Critical thinking about supporting creativity

Mar 09, 13 Critical thinking about supporting creativity

There seems to be a shift in education conversations – from a focus on literacy and numeracy to innovation and creativity.  This dialogue is not only in Ontario, but across many borders.  It has certainly peaked my curiosity.

I have been reviewing two Ontario education reports with much interest:

Great to Excellent: Launching the Next Stage of Ontario’s Education Agenda. (Prof. Michael Fullan, Special Advisor to the Premier of Ontario)

Fullan Report

A Vision for Learning and Teaching in a Digital Age (Ontario Public School Boards’ Association)

OPSBA report

Both are well worth a read and provide great food for thought regarding education strategies that include technology integration and supporting learning with new digital resources.

In Fullan’s report, the six C’s form the agenda:  Character, citizenship, communication, critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration and teamwork, and creativity and imagination.

In the OPSBA’s report, their vision “seeks to define the skills we want students to have by the time they finish school beyond the essential foundation of literacy and numeracy and core academic competencies” (p.7).  In this report, skills for the digital age are also a set of C’s:  Creativity and innovation, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.

Both reports make good recommendations for directions in education, and what to build on.  But as we talk about these C words, I wonder if they are all being understood in a consistent way.  In a recent post on my own blog, I did some thinking out loud about creativity and innovation and where technology fits with the creative process.   I got some good feedback and comments.

In Fullan’s paper, brief preliminary descriptions of the six C’s were provided.  The bullet for creativity and imagination states, “Economic and social entrepreneurialism, considering and pursuing novel ideas, and leadership in action.” (p.9). When asked during a live interview what he felt represented the most significant break with the past, he stated creativity and imagination as being the most important.

In OPSBA’s report, creativity and innovation skills were described as follows:

“Think creatively, generating new and worthwhile ideas, exploring innovative formats and media; elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate one’s own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts; work creatively with others, communicating new ideas effectively and being responsive to diverse perspectives; demonstrate originality and inventiveness in work and understand the real world limits to adopting new ideas; view failure as an opportunity to learn; understand that creativity and innovation is a long-term, cyclical process of small successes and frequent mistakes; act on creative ideas to make a tangible and useful contribution to the field in which the innovation will occur.  Creativity and innovation are particularly important in a world of rapid change.” (p.7)

A lot of these C words, as well as “innovation”, are used together and interchangeably and I suspect that the processes and actions of each could occur simultaneously and overlap.  In Fullan’s report it is acknowledged that, “This paper has not provided details on how to get to the next level of excellence”.  He refers to the launching of Ontario to the next phase as already leading from strength, “but if anything it will require deeper partnership between government and education and other sectors in order to realize the aspirations and qualities embedded in the six C’s”. (p. 11).

What should be the focus ahead – the how?  Deeper partnerships? Technology? If creativity is essential, what conditions are necessary to support this? Do we understand what we planning to support and why?  Are we justifying one thing with another?

I often hear that failure is important to the process of creativity, but this post of Josh Stumpenhorst’s highlighting failure as important for growth had me thinking in relation to all this.  He also discusses the role of creativity and curiosity in learning.

In my previous post about creativity, I added a video of a talk by John Cleese about creativity.  He refers to creativity as a way of operating and goes on to speak more about the conditions that allow one to be more creative.  He refers to the importance of the “open mode” to allow for creativity.  Conditions that allow for an open mode are:  Quiet, playful spaces; lots of time and specific times allotted to time to play; confidence in whom you “play” with if it does involve others; and humour.  He felt humour was quicker that anything in helping move from a closed to open mode.

John Spencer (@johntspencer) has written a number of good blog posts that examine creativity. In a recent one he asks,

“What if the solution for creativity isn’t to teach creativity, but to allow it? What if creativity happens when students make something meaningful, find joy in learning, fall in love with a concept, have the permission to take risks and learn to push past obstacles?”

In this post called, Creativity: The Premier Skill of the 21st Century, the author makes a distinction about creativity and innovation in this way, “Creativity is the ideation of a thought, while innovation is the realization of the idea.”  This blog is hosted by a national organization, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, which makes a call for creativity and innovation as one of the essential skill sets of future citizens, “And, while we do not traditionally have a Creativity Room in our schools, we have a mandate to instill the skills of creative thinking to foster a never-ending stream of innovations.”

But is this the goal – in that creativity leads to innovations?  Can allowing for students to be creative be a goal in itself?

It is often said that creativity can’t be defined, but I think we can create the conditions to allow for it.  How do schools, teaching, and education have to change to support the conditions for it? Do we have to measure it?

(This post is also on my own blog, if you would like to check on comments there as well.)

About Sheila Stewart

I am a parent of 2 teenagers who continue to teach me a lot. I have taught and tutored all ages - as young as 4 and adults of all ages. My more recent focus is helping adult newcomers with English language learning – supply teacher and tutor. I am also involved in supporting parent participation in education through various local and provincial networks and organizations. I have been involved in Ontario education for many years in different ways (educator, volunteer, researcher, parent, advocate), and now I am enjoying what I learn about education in other provinces through social media and conferences, etc.! Great to connect more on this collaborative blog site!


  1. I agree that supporting creativity is, and should be, a focus in our field. I also believe that building creativity is inherently connected to building perspective – which leads to empathy and a deeper sense of humanity.
    As a secondary school drama teacher, I’m perhaps biased as to the importance of creativity in the classroom, as my subject lends itself to it in every way.

    But watching students step out of their own shoes and into the the mindsets of others has great value, and I can’t help but think that teaching them to think and make creative choices in this framework will also help them in other problem-solving situations, be it as a future engineer or politician.

    Anyhow, check out the site I use to enhance my kids’ creative learning:

    • Laura, you’ve reminded me that we have the tools within our existing curriculum structure that allow us to nurture creativity in ways that are meaningful and very powerful. It’s interesting, and more than a little unfortunate, that these are often sidelined in favour of things that appear to be more important, relevant and rigorous.

      As creativity continues to find its way onto the list of essential 21st learning skills, perhaps we’ll begin to realize just how important the Arts are in the life of our schools!

  2. Sheila Stewart /

    What a great point, Laura, regarding the role of creativity in the building of perspective… leading to empathy and a deeper sense of humanity.
    Thanks for adding your thoughts and sharing the link to your site – looks like some great stuff to explore!

  3. Hi Sheila,

    I think that more discussion needs to take place around each of the elements proposed by people like Fullan. Imagination and creativity are so important, but we may have lost some insitutional capital (and currency) around each as our systems have moved to a more rational, scientific approach to teaching and learning. I think that this has taken its toll on both teacher and student.

    Your post got me thinking once again the work of Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon. In “Imagination First” they connect three words that tend to get used in loose and undefined ways but, in their minds, form an important trajectory. Imagination can’t be seen—it lives in the mind of the imaginer. Creativity is imagination made visible. Innovation is reserved for those instances when creativity pushes the form.

    I find this relationship helpful, not only for my own thinking, but for thinking about the important conversations that need to take place in schools.

    Thanks for your post. An important piece at an important time!

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