A teacher’s heartfelt call for more creativity in the classroom I’m Connor Williams, a year 5 teacher at the Welsh Croesyceiliog Primary School. I believe that creativity and imagination are superpowers that we need to encourage. In my children’s future, traditional jobs will be lost to automation and artificial intelligence meaning today’s pupils will need to be confident in their ability to imagine, innovate, create and problem solve. For these reasons, I am addressing the dearth in creative and enterprising education in my classroom. Now, let me tell you how I do so.
At present, we have Welsh learners and their educations in the midst of a curriculum that is no longer fit for purpose and as a teacher, it excites me that change is on the horizon. A new curriculum presents a great deal of potential, albeit alongside a great deal of uncertainty. Nevertheless, if the status quo is not challenged then how can we expect learning to progress? Since studying creative and enterprising education as part of my initial teacher education (ITE) at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, I have developed a passion for teaching the skills that tend to be cast aside, considered not important, due to testing pressures and a social expectation to excel in literacy and numeracy. However, creating such an environment where these skills can be practised, and flourish is by no means an easy task. Initially, implementing creative and enterprising education into my classroom meant sacrificing learning elsewhere in the curriculum in order to experiment and introduce skills and concepts that are not measured or tested in the short term, but may pay dividends in the long term. That is, pay dividends in my children’s future and society.
“ I have developed a passion for teaching the skills that tend to be cast aside, considered not important, due to testing pressures and a social expectation to excel in literacy and numeracy.”
In my opinion, children are the best learners when they are fortunate to learn through approaches that are in line with their motivations and capabilities. Therefore, knowledge dictated by the current curriculum restricts opportunities to teach the skills that society demands; skills that are regarded in the creative education domain as a more suited skill set for the future. It makes sense, creativity has occupied the human brain for many, many years and education should serve to stir and encourage that creativity. In this ideal situation, learning would be creative and in turn, learning would be created and not replicated or reproduced. Although, in order for education in Wales to transition to a mindset that advocates the ideas shared, then the teacher must be prepared to create the environment and facilitate the opportunities in order to do so. Then, children will be equipped with the traits, skills and experience to find innovative solutions that threaten the future of society.
I recall driving home from school one evening wondering how I would incorporate creative and enterprising education and opportunities, meaningfully, into the learning agenda in my classroom. The result, creativity Tuesday. That is, every Tuesday I would dedicate the afternoon to developing a creative or enterprising skill with the children. I did not wish for creative and enterprising education to be portrayed to the children as only occurring on a Tuesday. Instead, it was my hope that the time allocated would present opportunities for me to facilitate the development of skills that can be transferred to other learning encounters, in a constructivist or social learning approach.
Creativity Tuesday in my classroom is only an afternoon, but it is a start. The learning and experiences shared at this time may be the basis of a future change influenced or led by one of my learners when society demands require a divergent thinker, motivated and enthused by challenge in place of a narrow mind, restricted by ambiguity. I am aware of where I want my children and their learning to be and I am determined to get them there. It is a stepping stone to address the renovations of current society and the future. The overarching motive for taking this risk is one that is highly justifiable. See, there is a trend in education whereby teachers become burdened by expectations stating what and how they must do things but what remains unidentified, is a reason why. This mindset needs a significant shift if Welsh learners are to be ambitious and capable learners, who enjoy challenge.
On the first Tuesday, I presented the children with an opportunity to be creative and innovate with a spoon and a ball of clay. The children’s challenge was to experiment with the both objects and combine them to create as many uses as possible that serve a purpose. However, it was fascinating to see the children engage with this task – they were challenged. I am aware, from personal academic research, that key to creativity is imagination which is an element of Osborn’s (1953) seven-step model for creative thinking. That is, it is important for the children to imagine how the future could look. This is key in the short term for success in a small activity similar to the one being discussed, but can you imagine how important and necessary this ability to imagine would be in the future. And that’s exactly what we did.
Initially, what challenged the children was seeing beyond the original purpose of a spoon and a ball of clay. The children’s ability to envision a new use in place of an object's original purpose was not easy for them at first (this is a phenomenon known as functional fixedness). Very few children combined the spoon and clay to create something to serve a purpose. A number of factors may have influenced this, the absence of a specific brief or goal and the signalling that something created with the spoon and clay may be used to fix a problem. Yes, it was an abstract task, but a good task to identify where the children were with respect to this discipline of learning. On this occasion, I initially modelled my own divergent thinking and role modelled what I could create when I combined a ball of clay and spoon. For example, a mobile phone stand, a pen top holder and a whiteboard eraser holder. These were my creations because I use a whiteboard frequently, own a mobile phone and use pens with lids. On the other hand, my children’s ideas were rubber holders, pencil holders and pencil sharpener holders. Very few ideas addressed an issue or catered for a use that didn't concern the individual. What I have therefore learned is that context aids the content: a story or a brief should accompany creative and enterprising learning encounters initially, in order to guide the children.
Reflecting on this experience, I am aware that developing these skills will be a challenge. Yet, it is a challenge that thrills me as I know that my learners have the motivations and foundations upon which magical learning can arise. It is my hope that from these experiences, the children develop flexibility of thinking, autonomous learning, motivation to engage in learning and a desire to pursue challenges. Then, the children will build confidence to transfer these skills across other learning opportunities and experiences which they encounter. However, most importantly, developing these skills and experiencing these opportunities should excite the children for their futures in a way that the current curriculum never could or did.
“In my classroom, failure is not embarrassing or demoralising but serves as a motivator to re-engage, adapt and overcome the challenge presented. When children are learning in this manner and feel this way, they realise there is no glass ceiling and they are the creators of their own success.”
As a teacher, I am excited to continue creative and enterprising education in my classroom. For some reason, unbeknown to me at this moment in time, activities that promote creativity and the skills mentioned excite the children to a level that is unique. The creative and enterprising activities conducted thus far do not discriminate the children by ability or background, every task can be accessed by all and they are found to be exciting. In this domain, failure is not embarrassing or demoralising but serves as a motivator to re-engage, adapt and overcome the challenge presented. When children are learning in this manner and feel this way, they realise there is no glass ceiling and they are the creators of their own success.
Year 5 teacher
Croesyceiliog Primary School