It is an intuitive truth of teaching, that as a teacher you must model the behaviour you hope to receive. If you want your children to behave politely, you must speak to them in a polite manner yourself. If you want your students to be inquisitive learners, you must ask them questions and take an interest in their ideas. If you want your children to be curious, then you must demonstrate a deep curiosity about the world. Children learn as much from what they see the adults do, as from what they hear the adults say. It is not enough just to tell our students how to behave; we have to show them as well. This applies as much to parenting, as it does to teaching. The child who swears at you in your classroom has picked it up not from direct instruction (hopefully), but from parents modelling it in the home.
One of the most critical aspects of creativity is a willingness to experiment, to play around with ideas, to take risks, and to be willing to appear silly as you do so. Yes, technique is important and skill is vital, but technique + skill does not = creativity. I can be the most technically skilled dancer in the entire world, but this does not mean I will be able to choreograph a dance. The only way to get to something that is truly innovative and of value is to go sideways with your thinking: to stop doing the linear thinking that human beings are so prone to, and to zoom off in a lateral direction. When you go sideways, a lot of what you come up with may be nonsense, or of hardly any use at all. But the truly creative always comes out of linking the unexpected. The genuinely creative is about sparking something new, and pushing yourself to be imaginative and innovative, not just about replicating what came before.
There is an interesting tension between these playful aspects of creativity, and the push from some in education for a return to ‘traditional teaching’. Many of those who call themselves ‘traditionalists’ suggest that children must be instructed in knowledge first, before they can hope to be creative. They must be imbued with sufficient “cultural capital” and exposed to “the best that has been thought and said” in order to have any hope of creative thought. I do wonder, though, whether this is a case of working backwards from the desired pedagogical technique, to the skill they want the children to achieve. (“Children best learn to be creative through direct instruction and classical literature, because direct instruction and classical literature are the things I am going to use.”) I also see confusion between the performance side of the creative arts (clearly a professional musician must be highly skilled at playing an instrument) and the process of being creative at an individual level (a musician is not the same as a composer). As Martin Robinson points out here, punk achieved a lot with just three chords and the willingness to give it a try. Small children can achieve an awful lot of creative thinking if you give them a few plain cardboard boxes. They don’t need to learn The History of the Cardboard Box first.
One of the problems I have with the ‘knowledge based’ model of creativity is that it seems to ignore the modelling side of the teacher/student equation. Whatever you think about what is often pejoratively termed ‘progressive teaching’, it is hard to deny that it has a focus on being innovative and experimental, rather than relying on the techniques of the past. The teacher is literally modelling the approach that he or she wishes to achieve. If teachers use a direct instruction model to get over the maximum amount of knowledge in the minimum amount of time, they are of necessity missing out on the creative modelling part of the equation. If science and research inform everything you do in a classroom, then someone else has given you the ‘correct’ answers. You don’t need to wonder, and explore, and experiment, and be playful, yourself.
I meet a lot of teachers – literally thousands every year. One of the main words I would use to describe the teachers that I meet is “creative”. These are people who see a problem in their classrooms, and come up with all kinds of suggestions or solutions to resolve it. Can’t get your kids to be silent? The teachers I meet have a hundred and more solutions for that one. Can’t get your children to bring a pen? The teachers I meet have a vast array of tips to solve your problem. The minute you insist that teachers use only one method, and you create the same routines for everyone to use, you are by definition limiting teacher creativity. If I want the children to move quietly and calmly around preschool, I might tell them that there is a sleeping giant under the floor, and that they would be best not to wake him. I am modelling the creative thinking I want the children to achieve. The moment we see ‘play’ and ‘playful’ attitudes as being wasteful or not of value we have stepped away from the heart of what makes creativity happen. So you can have your traditional cake and eat it if you want, and I am sure you will find it delicious. But please do not tell me that it is *The Magic Creative Cake*.