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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 the development of 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].

However, even though a growing number of nations have placed a priority on creativity at a policy level, there are concerns regarding the extent to which these measures are actually implemented in the classrooms[4]. Studies show that 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 ought to be requirements and conditions which need to be met first, such as resources, school environment, or student characteristics.

It is our contention that creativity can be developed in any classroom, even under the most difficult circumstances. In fact, we view imperfect circumstances as an opportunity to prompt teachers’ creativity so as to provide effective learning experiences which, in turn, 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 and approaches 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 aim of the activity. As such, creativity is possible in all subject domains and in every person, no matter age or cultural background. Consequently, it can be nourished and stimulated in multiple ways and in a variety of (school) contexts, regardless of circumstances. With this definition in mind, we will look at some views that are commonly held by teachers regarding teaching for creativity and its possible barriers.


Although half of the teachers agree that creativity can be taught, and over 80% believe that this can be done in the classroom, 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, including the perception of students’ creative potential. Often, creativity and being creatively talented are associated with art, theatre, and dance. As a consequence, 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, consequently, not all students have the ability to develop creativ skills[9].

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

The aforementioned perceptions and beliefs all share the misconception that for teaching for creativity, certain conditions need to be met. 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 barrier for teaching for creativity, for the conditions are not in the circumstances, but in the teacher’s mind.


Teaching for creativity doesn’t necessarily require big 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; e.g. adapting the position of tables and other objects to the needs of (creative-enhancing) activities, creating learning environments where learners work in pairs or groups. Minor adjustments in instruction and activities can enrich regular lesson content with a creativ-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. Outside spaces such as buildings could be used to teach trigonometry, an excursion to a park to teach photosynthesis, a paper plane can be used to teach math in high school by using the right information and calculate the speed, even origami can be used to teach geometry[18]. This interaction between environment and student, this connection with real life could foster creative thinking[19].  

Activities which enhance creativity should be fun and challenging, and stimulate interaction and cooperation as students collectively try to solve a problem [3]. Working in groups really stimulates the development of creative thinking and can be done regardless of class size. 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 they are 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 where they 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, to be open to experiences, to think outside the box and to 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, to pursue their own ideas, and to reflect upon information[26].


We believe that a creative-fostering classroom can be developed under any circumstance. Although we acknowledge that local conditions might affect the ways in which teachers are able to teach for creativity, we are convinced that it is not the circumstances themselves, but the ways the teachers deal with them that make the difference. For what is needed to foster students’ creative thinking is not necessarily extra time, money or materials, but the willingness, commitment, and creativity of the teachers themselves to turn the circumstances at hand into opportunities for enhancing their students’ creative skills. By using the circumstances in a creative way, teachers likewise set their students a perfect example of what creativity constitutes.

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