Everyone has at least one story where they have witnessed the silencing of creativity.
It might be a story where a teacher or a district policy confused joy with disruption. It might be a story where a child whose inner fire was lit by music and movement was forced to sit in a desk quietly to abide by curriculum standards and antiquated rules. It might be a story where a student who loves computer programming is told they cannot develop a new game that highlights their content knowledge as an alternative to an assignment. The ending is usually the same. The light for that person goes out. Sometimes the light goes out for a small period of time, sometimes the light is extinguished forever.
New teachers vow to do things differently. They declare that their classroom will be shining beacons of creativity, joy, and engagement. And then something happens. They step into the system and the system forces them to change too. The light goes out and the cycle is perpetuated.
But for all those teachers where the light goes out, there are a few who remain symbols of hope. These are the teachers who despite their circumstances in a broken system, somehow remain to connect with students on a human level, and draw out what is best in their students. These are the teachers who encourage students to pursue their interests and seem to intuitively know different creative strategies to unlock learning in different types of children. These are the teachers students remember 40 years later, when being asked in an interview, “Who influenced you?” The question becomes, what makes these teacher different? How do they remain steadfast and unshaken while the education system around them seems to spin in insanity?
The difference is empowerment.
Empowerment is one of those words that gets thrown around quite often. So what then, does it mean to be empowered and how does that relate to creativity and change?
First off, empowerment cannot be bestowed upon someone. Although leadership and environment can create conditions for empowerment, true empowerment must come from within. Being empowered means creating feelings of autonomy, confidence, meaningfulness, and impact. Too often teachers have these feelings stripped away from them. New ideas are met with jealousy and criticism. Parents question strategies and tactics that are unfamiliar to them. Policy and curriculum constrict creative strategies. It is death by a thousand cuts.
While the call for creativity in schools resonates clear and true, the implementation of creativity in schools requires relentless courage and empowerment. There will be questions. There will be skepticism. There may even be some laughter or jealousy. Creativity is not measurable by a single test score. In a culture that is fixated upon data, attempting to cultivate creativity is an uphill battle that only the bravest are willing to take on.
Luckily, there is a tribe of seasoned creative teacher warriors who have blazed the trail and are waiting in the wings. What these creative teacher warriors know is that exploratory learning, creative problem solving, and connecting to students as unique human beings unlocks gifts that ultimately lead to better test scores, innovative thinking, and yes, creativity. It takes some guts to fly that creativity flag when the world nods in agreement but turns its back when policy and administration say, “Yes, but not now. We have more important things to focus on.”
But those willing to do the work to put creativity back in schools know that the results are worth it. Empowerment is the first step to unlocking and cultivating creativity.
So how does a teacher get empowered to be creative in an environment that doesn’t encourage things like failure, autonomy, and messiness? Quite simple. One chooses to take it. Choosing empowerment and reconnecting with the fire that burns within provides scaffolding for more creative acts. Empowerment makes way for awareness and awareness makes way for daily practice. As Henri Matisse once said, “Creativity takes courage.” That courage comes from an empowerment. It means integrating the work from the head and the heart and the hands.
It’s time to get empowered. It’s time to be the change. Your tribe is waiting for you.
Creative Teaching Starts With Empowerment