Teaching for Creativity: our starting points

Nia Richards from Creativity, Culture and Education shares her hopes for the North East Creativity Collaborative Network

As one of eight lead Creativity Collaboratives schools, Duchess’s Community High School, together with us at Creativity, Culture and Education as their partner, have been busy planning our initial programme of work to support teachers in developing innovative approaches to teaching for creativity. Before the pace inevitably accelerates, it’s been important for us to pause and consider what is motivating the ten schools that have joined the network, their differing starting points and their individual hopes for this pilot.

Broad and Balanced Education

Perhaps unsurprisingly in the current educational context in England, we’ve found that many of the schools have been inspired to collaborate in the network because they are searching for an opportunity to explore more expansive kinds of education. As one school said, “The tight curriculum has meant we have lost a lot of opportunities for teachers to be creative, teach creativity and develop with children what creativity is.”

Some of the schools view the Creativity Collaboratives as a welcome opportunity to realign their ethos and practice with their values regarding the purpose of education. One school in the network describes how “our parents and teachers alike see the primary objectives of their children’s education as being to maximise their capacity for independence and to give meaning to their lives, and they see the development of creative attributes such as curiosity, imagination and risk-taking as being critical to the long-term wellbeing of the children”.

For others, the pandemic has been one of the motivators for participating in the network, aware of the connection between creativity and wellbeing and recognising the relationship between a broad and balanced education, creative habits of mind and self-efficacy, or confidence in being able to achieve a positive outcome. For example, one of the schools in the network view the Creativity Collaboratives pilot as an opportunity for learners to regain faith in their abilities that may have decreased over the past two years due to the impact of the pandemic. They suggest that exploring creative pedagogies will allow learners more space to experiment, ask questions and develop their critical thinking which will in turn, develop their confidence and aspirations.

Creative Educators

In addition to the positivity and ambition for igniting creativity, there is also a deep pragmatism amongst the schools who are acutely aware that creativity in the classroom can only be nurtured when teachers become active role-models. This chimes with a recent report from UNESCO which says “teachers who are not enthusiastic readers cannot promote reading among students. Similarly, it is impossible to effectively teach science without curiosity and interest in science. Students learn as much from teachers’ lived example as they do from their words.”

There is already some recognition amongst schools that teaching for creativity requires making intentional choices around the curriculum, lesson design and learning activities and most schools have already understood that this applies to subjects beyond the arts, as one school said, “we recognise that creativity can and should be found in all areas of learning.”

Alongside valuing their own creativity and making it visible and intentional, lead Creativity Collaborative schools are also looking to support each other in developing and trialling resources and assessment tools, as one of our secondary schools acknowledged the importance of ensuring the work is “focussed and impactful”. Ruth Brown, Head of Creative Arts Faculty at Duchess’s Community High School, and lead for the network, has been on the journey of embedding creative pedagogy for 8 years but recognises that “we have more to do in terms of building a culture across the school, where creativity is valued in all subjects and disciplines.” Being part of the collaborative will give them an opportunity to trial new ways of working in subjects such as Maths, supported by wider questioning and understanding of creativity within their professional learning community.

Creating a Professional Learning Community

At this stage there are different levels of confidence and understanding around teaching for creativity but being part of the Creativity Collaboratives pilot means that we have the capacity to tackle the three main barriers to teaching for creativity:

  • Time
  • Professional learning
  • Teacher autonomy

Our schools are looking forward to having the space to engage in dialogue, reflect, share and explore the theory and practice on what teaching for creativity means and looks like. We are mindful that we need to balance the passion and eagerness for change with firm foundations, which is why we’ll be sharing learnings both within the Collaborative network and the wider sector to allow for open and honest conversations, where teachers and leaders feel they can take risks and challenge themselves and each other. As one of our schools said, this network’s ambition is to initiate a process of change in each individual school by having the courage to influence “hearts and minds”.

There will inevitably be some challenging terrain along the way, but we look forward to sharing our journey with you over the next three years.

Nia Richards is Development Manager for Creativity, Culture and Education a key partner with the North East Creativity Collaborative. Creativity, Culture and Education is an international foundation working with schools, communities, agencies, governments and NGO partners at local, regional and national levels across the world.

Duchess’ Community High School in Alnwick, Northumberland is an 11-18 school serving a catchment the size of Greater London, with 16 feeder primary schools. The area surrounding the school is some of the most deprived in the county.

Further reading

Beghetto, R. (2021). Creative Learning in Education. In Kern, M, L. and Wehmeyer, M,L. (Eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Positive Education. Palgrave Macmillan

International Commission on the Futures of Education (2021). Reimagining our futures together: a new social contract for education. Paris: UNESCO.

Kools, M. and Stoll, L. (2016). What makes a school a learning organisation? OECD Working Paper, No. 137. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Lucas, B., Spencer, E. and Stoll, L. (2021) Creative leadership to develop creativity and creative thinking in English schools: A review of the evidence. London: Mercers’ Company.

Photo credit: The LPA / Xavier Fiddes / Hillyfield Primary Academy

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