Introduction: Teacher Creativity


Let’s begin with an overview of the goals for this book.

This interactive e-book is technically a website; some might even view it as an inactive blog. My goal is to establish a platform that allows me to produce content similar to a book but something I can update and write during my off-work hours. As I expand my knowledge and experience, I will update the content. However, the theme will remain the same throughout – an interactive e-book that examines a design-based approach to teacher creativity in the classroom. You might ask what I mean by a design-based approach to teacher creativity, so let me use this introduction to set the stage.

I have had an interest in creativity for over a decade. I recall a specific situation that initiated this interest while working at the Center for 21st Century Skills. I was running a high school event where groups of students were about to showcase the first drafts of their one-minute Public Service Announcements (PSA). These PSAs were the first videos produced as part of a new Digital Media and Moving Making program piloted in ten schools throughout Connecticut. The PSAs adopted the same theme for all the programs offered by the Center – “Green.” We identified the word Green because we wanted our STEM curriculum to focus on environmental issues. Therefore, those enrolled in our sciences courses would address a Green challenge. Likewise, those enrolled in our technology courses would also address a Green challenge. And by the second week of the semester, it was clear everyone had made that connection.

Returning to the showcase of PSAs, I remember feeling a little nervous as I set up the playlist for these films and walked away from the podium. My boss was in the audience; his boss was in the audience, and the program’s funders were also in the audience. I could feel the excitement for this new program, but I also felt the enormous responsibility of meeting their expectations. When I sat down and the lights faded, I took a deep breath.

I let out a shy of relief after the first film. It wasn’t too bad—some issues with the sound, but strong camera shots. However, I recall some disappointment with the selected theme and call to action. Recycling! However, I let it go. The next film was great. The teacher was a video professional and fully committed to the program. It was technically flawless; however, it was on recycling again. I remember thinking how unlucky it was to have the first two of the nine films on Recycling. I recall observing the students from each school looking across the tables as if the other had stolen their idea. Their faces only got worse after they saw the third film, which was on Recycling – again. Seven of the nine videos shown that day focused on this topic. All were making the same call to action. I’m not saying that this isn’t an essential issue for the environment, but it’s an issue we all know well. It’s not new information. It offers little value to an audience. Requesting to recycle doesn’t address the problem that we don’t recycle enough.

I looked into the course material and couldn’t understand why we had so many ideas on Recycling. What had I done to suggest the PSAs should focus on Recycling? Later in the week, I paid a visit to some of the participating schools. You could call it an intervention. Two other film projects were coming up, and we wanted to make sure that students explored other topics associated with the word Green. I realized that the problem centered on a lack of originality from the students; if you were to ask a group of teenagers to brainstorm ideas around the word green, Recycling would be one of the first words suggested by the group. However, it didn’t explain why students had pursued the most obvious idea. This situation became more apparent after I connected with one of the teachers. In this discussion, I asked them why they felt their students had selected Recycling? The teacher said I think it was the theme for this year; Green isn’t very broad, and the students found it limiting. I nodded my head and left. It’s a color, I thought to myself.

Although I didn’t see it then, the story highlighted the paradox of the “let’s promote creativity in education” dilemma. Many books reference IBM’s 2010 study that identified creativity as the most sought-after skill within the industry, and there are undoubtedly other studies that suggest the same. How participants of these surveys view creativity when responding to this question expands beyond the goals of this book. Still, we can assume that novelty, originality, and innovation are associated themes when considering creativity. Other common associations are out the box thinking, artistic endeavors, and imagination.

Through my work, I’ve observed that we often view creativity in education from a student perspective. We think project-based learning, maker spaces, ill-defined problems, art classes, and many other learning experiences to challenge the drill and kill culture of the 20th Century classroom environment. We don’t associate creativity with the teacher and designing new learning experiences. If we don’t promote creativity in the teaching profession, why would we expect teachers to facilitate it in the classroom?

I considered this question in my dissertation study, and before the pandemic, I saw technology as an opportunity to ignite teacher creativity. Since the pandemic, I hope we can all recognize the incredible creativity in the teaching profession. Great teachers express and practice creativity every day.

What is Teacher Creativity?

A scholarly perspective of creativity considers the production of new and useful outcomes and how they relate to a social context. This view is promoted regularly inside creativity literature – most notably in Plucker, Beghetto, and Dow (2004). The concept of teacher creativity builds on this scholarly view with a focus on the actions that lead to producing new and useful outcomes inside a teacher’s professional context – the classroom.

Sociocultural perspectives of creativity remind us that many factors influence this process and how we interact with these factors is a determining factor for teacher creativity. For example, how we view an existing technology influences how we use that application or device; likewise, our view of student preferences or administrative priorities will impact how we evaluate outcomes. In short, teacher creativity is the actions we take in response to the problems we face in our classroom environment and how these actions impact the learning experience.

You might be thinking teacher creativity sounds similar to professional learning, and you’ll be correct. A commitment to creativity in the teaching profession is a commitment to lifelong learning and constant modification to the curriculum and how we approach instruction. However, as we get into the weeds of a design-based approach to teacher creativity, we’ll unpack specific elements associated with design, design thinking, and creative problem-solving. We’ll also focus more on the classroom environment and how we can evaluate outcomes based on how they impact the learning experience. This information will connect creativity literature with instructional design and knowledge from the learning sciences. It will help us consider different levels of creativity as we shift perspectives from the teacher to the student before considering how outcomes can produce a systematic change in a department, building, or district.

The first two chapters focus on the classroom environment and introduce the concept of thinking inside the box. Inside the box are various problems that impact the learning experience. Teacher creativity starts by identifying and pursuing the issues we can address instead of those beyond our power to influence.

The third chapter introduces the Four C Framework of Creativity and how we can use this to evaluate different levels of creative outcomes in a school setting. The remaining chapters offer design strategies that support teacher creativity, focusing on using technology.

Finally, in each chapter, I have included a short video tutorial and links to relevant episodes of the Fueling Creativity podcast. Now let’s begin…