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Developing creative thinking skills in our learners is crucial if we want them to succeed and thrive in an increasingly competitive and global economy[1]. Not surprisingly, there has been a recent interest in incorporating creative thinking skills in the school curricula in European, American, Australian, and East Asian countries[2, 3]. Furthermore, in some developing countries, there is a growing curricular interest in enhancing creativity, as reflected in these nations’ policy documents[4].

Undeniably, a growing number of nations have placed a priority on creativity at a policy level. However, there are concerns regarding how these measures are actually implemented in the classrooms[4]. Studies show the way and extent to which teachers engage in the actual development of their learners’ creativity is influenced mostly by their perceptions of what creativity is and what they believe is needed to develop and nourish it in their students[5]. Many teachers believe there should be requirements and conditions that need to be met first. For instance, the most commonly invoked are resources, school environment, or student characteristics.

We contend that creativity can be developed in any classroom, even under the most challenging circumstances. In fact, we view imperfect circumstances as an opportunity to prompt teachers’ creativity towards providing effective learning experiences. In turn, these can inspire the development of creative skills in their students. Before we elaborate on this point of view, we will begin by defining what creativity is.


The term creativity is so broad and has so many concepts across the literature that it can become confusing.

According to Mumford, Medeiros & Partlow[6], it can be best defined by using a variety of substantive models. However, a definition of creativity that has been widely accepted is the one provided in the report of the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (NACCCE) in Great-Britain (in Blamires and Peterson[4]). In this report, the creative process is characterized as always having an imaginative attitude and behavior with a specific objective in mind, which generates something original and of value to the activity’s aim. As such, creativity is possible in all subject domains and every person, no matter age or cultural background. Consequently, teachers can nourish and stimulate creativity in multiple ways and in various (school) contexts, regardless of circumstances. With this definition in mind, we will look at some views commonly held by teachers regarding teaching for creativity and its barriers.


Almost half of the teachers agree that it is possible to teach creativity, and over 80% believe that this can happen in the classroom. However, only less than a quarter say they feel responsible for helping students develop creativity in their particular classroom[7]. Rubenstein et al.[5] found that one factor that influences teachers’ commitment to students’ creative development is their implicit conceptions of creativity. More specifically, they refer here to the perception of students’ creative potential. Often, instructors associate art, theatre, and dancing with creativity and being creatively talented. Consequently, the development of creativity is ’assigned’ to a specific subject[8]. Moreover, some teachers believe that students are either born creative or not and that. Hence, not all students would have the ability to develop creative skills[9].

Another factor that influences teachers’ dedication to creativity development is the degree to which they believe they can enhance their students’ creativity in their current environment[10]. Many teachers feel that environmental factors such as lack of time, class size, or the curriculum prevent them from teaching for creativity[11]. Also, the lack of materials or limited access to digital technology is mentioned as hindering factors[12]. Moreover, the pressure of standardized tests, strict deadlines, and very structured guidelines are often considered a barrier to establishing a creative-friendly climate in a classroom[13].

The aforementioned perceptions and beliefs all share the misconception that teaching for creativity will most likely happen under certain controlled conditions. They share the misunderstanding that, somehow, the circumstances (or the students) need to be ‘ideal.’ We believe that these perceptions and beliefs are the true barriers to teaching for creativity. To conclude, the conditions are not in the circumstances, but in the teacher’s mind.


Teaching for creativity doesn’t necessarily require significant transformations of the curriculum or teaching environment. Encouraging students’ creativity can just as well be established by introducing small changes in a classroom[14, 15]. These changes may be very concrete and tangible. For example, adapting the position of tables and other objects to the needs of (creative-enhancing) activities. Thus, you can create learning environments where learners work in pairs or groups. Minor adjustments in instruction and activities can enrich regular lesson content with a creative-enhancing quality. Teachers can still hold on to the standards since the content itself doesn’t have to change, just the way teachers let the students process and work with the content[16, 17].

Teaching for creativity is about teachers infusing their instruction with creative thinking and problem-solving. For example, a math lesson can involve locating and measuring angles of objects found in the classroom. You can use outside spaces such as buildings to teach trigonometry, an excursion to a park to teach photosynthesis. Furthermore, why not use a paper plane to teach math in high school by challenging them to calculate the speed? More than that, many creative teachers use origami to teach geometry[18]. This interaction between environment and student, the connection with real-life could foster creative thinking[19].  


Activities that enhance creativity should be fun and challenging. Furthermore, they should stimulate interaction and cooperation as students collectively try to solve a problem [3]. Working in groups stimulates the development of creative thinking even with large class sizes. Hartley and Plucker[3] found that in China, where the average class size is 40-50, students work on projects in little groups at least seven times a week. Activities can focus on one subject or fuse traditional subjects. For example, students could study science in combination with arts, i.e., they could paint murals depicting food chains or design a costume and act while studying history[20]. This way, all content will be given value, while at the same time, students are encouraged to ‘unbox’ knowledge and look for connections[21].

Technology also offers a lot of opportunities for creative-fostering activities. Digital media allow students to generate and share their ideas or collaborate on a common product, even when they are miles apart[8, 22]. However, the use of technology itself doesn’t make students more creative. Moreover, access to technology is no requirement for developing creativity. In the end, technological appliances are just tools.

Finally, the most important way to nurture students’ creativity is by creating a flexible and positive classroom climate where students feel safe to express divergent ideas and see their mistakes as allies in knowledge discovery [23, 24]. In this climate, the main task is not to reproduce knowledge but to ask questions. It would help if you adopted a growth mindset based on thinking outside the box. To embrace the move beyond the ‘what’ towards the ‘what if..’ and ‘why’[25]. To accomplish this, teachers need to let go of conformity and encourage students to take risks, pursue their own ideas, and reflect upon information[26].


We believe that everyone can develop a creative-fostering classroom even under diverse circumstances. We acknowledge that local conditions might affect how teachers teach for creativity. However, we strongly believe that it is not the circumstances themselves but how teachers deal with them that makes the difference. To foster students’ creative thinking is not necessarily extra time, money, or materials; it is the teachers’ willingness, commitment, and creativity to turn the circumstances into opportunities for enhancing their students’ creative skills. By creatively using these circumstances, teachers set their students a perfect example of what creativity constitutes.

Further reading on developing creative skills.

Written by: Lia Tsiami, Manon Heesen, Victoria Bolotina, Melisa Ince, and Bogar Vallejo.