Who’s leading the way? And how?

Schools are complicated places. Building creativity at the school or district level means thinking beyond individual classrooms to include all the people and systems that make schools work. Just as in creative businesses, one of the key differences between individual and whole-school creativity is the role of leadership. Leaders in organizations working toward creativity are constantly leading problem-solving (and problem finding) ventures. Whatever your official role in your school or organization, you can be one of those leaders. Principals and other school administrators have roles as educational leaders, but so do committee chairs, grade level leaders, subject area specialists, and any other individuals who seek change. Leadership does not always come from the “top” down. In fact, shared leadership can be one hallmark of a creative organization. What might that look like?  To start with, leaders must believe creativity is important and can be built—in students and in teachers.

      Just as teachers work to build self-efficacy in students, so leaders who want to build creative organizations work to build teachers’ self-efficacy regarding teaching for creativity. That is, teachers must believe that they can teach in ways that help their students build creativity. If teachers do not believe themselves capable of teaching for creativity—or don’t believe their students capable of creative growth—nothing will change. Helping a school move toward those ideas requires at least two things: information and belief. As I said in the last post, basic information about creativity is an essential starting place. This could include core understandings such as:

  • Creativity is important in every area of life, not just the arts.
  • Creativity happens at many levels, from groundbreaking discoveries to everyday innovations.
  • Everyone can be creative.
  • Creativity can be supported and built; it is not fixed.
  • Activities that support creativity also support learning for understanding.
  • Creativity can be built by building content knowledge, learning skills and attitudes associated with creativity, and supporting intrinsic motivation.

These understandings can be built using any of the strategies of professional development: readings shared in learning communities, “thought of the day” exercises before staff meetings, traditional or online presentations, staff study groups, etc. The important thing is that the ideas are shared and elaborated over time. While a creative presentation about creativity can be interesting, it is never enough and can’t take the place of learning over time.  And in these beyond-stressful days of pandemic teaching, the fifth bullet can’t be emphasized too often.  Adding creativity to schools isn’t just for fun. Activities that support creativity also support learning for understanding.

      Finally, it is not enough for teachers (and others) to believe creativity is important. They must also have confidence in their ability to teach for creativity and make a difference for students. I’ve noted before that these beliefs actually improve teachers’ happiness and well-being. How to we build them? The most powerful way to build self-efficacy for any activity is to have success in that activity, even a small success. The second is to see someone like yourself succeed. Consider how this could be managed in a school building. After talking about recognizing creative responses, ways to use open-ended questioning, incorporating small choices in learning, or any other strategy, don’t just walk away from the idea. Creative leaders watch, listen, notice efforts, and encourage sharing. Make sure that sharing isn’t always done by your school’s traditional all stars. My confidence in my ability to improve my workout skills doesn’t improve watching professional athletes. But when I share small successes with my friends—particularly the less coordinated ones—it helps. When someone notices me walking in the frigid Michigan winter and makes positive comments, it raises my spirits and my confidence. So, too, noticing small efforts toward creative thinking strategies builds the self-efficacy necessary to make all the rest possible. Sharing successes of someone who might not have anticipated success can be powerful. One step, one activity, one idea, at a time.

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