Superteachers: Part One on Creativity


Superteachers embody five key qualities.  Part One on Creativity covers the first of these five qualities.  You can review Superteachers: An Introduction here.

Creativity in education seems like an oxymoron with the stack of standardized tests, long and boring lectures, and busy work.  Superteachers know that the modern system of education with its emphasis on standardized testing does not work.  Sir Ken Robinson emphasizes creativity in education.  Robinson “is an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity and innovation” (Source).  Watch his assessment of modern education here:


Sir Ken Robinson defines creativity:

“Imagination is not the same as creativity.  Creativity takes the process of imagination to another level.  My definition of creativity is ‘the process of having original ideas that have value.’  Imagination can be entirely internal.  You could be imaginative all day long without anyone noticing.  But you never say that someone was creative if that person never did anything.  To be creative you actually have to do something.  It involves putting your imagination to work to make something new, to come up with new solutions to problems, even to think of new problems or questions.

You can think of creativity as applied imagination” (Source).


I love Robinson’s definition because creativity and imagination are all but gone from the classroom.  Why?  And how can we as superteachers work to infuse creativity in coursework?

A regular teacher lectures, assigns reading from books, distributes homework, and grades students based on a standardized test.  A superteacher knows none of that works.  The opposite of creativity is lecture.  Confucius lived around 500 BC and explained, “I hear and I forget.  I see and I remember.  I do and I understand.”  Superteachers focus on doing so that students can create, apply, and, ultimately, understand.  Superteachers know that lecture doesn’t work.

NPR’s “Physicists Seek To Lose The Lecture As Teaching Tool” explains that listening to someone talk is not an effective way to learn any subject (Source).  The article focuses on Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur.  Mazur is a superteacher.  He also used to lecture.  Mazur realized, however, that a “traditional lecture-based physics course produces little or no change in most students’ fundamental understanding of how the physical world works” (Source).  What does he do now?  Instead of lecture, Mazur superteaches using discussion (he calls it “peer instruction”) and application.  If lecture doesn’t work, superteachers find something that does work to teach students.  How?  They get creative.

Like Eric Mazur, Dr. Tae is an example of a creative superteacher.  Dr. Tae believes students can’t learn by just sitting there, and he wants to build a new culture of teaching and learning.  Since school sucks, superteachers have to transform education into something that actually focuses on learning.  Unlike school, learning does NOT suck.  Watch Dr. Tae’s take on education:


Dr. Tae’s ideas on education resonate with me because he focuses on the university level, and I teach in higher education.  We hold our universities in such high regard but, really, the education most students receive is depersonalized.  College students are not engaged; they’re asleep, emailing, and Facebooking.  There is no lively exchange of ideas.  So how do we get education to be a place where learning occurs?

Pann Baltz says, “Although most people might look for signs of creativity in the appearance of the bulletin boards, student made projects, centers, and displays in a classroom, I feel that the truly creative classroom goes way beyond what can be seen with the eyes.  It is a place where bodies and minds actively pursue new knowledge.  Having a creative classroom means that the teacher takes risks on a daily basis and encourages his/her students to do the same” (Source).  Superteachers are creative.  They don’t do what all the other teachers do.  They don’t want depersonalized education; they want every single student in their class to feel engaged and connected.  Superteachers want students participating.


In “Creativity in Education,” Morris offers a wonderful view of what creativity looks like in the classroom.  When the classroom environment is more creative, students feel comfortable showing their curiosity.  They question and protest information.  Since students feel free to challenge information, they work together to see that information more clearly.  Together, they make connections between ideas.  Those connections allow students to see what is AND what could be; those connections allow students to see and to evaluate the world around them.  The students get to the answers together, and collaboration forces each student to actively participate in learning.  Together, students explore ideas, and they hear many ideas from multiple points of view.  This allows students to be more open-minded to both ideas and results.  Students also have the freedom to constructively criticize not only material but one another to push everyone to a higher state of being – a better state of learning (Source).

In my class, I use many tools to push my students out of “sit back and listen to boring lecture” mode and into “creative thinking” mode.  To get to that higher level of understanding, we use group discussion; group presentations; student-led teaching and discussion; participation and play using many of the suggestions from Garr Reynolds’ The Naked Presenter text; and application.  What tools do you use to enhance creativity in your classroom?  Please share with us in the “Comments” section!

In his TED Talk “On Music and Passion,” Benjamin Zander says that the goal of a musical conductor is to make his audience’s eyes shine.  Shining eyes come from the passion people feel from hearing, witnessing, and feeling beautiful creativity.  He says you can use this tool as a parent: Who are you being that your children don’t have shining eyes?  I think you can use this tool as a teacher: Who are you being that your students don’t have shining eyes? (Source).