Reflections on creativity

This is a two-part post on how creativity can be defined and how it can be embedded within the classroom. 

Creativity: theory and implications for the schoolroom.


Teachers are now tasked not only to teach pupils for the exam or follow the curriculum but are also required to equip students for a workforce which requires complex problem-solving skills and innovative thinking (Mishra & Richardson 2018). Consistently OECD data show that countries which promote divergent, as opposed to convergent, thinking score highly in standardised measurements. Despite the debates around international testing, such skills cannot be ignored as employers are increasingly looking for employees with the added abilities which are often attributed to 21stcentury skills.


Within this educational paradigm, creativity has come to occupy a central place in discussions around promoting 21stcentury skills; however, its practical application in the schoolroom has not quite matched the expectations of employers and the ever-increasing technological advances. The limitations both in terms of time and resources, as well as high-stakes testing which does not allow for much manoeuvring outside the curriculum, mean that creativity is perceived at times as a utopia which perhaps should be limited to the ‘creative’ subjects.


Defining creativity


Yet, looking at the definitions of creativity, starting from Dewey in the 1920s, a century has passed since creativity entered the educational rhetoric and still not much has changed. Dewey defined creativity as identifying the problem, suggesting solutions to the problem, testing them out, and the agreeing which one is the most suitable for said problem. Rhodes in the 1960s said that creativity denotes the ‘idea of fullness, the completion of effort, the notion of something new and unexpectedly good […] [through creativity] we give ourselves easy satisfactions while avoiding necessary judgements’. Treffinger et al. (2012)[1]concluded that creativity can be seen in four distinct ways:

  1. ability to generate ideas
  2. willingness to dig deeper into ideas
  3. openness and courage to explore ideas
  4. listening to one’s inner voice


Mishra and Richardson (2018)[2]writing for the Journal of Thinking Skills and Creativitynote that there need to be two elements to support creativity in the schoolroom: originality and usefulness.


Creativity has been theorised through the decades and will continue to be central in academic debates. Apart from the Journal I mentioned earlier, universities are setting up at a very quick pace their own platforms to engage in discussions of how to foster creativity. For example, the University of the Arts London has created the Online Journal of Creative Teaching and Learning where the academic community can share examples of innovative teaching and learning across a range of disciplines[3].


Where does school education sit within these discussions? There is a somewhat misguided assumption that creativity is best placed in primary education. In recent interviews with B Block students who have showcased exceptional creative thinking to be commended for science prizes[4], the pupils seemed to suggest that creativity cannot be taught: creativity is part of one’s personality; it becomes habitual while growing up. Where do teachers fit within all the discussions around creativity and whether it should be or can be taught? Because of limited time, I will not discuss the dichotomy of teaching for creativity or teaching creatively. I agree with Jeffrey and Craft (2010)[5]that this is an integrated practice; their conclusions, show that perhaps a better understanding of creative pedagogies would be the distinction between teaching creatively and creative learning. However, the argument I want to make is that experienced teachers need also engage with creative pedagogies:


‘experience is not enough on its own. To become excellent — that is, more than proficient — requires a career-long commitment to self-cultivation as teachers. Part of the reason that the commitment needs to be career-long is that teaching contexts are in a continual state of change, and teachers need to adapt through a process of self-cultivation’ (Griffiths 2012).[6]




[4]Project conducted by a teacher at Eton College



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