Using Creativity to Advance Excellence in Education

In recent history, the arts have been an underrepresented topic in schools across the country. Due to the constant threat of being cut from a school’s budget and the laying off of elective teachers in times of major financial constraint, arts education is now more critical than ever before. But arts, creativity, and other forms of expression are also important beyond the classroom. Carrie Lobman, GSE professor and arts education advocate, says, “There is a lot more opportunity to embrace and enjoy the arts outside of just the classroom. So much of our schools are set up with tasks and interventions in order to score higher on the math tests or writing, for example. So the arts are often subsumed under that. But students engaging in after-school programs, community-based organizations, or even colleges and universities can value the arts for themselves.”

It is also important to incorporate the arts into different facets of life according to Saundra Tomlinson-Clarke, GSE professor and chair of the Educational Psychology department. She states, “Arts integration is an approach to teaching and learning that creates an innovative and creative space enabling people to expand their thinking by making connections between subjects and helping them to become more engaged in their work.”

There are many benefits to arts and creativity integration into one’s life. “We are a creative species. So having the opportunity to be creative is both a human need and a human right,” stated Lobman. Tomlinson-Clarke adds, “When discussing creativity and innovation, you can adapt that for the workplace and encourage workers to explore new strategies and methods to solve problems. But that has to be cultivated through the organization’s culture.”

“There’s a lot of research that shows that if you look at the skills we need to be successful and happy in life, they map out more to the arts than many of the subjects that are taught in school. When you do theatre, you learn how to work in a group. When you do visual arts, you learn how to work with totality— like you are doing a painting and you look and see the painting and make changes here or there and it’s much more non-linear and creative. I think we need the opportunity to do those things so people can benefit from holistic development. It is important to prepare teachers to bring performance and creativity into the arts not just as a special, but completely integrated into everything they do in the classroom. Play is not a luxury, it is a necessity,” said Lobman.

Emily Wolf, doctoral student in the Learning, Cognition, Instruction, & Development program says, “Creativity can be a mechanism used to bridge differences between groups – teachers, students, and others – and when teachers work towards cultural responsiveness, they might consider how they can enact that through creativity.” She elaborates, “In some of the courses taught here at the GSE, they use inquiry-based learning to ask pre-service teachers how they can foster inquiry-based learning in the classroom, which can incorporate arts and creativity. So professors model a strategy pre-service teachers may utilize to enact one of the learning and teaching methods that supports creativity.”

“There is a great improv game called ‘I failed’. And the way it works is by setting up a game that is very challenging, like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. As soon as somebody makes a mistake, what they are told to stop, throw their hands up in the air, and say ‘I failed!’. And then the entire room has to burst into wild applause. I don’t teach any class anymore without playing this game. It delivers the message that I want us to celebrate mistakes and not in some off-hand way, but really crazily celebrate that,” states Lobman. “We can teach young people pedagogy. We can teach those teachers how to teach math, how to teach reading, the science of that if you will. But if you don’t know how to create an environment in the classroom where students feel like they can make mistakes, where students feel like they can support each other, then you cannot be an effective teacher.”

Tomlinson-Clarke states that “Creativity is an essential part of effective teaching and learning within a social justice framework. There are many ways to be creative, but how can you do that in a culturally responsive environment, showing students that their input is valuable? That is what our current research seeks to answer.” Wolf elaborates, “In our new project, one of the things we are thinking about is the definition of creativity as applied to the classroom through a social justice lens. One of the tenets of creativity is that it must be useful in context. So if creativity in the classroom is contextualized, then we have to take into account our students’ cultures, experiences, and perspectives. A socially just teacher teaches students as they are and then works with them to be agents of change in the classroom and beyond.”