It is summer, apparently with a vengeance. Here in Michigan, we are in the midst of a week of humidity, storms, and flooded highways, while my brother in usually-balmy Oregon has temperatures over 100 degrees. He took this photo of one of his local squirrels flattening himself against the cool pavement, after having a drink provided by my kind-hearted sibling. Truth is, a lot of my teacher friends and colleagues are looking much like that squirrel.
For most teachers in the U.S., the crazy 2020-21 school year has finally come to a close. For many of us, this has been one change after another—teach online, then in person, maybe back online, perhaps back in person—as the COVID pandemic has flared and ebbed. Every teacher I know is exhausted. So, what do we do?
Not surprisingly, my suggestion (after a nice long nap, of course) is to give yourself a chance to be creative, preferably in an area that has nothing directly to do with teaching. Try watercolors or mosaics. Write a skit to amuse local kids. Tell stories; learn to use puppets. Begin the Great American (or whatever your country) novel. Investigate local history in an old cemetery or by studying local architecture. Design an experiment to figure out how to solve your garden problems or entice just the right birds to feed by your window. Try to use your high school Spanish to talk to a new neighbor. It doesn’t matter a lot what you do, as long as it pushes your creativity a bit beyond where it has gone before and you have fun doing it. After nearly a year and a half of solving problems that are frightening and exhausting, it is good to solve problems that are fun. And that sense of ourselves as people who tackle new things with vigor and joy is a strength in itself.
In reviewing creativity literature for the latest Creativity in the Classroom revision, I was initially surprised, then delighted to see that creativity research not only has continued, pandemic or no, but has investigated these crazy circumstances as well. For example, Anderson et al. (2021) studied teacher stress during the pandemic in 2020. They found that teachers’ greater creative self-efficacy in teaching (confidence in their ability to be creative in their teaching) was associated with greater joy in teaching and the ability to bounce back in the face of setbacks. They also found that teachers’ growth mindset around creativity—believing creativity can be developed—was associated with a generally positive affect around teaching, despite uncertain and stressful circumstances.
Why does this mean I suggest you have some creative fun? It is clear that the belief that creativity could be developed, and confidence in their own ability to be creative in teaching, helped teachers thrive in difficult circumstances. Even as we pray the pandemic conditions will not be repeated, we know teaching always entails uncertainty, unexpected challenges, and occasional chaos. Such is the nature of life with large numbers of young people. Whatever the challenges yet to come, our sense of creativity as something we can nurture, and ourselves as creative individuals, can help us through it.
So if you are feeling a bit flattened by the last academic year–or perhaps even more if you are a southern-hemisphere friend still in the thick of it—give yourself a chance for some personal creativity. You are likely to start the next chapter of teaching, whenever it is, a bit stronger and more joyful.
Anderson, R. C., Bousselot, T., Katz-Buioncontro, J., & Todd, J. (2021). Generating buoyancy in a sea of uncertainty: Teachers’ creativity and well-being during the OCVID-19 pandemic. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, Article 614774.