Creativity is such a fun disposition to develop. I never thought of myself as creative because I’m not terribly artistic and in my experience, most people go straight to art when you start talking about the topic. Creativity is about thinking flexibly. Many people think you are either born creative or you aren’t but there are many ways to learn how to be more creative. It is a way of thinking and we have control over that and there are just tons of ways to hone this skill. These four go to strategies are easy to remember and easy to practice.
How might we…
I learned this strategy from an IDEO online class and it has served me very well. When people are stuck, they can go down a road that goes nowhere. They keep coming back to the same answers and solutions and these usually aren’t very helpful. This strategy can help to get out of the same path of thinking. A clue about when to use this is when you hear yourself or someone else saying “it can’t be done”. This usually references some situation that doesn’t match up or has really tough conditions. The strategy is about reframing the thinking around a “how might we…” question. For example, when our grading system was implemented this year, many of us expressed the disconnect between the idea of a growth mindset and the rigid endpoints of our marking periods combined with a high focus (and substantial grade weight) of summative assessments. This was a great departure from what we had been doing over the past five years and people were really feeling it. We could easily go down a road of “nothing can be done; oh well” and in fact, I think many have gone down that road. This strategy reframes the “solution finding” question to start asking how can we still value a growth mindset? We asked this question at a faculty meeting and there were a lot of really good ideas. We are still struggling with this change but it gave us some ideas that were new and focused on a forward direction rather than stagnating us.
Many times we think of creativity as being open-ended and without any boundaries but sometimes parameters can help us be more creative in our thinking. The example above about the new grading system is a good example of how working with limits and parameters can actually increase creativity because we have to push ourselves to come up with new ideas given a set of limits. To use this one, there should be a specific goal. For us, it was our desire to maintain a growth mindset among our learners. Once there is a common goal, add the parameters or limits and brainstorm possibilities. For example, we want to do more project-based learning and we only have a fifty-minute daily time slot. We want more flexibility in our schedule but the start and end times must stay the same. There needs to be an expectation that every solution is an option. The problem must be solved and the parameters cannot be changed. In addition, all ideas are worthy no matter how insane or impossible they seem. Everything must be allowed on the table without initial judgment. For this creative thinking to happen, there cannot be any judgment. It may be necessary to delegate someone to be a “but” watcher. This person’s job is to call people out if they begin to judge a possible idea. When you actually choose a solution, you may decide to take some of the options off the table but this strategy is about brainstorming as many possible solutions as one can.
I think this strategy is my all time favorite of any disposition. It works in so many different places and has a high impact. The idea is that if you put two unlikely things together and try to synthesize them, you get ideas that never would have come up otherwise. It allows you to get out of a rut or a certain line of thinking. It’s great for brainstorming new lesson ideas. It’s good for solving problems that seem unsolvable. In a graduate class, I teach on social-emotional learning and math, I ask math teachers to choose an abstract concept like love or nature and combine that with a math skill or concepts like functions or addition in order to come up with learning experiences or lesson ideas. It’s always an amazing surprise what people generate.
Try another perspective
This strategy is great for problem-solving but it works for other situations as well. So many times, we try to solve problems and it seems like there is no good solution. I have sat around the table so many times trying to solve student problems. And so frequently we don’t even ask ourselves what the students would do? We do it in trying to solve teacher problems to and it is so easy to think about the problem from our own vantage point; our own agenda. When we take on a different perspective, we can come up with new and different ideas. This strategy is a little bit harder than it seems, though. In order to do this strategy, we truly need to try and empathize or get in the shoes of those whose perspective we are trying to take on. That means we may have to admit that our lessons are boring or tedious to our students. Or that teachers may not value the same thing as the administrators value at a particular moment.
This strategy can be used to solve a problem for a particular group of people but it can also be used to just come up with new ideas. One of our recent issues has been keeping track of students around the building. We could ask ourselves what would the students do? But we could also ask ourselves, what would parents come up with? What would an elementary school system look like? We could also ask ourselves what concerns parents would need to be addressed? Or we could ask about the concerns of students and come up with ideas based on that perspective. Students would likely want to be trusted and adults would be concerned about safety. Students would probably design a privilege system that allows for freedoms while teachers parents and administrators might lean towards something that focused on the restrictions rather than the freedoms. Administrators are concerned with situations like emergencies which is probably the last thing a teenager is thinking about. All perspectives may have viable options.
These strategies can be used in any number of situations. I frequently use them to design protocols to frame a meeting or to solve problems as they come up. When I’m with a group that seems to be getting nowhere, I may reframe a question or even combine two of these strategies. They can make drudgery seem fun. My mom and I are teaching a class on this very topic. Check that out here.