Learning to let go: Creativity isn’t all about me
Creativity. Who has time for the grand production that is “creativity”? I’ve heard other teachers say it, and I’ve certainly thought it myself a time or two. See, though I would label myself as one of the “creative types,” there doesn’t seem to be much time these days to truly “be creative.” Gone are the college days of luxuriating in cutesy coffee shops for hours writing to my heart’s content or getting up before the sun rises to write on my balcony with yet another cup of coffee.
As I sat in a meeting of teachers from all subject areas just this past week, the topic of creativity and engagement inevitably came up, as it often does in the world of education. One teacher was criticizing the newest standards and standardized tests for being so demanding that they make it “impossible to be fun and exciting.” “These standards don’t care how happy these kids are; they care about what they know!” she exasperatedly exclaimed to the group. In some ways, I agreed with this teacher.
The new standards are rigorous. They expect more intellectually from our students than has ever been expected of them before. But, and maybe this is where the power of perspective comes in to play, I have never felt that the common core standards or any curriculum limits my creativity or squelches the creative abilities of my students. In fact, I see it as quite the opposite. I see these increased expectations for our students, and, in turn, for us as teachers, as demanding of our creativity rather than detracting from it.
I also see the push towards higher-order, critical thinking as particularly linked to creativity. Creativity is defined as “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, and interpretations.” Is that critical thinking or what?? By challenging students to dig deeper, to think harder, and to not settle for what’s given to them on the surface, we are creating tomorrow’s problem solvers. We are establishing an environment where creativity is as necessary a survival tool as calculators and Google.
So in this new year, my challenge to you (any myself) is, yes, do not be afraid to take risks, to try a new projects, develop a new method for teaching an old lesson, or all the other typical things we think of when we vow to try to be more creative in the classroom. BUT, I also challenge you to reflect on the ways that creativity is already engrained as an innate desire within you and your students as human beings and to channel this.
We long to create and discover new things. We long to figure things out for ourselves, even if we don’t always realize it. It makes us feel good—accomplished even—and improves our self-confidence. Before you stay up for a week planning the perfect assignment or spend all your fee money on the latest technological gadget that promises foolproof student engagement, consider something a bit simpler but just as meaningful. On every occasion possible, let your students take the reins.
See, creativity and learning are both about letting go. The more responsibility that I have entrusted in my students, the more I realize that not only am I not the most creative person in the room, I don’t have to be. I am not the end-all-be-all, grand master of creativity, but I can be a pretty darn good facilitator of it. Sometimes we have to model creativity, and sometimes we have to get out of the way of it.
They won’t like it at first (and if you tend to be a bit of a control freak like me, you won’t either) because it’s not as easy as traditional schooling where they just sit back and listen as you provide them with all the answers, BUT do it anyway. Allow them to ask questions, but also push them to seek out their own answers. I love watching their little faces when I respond with, “I don’t know, what do you think?” Provide them with opportunities to solve real problems and make their own discoveries. This is creativity, albeit not necessarily the Pinterest DIY & Crafts board kind.
As often as you can and in all the ways that you can, let your students be responsible for their own learning. Let them struggle with a concept or an idea without swooping in at the first sign of distress, because creativity and hope are born of struggle, and we all know that the world could use a little more of both. Control is the true antithesis to creativity in the classroom or any situation. The more we can allow ourselves to let go of the reins, the more opportunities we generate for our students to discover and utilize their own creativity.