The Creative Teacher

Based on the workshop, Creative Resources
by Bonnie Tsai

A creative person is curious, experimental, adventurous, playful, and intuitive.  In our society, we tend to view certain kinds of people, like artists, scientists, and inventors as being creative.  But what about teachers?  We’re all born with creativity, and if you believe you are a creative person you will find ways of using this creativity in your teaching.  All it takes is an inquisitive mind, a willingness to take risks, and the drive to make things work-three qualities that are available to anyone.

Take a few moments to think about a time when you reached a goal or accomplished something when the situation seemed hopeless.  You were stumped, or trapped, or caught in a bind you’d never been in before.  But you found a way.  That’s creativity.

Maybe you even had the experience of inventing something or coming up with an idea only to find it already exists in a store or in a book.  This just means that some clever person just took your idea a few steps further.

Thinking creatively almost always comes out of what you already know or from knowledge borrowed from other people.  Take for example teacher’s resource books.

Very often we read about an idea and we think, “Oh I’ve been doing that for years” or we think, “Oh, I know what I can do.  I can change this and that and it will be perfect for my group.”

Recognise that all your novel little solutions are the result of real creativity, and give yourself a little pat on the back.  You’ll start to feel more confident in your ability to explore and come up with ways and means, which will make your teaching more satisfying to yourself and your students.

Here are some ways you can become a more creative teacher.

First of all, remember your past successes, both small and large.  These are valuable resources, because if you did it once you can do it again.  Remind yourself of that when you’re looking for a new way to do something.

Remember that failure leads to success.  Many great inventors and scientists lived through countless failures before becoming successful.  So be willing to take the risk of being wrong in order to arrive at getting it right.

You can train yourself and your students to be creative through playing mental games.  Your brain like other parts of your body needs to be kept in good condition.  Here are some techniques you can use.

*Think of new uses for old things

*Invent metaphors to describe something to someone.

*Listen to Baroque Music.  These composers used very specific beats and patterns that automatically synchronise our minds and bodies.  It thus allows you to work in a state of harmony conducive to creative thinking.

*Do crossword puzzles and other word games

*Look at scenes from everyday life and make up stories that could have led to them.  The newspaper or just personal observation will provide you with a rich source of material.

*Don’t forget to listen to your right brain speaking.  Many times dreams and fantasies are products of your subconscious mind working on solutions to a problem.  Listen to them even if they seem farfetched, because wild dreams to lead to innovative solutions.  This is the basis of all good brainstorming.

*Play!  Let the inner child come out and provide fresh insight.

Two techniques, which are useful to creative teaching, are Outcome Thinking and Paradigm Shifts.

Outcome Thinking is positive as opposed to problem solving which can often be negative.  Outcome thinking concentrates on finding solutions and therefore you align yourself with success.

Here is a little activity you can do with Outcome Thinking.  Think about a present situation in your teaching, which you don’t like and would like to change.  Write it down on the left side of a piece of paper.  Go to the opposite side and write down how you would like the situation to be.  This would be your desired outcome  In the middle do a little personal brainstorming of all the possible ways you could accomplish this change.

Doing an activity like this can be fun and can be a real aid in decision-making.  Sometimes you may even find out that you don’t want a change.

A Paradigm Shift is about learning to think differently.  A paradigm is a set of rules we use for evaluating new information.  Everyone’s paradigms are based on what their life experience has been.  Paradigms are useful, but they are also limiting.  They are outside your frame of reference so therefore you don’t always acknowledge the existence of having other ways of doing something.  This can come out in teaching with statements like, “My class is too large to do that kind of activity.”  That is because there is a paradigm or rule about what you can do successfully with large groups.  But if you ask the questions, “how can I do more

learner-centered activities with large groups?”  another idea of working with large groups may occur to you.  Perhaps you will re-think your classroom management or ways of organising the classroom or even your role as a teacher.  This will open up the doors to all sorts of possibilities.  The next time you’re face with a challenging situation, look at it from different angles and redefine the problem if necessary by asking the question, “What would happen if I used a more learner-centered approach

With my large group of students?”

Another important way of becoming a creative teacher is the use of art.  Art assists in a natural way.  Looking at art and talking about art invites and encourages learners to use their imagination in astounding ways, because art encourages thoughtful attention to discover what it has to show and tell.  Also art connects to social and personal dimensions of life in powerful affective ways.  Students of all ages respond to this aspect of art, because it speaks to their intermost beliefs and values.  If you want a bit of real magic in your classroom chose a picture, which tells a story like Bruegel’s The Letter.  Ask the group to Brainstorm all the questions they are curious to have the answers to.  Examples of questions might be, is the young girl in the picture sending or receiving a letter?  What sounds can you imagine in the room? Or even more technical questions like, where is the light coming from?

The questions never stop, because the more one looks at the picture, the deeper and deeper one goes to the “story” being told in the picture.

Students next chose one or two questions to answer always being ready to support their answer with some evidence found in the picture.  The discussion goes on and on and interest never flags.

Here are some important features of art, which make it a strong creative learning context:

*It provides sensory anchoring.  It stimulates and moves learners to want to speak.

*It has instant access.  Any point of discussion can be instantly checked through asking questions like, “What do you see in the picture which supports what you are saying” or simply by asking the group to look closer.

*Art is made to draw and hold attention.  This means that you can encourage a prolonged reflection.

*Although we tend to think of art as visual, looking at art recruits many kinds of cognition-visual processing, analytical thinking, posing questions, testing hypotheses, verbal reasoning and many more.

Finally, thinking of a lot of different ways to do the same thing is an important ingredient to creativity.  Take Mozart as your inspiration. He found 12 variations of on Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.  How many different ways can you find to go your favourite classroom techniques?

Lots of acknowledgements to N.L.P. and my trainers and friends who have given and shared their understanding.  Pilgrims in Canterbury runs a teacher training course several times a year called The Creative Teacher.

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TEACHING THROUGH THE ARTS

People learn in proportion to how fully they use their senses.  You learn through your senses-by seeing things, hearing them, and feeling things, you even learn by smelling and tasting.  One of the most useful ways to engage the senses and teach learners how to think is through the arts.

First of all art requires thinking.  Art must be thought through.  Secondly, thoughtful looking at art has instrumental value.  It provides an excellent setting for the development of better thinking.  We can learn to use our minds better through looking at art.  Art assists us in a natural way.  Looking at art invites, rewards and encourages a thoughtful tendency, enthusiasm, and commitment.  This is because works of art connect to the personal and social dimensions of life with strong affective overtones.  So, better than most other situations, looking at art can build some very basic thinking dispositions.

Below are some reasons why art is especially supportive:

*Sensory anchoring.  It’s helpful to have a physical object to focus on as you think and talk and learn.  This comes naturally with art.

*Instant access.  The presence of the work of art in the original or in reproduction, permits checking any point or argument or seeking new ideas by looking closer and yet still closer and closer.

*Personal engagement.  Works of art are made to draw and hold attention.  This helps to sustain prolonged reflection around them.

*Dispositional atmosphere.  The aim here is to cultivate thinking dispositions -broad attitudes, tendencies, and habits of thinking.

*Wide-spectrum cognition.  Although we tend to think of art as primarily a visual phenomenon, looking at art thoughtfully recruits many kinds and styles of cognition, visual processing, analytical thinking, posing questions, testing hypotheses, verbal reasoning and more.

*Multi -connectedness.   Art typically allows and encourages rich connection making with social themes, features or formal structure, personal anxieties and insights.  This belief list reveals something of why art is so special and all of these are skills vitally needed in the world today.  It is not often the case that we can learn so much in the presence of something as compelling as art.  Art is an opportunity.  Let’s not miss it.

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