The need for creativity in our schools – time to be centre stage again

Real creativity
 – the missing element in education
Readings 24th June 1980

We are coming to the thought that we are speaking to a minority in our efforts to encourage an education system that places creativity and the creative arts central  to teaching and learning.

Confirmed by views seen recently on TV

The views of classrooms on show (with a couple of exceptions) through the teachers’ strike

indicated to us a system featuring an emphasis on literacy and numeracy with work on display more to do with teachers than celebrating student creativity.

 As well, postings on the Teachers’ Facebook page seem to illustrate creativity more as decoration often clone like in appearance.  And the issue of workload seems to relate to an obsession with testing, assessment and associated documentation once again focused around literacy and numeracy – areas that seem to take up most of the morning leaving little time for equally important Learning Areas. And to make it worse associated with demeaning ability grouping.

Let’s leave current formulaic teaching models.

Formulaic teaching

Formulaic teaching seems entrenched. WALTs, learning intentions, success criteria, the over use of feedback, the growing emphasis on phonics indicates a teacher orientated approach to learning, one in which creativity is at risk.

Where is the emphasis on developing the gifts and talents of students?

We do recognize areas that value student creativity such as: play based learning (with its similarity to 1950/60s developmental teaching); the concept of student agency; place based learning; Project Based Learning; and personalized learning (which, however, has been captured by ‘thin’ or fragile’ learning via Google) and the potential of Flexible Learning Environments.

Where has the creativity gone?

Professor Peter O’Connor (Faculty of Education Auckland University) has written “Schools as we know them were originally designed at the same time as mass industrialization began. Not

Prof Peter O’Conner

surprisingly factories and schools centre around the testing and standardization of the products they make and value conformity and uniformity.

The need to take risks

Creativity in these environments shrivels because its fundamental includes a willingness to take risks, to be curious, to be playful with ideas and to consider possibilities to make something not seen or imagined before. This approach has never been a feature of New Zealand schools except in isolated instances and for a brief period in the 1950s, when progressive education philosophies were introduced.

Art and well being

The vitality of schools at the time was based on the twin ideas that the arts train the imagination, and the social imagination is vital for social progress, social justice and national wellbeing. There was a belief that the arts and education were a strong foundation stones for a strong democracy.

The need for creative empathetic citizens

It was understood that one of the school’s primary functions was to create critical, creative empathetic citizens as a safeguard against the rise of extremism.”

Creativity killed by National Standards and STEM

O’Connor continues, “I believe nine years of National Standards essentially killed off creativity in New Zealand schools. The overriding focus on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) was highly effective in dismantling the arts across the whole education system…”.

“The arts curriculum is the vital tool for teachers to be creative with their children and be creative themselves.”

We couldn’t agree more with ProfessorO’Connor
Sir Ken Robinson – a similar challenge

Sir Ken Robinson writes a similar story about the need to move away from current standardization. He writes one role of education is to help people develop their natural talents and abilities’. ‘We have the opportunity to rethink the whole ecosystem of education. We need to reinvent schools…..We need to stir the motivation , vision, optimism and political commitment’.

The Modern Learning site – and Seymour Sarason

The Modern Learning site always provides valuable inspiration for teachers willing to move into creative teaching. Their writers often quote Seymour Sarason about his need for the artistry of teaching who says teachers need to create ‘those conditions that make students want to learn;

not have to learn but want to learn more about self, others, and the world… seek to help the child forge connections between what he or she wants to know and what the child wants to learn’.

What if ….

So, the Modern Learners write ‘what if we started with the premise that school could be the most interesting place in a young person’s life given our curious, connected, self-directed modern learners are truly capable of doing what was previously unimaginable.’

 From a New Zealand site: Number Agents

In contrast New Zealand site Number Agents write, ‘we need to stop constantly measuring children against so called benchmarks. Measuring and gathering data does nothing to help the child’s growth, but does take up time that could instead be used for fostering and inspiring the joy of learning.

An old Rural Adviser once said ‘teachers have two important attributes, their energy and their time and if they waste in on b/s they can’t teach’.

The artistry of the creative teacher – Modern Learning site

‘The question is’, Gary Stager writes in a Modern Learning posting, ‘how can we create

experiences and context in classroom where kids can discover things they don’t know they love? This is done by implementing good projects that spur creativity, ownership and relevance’

One of our favourite quotes comes from Jerome Bruner, who says ‘teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation’.

.Another favourite writer of ours is Frank Smith who writes, ‘we become like the company we keep, we learn to be like them .. the identification creates the possibilities of learning. All learning pivots on who we think we are, and who we see ourselves as capable of becoming’.

A metaphor for a classroom.

We see classrooms as an amalgam of a museum, art studio, media centre, laboratory and exhibition gallery populated by interesting talented teachers

In such a rich and challenging environment students will learn – it’s what they do.

No need for the current tiresome assessment models – the work the students complete, their portfolios, will be evaluation enough.

Bruce Hammonds and Allan Alach

This weeks readings

Professor Peter O’Connor – the killing of creativity in our schools


‘I believe nine years of National Standards essentially killed off creativity in New Zealand schools. The overriding focus on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) was highly effective in dismantling the arts across the whole education system.’
Sir Ken Robinson – time to personalize education

Standardisation broke education. Here’s how we can fix our schools. “The movement towards personalisation is already advancing in medicine. We must move quickly in that direction in education, too”’
Critically Endangered: The Art of Teaching from Longworth Education site ( NZ)

In the face of so much science, a critical but overlooked, component to teaching is becoming increasingly rare in the classroom – creativity.  An area that is not easily quantified into numerical data, inputs and outputs, the use of creativity by a classroom teacher to ensure a level of joy in learning and teaching extends the science of teaching into the art of it.’
The Benefits of Cultivating Curiosity in Kids

‘Despite the centrality of curiosity to all scientific endeavors, there’s a relative dearth of studies on the subject itself.

Fortunately, scientists are actively unraveling this concept and, in the process, making a convincing case that we can and should teach young minds to embrace their inquisitive nature.’

Teachers need to get students involved in open studies with no known answers

Here are ten criteria for ‘wicked problems’”.
This is Why We Must Be Teaching With Imagination, and How to Do It

‘Imagination is what stays when teachers are gone from their students’ lives. It’s what students have taken from a creative classroom and into real life. While basic knowledge and facts are important building blocks, imagination is the synthesis of that knowledge. It’s the vehicle that gets learners from point A to point B on their own.’

In which Pooh looks for a 21st Century Education Part 2

Another instalment from Kelvin Smythe’s ATTACK series that he completed just before he died:
‘Except as a chronological expression, 21st century education is nothing special, remaining part of a continuity that, despite considerable twisting and turning, remains just that, a continuity; the technological disruption predicted for that chronological expression being just a further example of ideological disruption that is always there or near in the sensitive and value-laden area of school education.’
Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play.

‘But if you don’t give a child art and stories and poems and music, the damage is not so easy to see. It’s there, though. Their bodies are healthy enough; they can run and jump and swim and eat hungrily and make lots of noise, as children have always done, but something is missing.’
For more information about the need for educational transformation, creativity and talent development in earlier blogs:

Categories: Education