How to get creativity, innovation and engagement in education

Why creative thinking is important

We live in a time of rapidly changing circumstances. “There is one thing humans can do which computers cannot emulate and that is to think and act creatively". Creative skills can help children to meet and overcome future challenges and it can help them protect and develop their future livelihoods. “It is estimated that 75% of the scientific knowledge that we will need in forty years time is still not invented” (Barnes 1997).

The ability to think creatively and act innovatively are core skills in preparing young people for the 21st Century. Creative thinking is a skill that can be learnt and developed. There are specific tools we can all learn to become better creative thinkers.

 

 

A ground-breaking, successful initiative that focused on training educators

The Synectics Education Initiative (SEI), piloted a program in which they were successful in transferring a creative training programme developed in the business sector into an educational context.

The aim was to guide educators to develop their skills as coaches, empowering pupils to take ownership of their own learning and to feel safe enough to do that.

The fundamental benefit of the training was cultivating a culture of trust, openness and acceptance of everyone's ideas and contributions in the classroom to encourage both greater creativity and more creative facilitating.

Participating educators recognised that for creative interactions to take place in the classroom, establishing a culture of trust, free from anxiety and tension (in which pupils feel ‘safe’ enough to take intellectual risks and able to participate and share their ideas openly for scrutiny and discussion) is essential. Certain interactional techniques*** were highlighted as being key in establishing such a climate of trust.

 

 

Teachers realised that the way they talk, act and structure their activities convey powerful messages regarding how learning is done in this context. After the training, a Teacher responded “I am now asking them to articulate the process in their thinking”. Pupils need to be enabled to become reflexive learners, learning “how to learn” through coming to understand the process through which they participate in the classroom, how they construct knowledge and understanding.

This program highlighted the crucial role educators play in inducting children into ways of exploring, talking about, and playing with ideas. Participants recognised the need to ‘let go and hand over control’ to students from time to time. The driving principle behind the coaching is facilitating the other to come up with ideas for addressing their problem themselves.

 

Teacher’s found that by encouraging students to make their own connections, it deepened the level of their understanding and improved their ability to think for themselves.

The role of the teacher needs to shift from a transmitter of knowledge to a facilitator.

 

 

After the training, teachers reported back the changes in their approach and the changes in their classroom: 

  • It became apparent: “children need to feel comfortable in their environment, need to feel valued, not be afraid of being wrong. They need to feel that what they say is meaningful, not to feel anxious. This anxiety overtime results in children being de-skilled at connection making, an essential building block of learning….. I now try to work to create this ethos, never discounting a child’s ideas (and encourage the children not to do so either), I say “all ideas are good ideas”. Resident artists etc have been amazed by the questions asked and the responses the children were developing. They were making connections and could explain how they had made these connections. They were taking responsibility for and making sense of their learning.”

 

  • “Observing my children engrossed in these problem-solving activities gave me strong insight into their preferred learning styles and personality traits. They began to recognise how to be effective collaborative learners. Learning to operate as part of a group responsible for and contributing to each other’s learning.”

 

  • “We now have a ‘We can all speak here climate’”.

 

  • When students were given more freedom it led to better behaviour. “Children have very little anxiety when they understand that their ideas are valued—this led to a better behaved class”.

 

  • “I am now able to facilitate learning whereas I used to be a teacher. I give children more opportunity to solve problems creatively – encourage them to find a variety of solutions. Lessons become more self-run by children as they are planning their own learning”.

 

  • “Pupils are picking up the techniques quickly and have been overheard using the creative problem solving process and Synectics terminology among themselves. The atmosphere in the classroom is becoming more collaborative and conducive to learning.”

 

Outcome

“Pupils thought that positive relationships and mutual respect helped create a climate that was conductive of learning”

Teachers were more open to pupils own suggestions, giving them more responsibility and space, not discouraging them, asking for ideas, allowing pupils to solve problems and not taking over or interfering with the work of pupils.

The training improved communications and taught “thinking and problem solving tools”, which shifted the teachers towards being more considerate and inclusive with their pupils and colleagues. These tools also improved personal relationships and interactions with colleagues and students.

“Synectics is not just a bunch of techniques, it’s more a way of life, or at least a way of relating to other people”.

 

Long-term outcome

The Open University tracked the impact over one year and concluded that the application of creative teaching techniques increased over time as teachers and students became more comfortable using them. Over the next 6 years, EXCITE grew to have 60 accredited Train-the-Trainers, delivering training to 100 schools per year (some on extended projects). What they found was that they needed a “whole-school” approach in which all staff were trained, as well as less time constraints for the teachers to use this approach.

 

What now?

In 2019, Alithia Learning will pilot the first Learning Facility that uses many of these successful interaction tools and this approach to learning as the core foundation of an entirely new environment for education. When we begin with this perspective, we remove the obstacles and time-constraints that were in place when EXCITE was working within an established culture which focused on a curriculam-based approach.

 

 The training, known by its acronym “EXCITE*”, offered teachers practical ways to address the “HOW” of bringing creativity alive in classrooms and changing the culture within a learning environment. Above are excerpts from the EXCITE! report written by the SEI team**, with feedback from the participants and an Independent Evaluation written by the Open University.

*Excellence, Creativity, and Innovation in Teaching and Education

**SEI team: Mathilda Joubert, Vincent Nolan & Sarah Douglas

***Interactional Techniques such as “always assume positive intent”, fostering positive attitude towards “differences of perspective”, and changing the way people respond to errors and mistakes

 

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