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What Does Teaching Creativity Look Like?

Our standardized approach to education has a siloed understanding of what it means to be creative. Here's what schools should be teaching instead.


Do you see yourself as a creative person? Our current standardized approach to teaching and learning tends to slot students students into silos—art-school types on one side and analytical thinkers on the fast track to law school on the other—so our society has a pretty limited understanding of what being creative actually means and what it looks like across disciplines. Creativity expert Michael Michalko, author of Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work has developed a list of 12 things most people aren't taught in school—but should be—about creativity.

Michalko writes on his blog at Psychology Today that the most important thing students should be taught is that everyone "is born a creative, spontaneous thinker." If students are told they're creative, they become creative, and start working to acquire the skills needed to express that creative identity. Conversely, students who accept that they're not creative develop mental blocks that keep them "from trying or attempting anything new."


Michalko says students must also learn that "all creative geniuses work passionately hard and produce incredible numbers of ideas, most of which are bad." For example, Thomas Edison came up with 3,000 ideas for lighting systems that didn't work, and of Shakespeare's 154 sonnets, some "were no better than his contemporaries could have written, and some were simply bad."

Perhaps the most important entry on Michalko's list is his last point, that "creativity is paradoxical." Schools are places where students are supposed to acquire knowledge—but to create, a person must "forget the knowledge." If you're not able to leave what you think you know behind, you can't approach problems with a fresh perspective. Students must also be taught to "desire success but embrace failure," and to "listen to experts but know how to disregard them."

Of course, savvy teachers and schools are already discarding the one-size-fits-all, siloed model of teaching and learning. And, they already know that it's not enough for schools to simply add on a "creativity hour"; it must be infused into all aspects of our education system. Let's hope more schools get on board with this paradigm shift so that an entire generation of students doesn't grow up living their lives according to outdated 20th-century myths about creativity.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user salady

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