Embracing creativity

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One of the primary roles of the educator must be to foster creativity in the classroom

How do students learn to be brave in their thinking? How do they learn to take academic risks in thinking that involves generating ideas and solutions to problems previously unseen? In a changing world, students need to be taught both critical thinking and also creative thinking. It should be noted that these types of thinking are distinct and yet need to blend for both types of thinking to benefit.
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Creativity is often associated with painting, drawing, ‘creative’ writing, or the arts. However, most creativity does not take the form of artistic endeavours.
All areas of academic interest including the sciences, mathematics, technology, medicine and all of the ‘rational sciences’ have been developed through creativity, including in the form of innovation, experimentation and curiosity. Creativity is imperative regardless of academic discipline, as it holds utility in the realm of problem-solving.
In encouraging creativity, educators need to understand that for many students there can be a paralysis when faced with issues or problems without defined or singular ‘linear’ solutions. This issue arises for adults too who have been taught through educational systems that over rely on definitive, tightly controlled answers to a highly prescriptive syllabus and curriculum. In such circumstances getting the ‘right answer’ can take priority over actual thinking.
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In this context, restlessness is actually a virtue. Restlessness imbibed with an insatiable curiosity, humility and bravery are the foundations of creativity. Educators must not fear restlessness, must not quell questions, must not define by clothes rather than character and should not fear the intellectual unknown. For each of these are cornerstones for taking problem-solving into areas where ideas can be generated and imagination ignited.

How can creativity be taught?

How do educators help those who are afraid of failure, perceiving loss prior to even attempting a task, which may have multiple solutions, all of which are equally valid?
It is incumbent on educators to role-model flexible and adaptable thinking, embracing disciplined creative and also critical thinking. Creative thinking can be encouraged and developed through the application of a series of structured steps. That structure can be brought to develop creativity might sound anomalous. Yet structures are required to manage processes that overcome the issue of fear around the academic unknown, and also to bring requisite discipline to thinking creatively.
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The beginning of creativity starts, advertently or inadvertently, by asking questions and being curious. Some students may say, ‘But what should I ask?’ daunted by an imagined outcome before the outset has commenced. It is for this reason that curiosity and wonder must be encouraged throughout a student’s education.
Clarifying what needs to be known is an equally important starting point for creativity. This may not be all that easy, as judgment is required as is some discipline in thinking to determine what the issues are.

Freeing their thinking

Closely aligned to this is identifying any parameters or limits to the possible solutions. However, when first encouraging creativity no such parameters or constraints should be set. This will help educators to see whether students are truly able to free their thinking. For if a person cannot let the imagination run wild when limits are unyoked, how will they be able to generate ideas in the rather harder context of various constraints?
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Once the thinking can be free, so that no relevant questions and no solutions, however initially improbable, are excluded, then the beginning of creative thinking has occurred. In allowing any possibilities, however unlikely, and encouraging free thinking, there is evidence of ‘being brave’. For exploration is always the realm of bravery and learning.
Inherent in true creativity is humility. This is because the best ideas, the most novel and innovative solutions, may come from another person, or be from the workings of a team. In any case it must be the sum of things that have come before and therefore it is not the work of one person alone. Humility in this context also means understanding good ideas are for sharing, for the benefit of all, not just some. It also means believing that creativity never runs out, finishes or is used up, for newness, intelligence and openness are ever available.

Finding meaning in ‘failure’

Creativity can sometimes mean people choose an option amongst possibilities that, despite scrutiny, is, upon execution, not beneficial or does not properly solve a problem or lead to anything better. Creative people know that there is never such a thing as failure if lessons are learnt.
An important aspect to creativity involves the capacity to evaluate alternatives without eliminating all of them. In so doing, connected thinking that understands implications is very important. All solutions to problems or issues should be evaluated for both their short-term and long-term effects.
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Deep creativity will know what needs to be done and will set a course of action fully cognisant of the connection between the rational and the brazen.
Finally, with maturity, creativity takes an added dimension through knowing that good ideas often do not need urgency, but rather steady, careful attention and action designed to build momentum for a better outcome.

Mohan Dhall
Mohan Dhall
Academic leader, M2K Education and Advisory and CEO of Australian Tutoring Association and Global Tutoring Association.

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