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Creativity and a Common Understanding for Schools

Creativity and a Common Understanding for Schools

Not long ago during a visit to one of our partner school districts we had a lengthy conversation about creativity and a common understanding for schools. The district leaders and community stakeholders saw a need to start developing creativity in students. The community had lost a major industrial factory, but gained a business park meant to support entrepreneurs and small businesses. The opportunity for students to engage with these new businesses and resources was there, but frankly the students weren’t too interested. They were used to school as history, science, math, a little physical activity, and some kind of elective. Students weren’t engaged in much of anything that was interdisciplinary and they surely weren’t focused on drawing connections and thinking about new solutions or points of view.

Creativity and a Common Understanding for Schools: When leaders don’t agree with the research

While there was major community support, there was simultaneously pushback from a few key building administrators who were stuck on their belief that creativity is something that is innate in kids, firmly believing that not all students could engage in the creative process and get something out of it. As one of them said to our Senior Associate Dr. Jody Britten, “Jody, I just don’t buy it. I don’t have a creative bone in my body. There are a lot of kids just like me, it’s simply impossible to think that every child can be creative.”

Creativity and a Common Understanding for Schools: Follow the research and dialogue 

Therein was the problem. Leaders with concerns weren’t thinking about creativity as a skill but rather a talent. When Jody asked more questions she saw a few telltale signs of outdated thinking about developing creativity in students. Changing beliefs takes time and energy, and what was missing was not an openness to understanding or a lack of real need. Instead, what was missing was a foundational understanding of what creativity really is and what creativity looks like in students. The next week Jody started sharing tidbits from the Metiri research base on creativity, that has been part of our work in our continuum for 21st Century Learning. Definitions, profiles of students, and rubrics to show a continua of understanding around developing creative capacities. The point of sharing those materials was to really help all of the incredible thinkers around the table have a common knowledge base, a common framework, and something more than opinions and perspectives that are grounded in personal views instead of research. 

Creativity and a common understanding - profile of a creative student by Metiri Group


With foundational knowledge, the next time the leadership team was together they were able to think critically about the differences between being able to paint or draw, sing or compose, and the actual skills of being creative. With a new, shared understanding the team was able to get started on the hard part… figuring out what teachers were already doing to support the development of these skills that were the foundation for creativity and how the system could empower those teachers to ignite change that would actually move the needle of students as developing creative individuals. The work continued and has since grown and cultivated change throughout their classrooms, policies, and curriculum. But, it all started with a question What is creativity? and a focus on truly understanding what that means for kids in classrooms today.