Creativity and Resilience

In creativity, as in all of life, beliefs and emotions matter. When individuals feel confident in their ability to work creatively, they are more likely to undertake creative projects and stick to them when times get tough. Teachers who have confidence in their own creativity are more likely to teach to support students’ creativity—and find more joy in their teaching. While the research language is different, at the bottom of these belief systems is a sense of hope. When we have hope that we can attack creative problems successfully, we are more likely to try.

 At the moment, the notion of hope feels particularly important. As we slog through year three of a global pandemic and images of war fill our newscasts, it feels as if our world-wide emotional well-being is frayed nearly to the breaking point. And so, finding educational approaches that can support students’ resilience is a gift. Recently I found such a suggestion from a team of researchers that includes friends and colleagues from Eastern Michigan University. How could I not share?

The focus of the article by Gallay et al. (2022) is on eco-resilience, that is, the ability to maintain positivity and action in the face of global climate threats. It makes sense. I can only imagine the stress young people experience as they read the dire predictions for the impact of climate change anticipated in their lifetimes, while the adults in charge appear too busy fighting among themselves to address the crises. And yet, the solution to their stress is not soothing words or—worse yet—attempts to shield them from discomfort. Resilience is not built by looking away from problems, especially those students can see with their own eyes. It is built by balancing stressors with protective factors, whether the stressors be violence, pollution, food insecurity, family trauma, or the stresses caused world events.  Key protective factors for young people include:

  1. Supportive relationships with adults
  2. A sense of self-efficacy and perceived control
  3. Strengthening adaptive skills and self-regulation
  4. Sources of hope, faith, and cultural traditions.

Gallay et al. examine the impact of place-based civic science on students’ eco-resilience. In civic science, science is seen as a public good that can be used in service to communities. Place-based education is an approach that situates instruction in communities, where students identify and advocate for solutions to community problems. Students in this study had engaged in projects that included reclaiming abandoned buildings and converting the land into public park spaces, applying green infrastructure solutions to reduce stormwater runoff, addressing food injustice through community gardens, and many more. Such activities are idea venues for developing protective factors. Students and adults work together for change: viewing problems as a source of action rather than despair, strengthening skills, and building hope.

As I read the article, I was struck by the fact that—yet again—educational approaches that support creativity support other essential goals as well. Using content in creative and flexible ways allows for transfer and understanding. Structuring content around community needs makes it relevant. Supporting young people in addressing those needs is an essential step toward building resilience and hope.  As this academic year begins to wind down and those of you in the northern hemisphere contemplate summer plans, perhaps one thought for your long list can be learning more about place-based education. Your students will thank you.

Gallay, E., Brighente, M., Flanagan, C., & Lowenstein, E. (2022). Place-based civic science—collective environmental action and solidarity for eco-resilience. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 27(1), 39-46.

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