. Another section for teaching or curriculum ideas you would like to work on, etc.

Use what works for you. Consider the following questions as you look for opportunities for creativity in your teaching.

  1. What would you like to have or accomplish? Write it down.
  2. What do you wish would happen in your school or classroom?
  3. What would you like to do better?
  4. What do you wish you had more time to do?
  5. What would you like to get out of your teaching job?
  6. What are your unfulfilled goals?
  7. What excites you as a teacher?
  8. What angers you as a teacher?
  9. What have you complained about?
  10. What changes would you like to introduce?
  11. What wears you out?
  12. What as a teacher burns you out?
  13. What would you like to organize better?

After you have worked on this for a while, have your students keep their own private journals to write in.

How Creative Teachers Make Beauty Out Of Chaos

Teachers hold the children of this planet in the palms of their hands. Their jobs are multifaceted and vital for the children they teach.

There are very few routine days in the classroom. Teachers learn easily that plans go awry quickly for a million different reasons. The really extraordinary creative teachers learn to handle the chaos of the world, the educational system, and their classrooms with the grace of a gifted dancer. They make teaching look easy. They are the ones who know at some level that great teaching is an art that takes timing, hard work, compassion, great observation, and communication skills. They must use their creative talents as they engage their students at all levels.

The clear vision of what a child could be and what their hidden talents are is a vital component of authentic teaching and true education. Factory education does not meet the needs of children or teachers. In the classroom one size does not fit all. This dilemma has plagued education ever since we gave up the one-room schoolhouse. A creative teacher is much like a master director of an orchestra bringing many different instruments and musicians together in harmony. It takes wisdom, patience, kindness, and vision.

Every day, the context changes. New technology, new priorities, new pressures. Somehow, creative teachers can squint a little, see what matters, and make it beautiful.

In 1975, Patricia Rose Upczak started a highly successful integrated program for learning disabled adolescents in Boulder, Colorado. She loved her job and taught for 23 years. She is now pursuing a full-time writing career, which includes teaching workshops at schools, conferences, and offering three to five day retreats for teachers and writers in the Rocky Mountains.