Three students stand around looking at a device depicting digital learning

Creativity & innovation in education: a guide for teachers

Alex MacCreadie

Orea te tuatara ka patu ki waho

A problem is solved by continuing to find solutions

For creativity and innovation to work in classrooms, students need to be given the space to give it a go, miss, and try again.

Have you ever played the game with your students where you give them instructions on how to draw something specific like a house?

‘Draw a line along the bottom of the page, one centimetre up, then draw a vertical line from this line one-third of the way up the page…’

Then at the end, you share the drawings across the class. The kids with good listening skills are pretty close, others not so much. It depends how well they listened and how well you explained the drawing. If you do this exercise and give your students the same instructions, they’ll all produce a house that looks pretty similar.

But what if your brief was: ‘Draw a house with a single story, four windows, one door’? The results will all be quite different. Hopefully, they will have all met the design brief, but each house will be unique.

What’s the difference between the two exercises?

In the first, you had all the control. You decided what order students would draw things and the exact dimensions of the house. Students followed and produced what you wanted and never exceeded this expectation. The exercise is task orientated.

In the second exercise, you gave your students control. They decided what dimensions, order, size, and colour the house would be, and each would produce their own unique house. It was a solution-focused exercise. You opened the possibilities for them to think about their solution, make decisions and rationalise them. They learned how to be creators.

Creativity is the key to success

Creativity in the classroom is at the heart of problem-solving and needs to be encouraged. This does not mean adding an art component to your unit. It means lifting off the restraints of process, becoming goal orientated and thinking all ways around to get there.

Students quite like being creative. There is no fallback, and it can be the land of promises, and out of creation comes innovation.

Creation is the what, innovation is the how. Innovation is where the rubber hits the road. It is the ‘let’s get a schedule, let’s look at the barriers and make a programme of work’. This is what you want at the end of a creative session. Innovation is taking the creativity and deciding on the next steps to make it happen.

How to support innovation in education

In lots of ways, creativity is the easy bit, but it can be hard to take that great idea and make it happen. Many students will need support to turn their wonderful, creative ideas into an innovation. Innovation is not easy.

Students may need support to organise their time, resources, ideas and the things they produce. They will find it easier if they get into good organisational habits, like keeping all their work in one place. Encouraging collaboration through shared access to content by the teacher and other students also helps innovation. There are some good digital tools out there to enable this to happen. Using a digital learning platform will help students take responsibility for their learning and be accountable for their efforts. The learning is visible, and it can quickly become clear when a student is not completing the work required.

While we all like to be creative, it’s important for students to understand that not all innovation will be successful. For every successful innovation, there are many, many great but unsuccessful ideas.

A miss is a journey

One strategy I have found that encourages students to be innovative is to remove the idea of failure from the conversation. Rename it as a miss. To not try at all is a failure; a miss acknowledges the journey the student went through while accepting that they did not reach the desired goal. When students’ work is visible, teachers can see when work is not going to be successful and have an opportunity to intervene. In this way, an early miss can be spotted, and the student can take the time to reset and try another path before they get too invested.

Setting milestones is another way to allow for an early miss and rethinking of a student’s strategy. This helps to build the desired culture. The teacher can quickly identify whether a student is successfully implementing their learning strategy then start a conversation to reimagine an unsuccessful strategy if they are missing their milestone.

We are well past the point in history where we believe that every student should build the same house. The future workforce will require people who can think creatively, act innovatively, and use the right tools to put those ideas into action. Helping students develop the skills to be successful in this is a crucial part of our role as teachers.

To learn how LearnWell can help you foster creativity and innovation in education, check our learning resources

Back to blog