Cultivating a Creative Mindset

To help students be more creative and become innovators, teachers must first nurture their own creativity.

May 19, 2022
Jing Jing Tsong / The iSpot

As educators, we’re often told to be creative and innovative with our students. But how do we start? Who teaches us about creativity and innovation? How can we embody creativity and teach it to our students, when we may not have developed this ability?

Just as we plant the seeds of creativity within our students, we need to sow seeds of creativity within ourselves. Creativity has to be nurtured in order to grow, strengthen, and renew. It starts with nurturing a creative mindset within ourselves. Here are a few tips that require few or no resources to implement in your classroom.

Document Examples of Creative Content

Documenting innovative ideas and resources is a great way to initiate the creative process. Some Twitter accounts that I enjoy following to spark my curiosity are Vala Afshar, who shares content related to innovation and global trends, and lizandmollie, who create awareness about processing emotions in a simple and fun way. A single post from these accounts can potentially help develop an idea for a whole project for the class.

You can find inspiration in social media channels, newsletters, and even general information sites that can lead you to think deeper and question concepts or ideas. I recommend developing your own reservoir of creative content that inspires you. Create a folder on your phone or other device to store these materials. A Pinterest board or screenshots of creative content you come across on social media or elsewhere online can be very useful.

When planning new lessons or projects, revisit these materials to find ideas, concepts, and information you can repurpose for your students. I always refer back to this repertoire of resources before diving into a new project or idea.

For example, in 2018, I documented images related to sailing and exploration as part of my Pinterest inspiration board. Later that year, the images I had collected inspired me to design The Me Project Expo for Hispanic students to explore STEM careers. I created an expo instead of a conference or workshop, where attendees usually remain stationary, so that teens would have a variety of hands-on activities to explore. This is an example of how tracking creative work can spark creativity for your next class project or event.

You can also access the open-source platform Pactful, an award-winning app, curriculum, and series of events that build an innovator’s mindset by supporting teen and teacher access to social innovation. Pactful was created by the Jacobs Institute for Innovation in Education in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego, where I currently serve as the Education Program specialist and help manage this open-source platform as well as the implementation of the annual Jacobs Teen Innovation Challenge.

Integrate Tools That Invoke Curiosity and Imagination 

Have physical items—seashells, creative cards, rocks, fidgets, or liquid motion bubblers—on your desk or elsewhere in the classroom to spark creativity and let students connect with their five senses, which can invoke ideas and thoughts, and allow their minds to wander to a creative space. 

Let students hold these items before asking them to begin a creative piece or project. The goal is to allow students to feel they can let their minds wander freely when they come in contact with these objects.

A resource you can create as a class is a “creative deck of cards” with open-ended questions that invite students to think creatively. The questions must not have a yes or no answer but should invite students to mentally wander. The following are some ideas for questions to include:

  • What makes people happy?
  • What are the most valuable items in this world?
  • Do rabbits love eating grass?

Students can also design and color the creative card deck digitally, using Canva, or they can create physical cards by printing the ones they designed digitally. Using these creative card decks before brainstorming project ideas can benefit students who need help getting the creative process going. The goal of the card decks is not to provide a solution to any challenges that the students are facing in the classroom, such as struggling to find a topic for their project or creating an outline for their essay, but to allow their minds to meander. Often, the most interesting and creative ideas come to us when we aren’t concentrating or overthinking.

Don’t forget that although there are many resources available, in the classroom space, creativity begins with you, the instructor—you are the source of inspiration and creativity. You are the creator who invites students to imagine ideas that may seem impossible, and you can empower them to believe that there can be a better way to create good things in this world. You can help them become aware that regardless of their background or a lack of resources, they can achieve whatever they can imagine.

Finally, as an individual, you must also put time and dedication into replenishing your creative juices. You can achieve this by doing activities that inspire you, such as biking, artistic endeavors, music, or whatever puts your mind in a creative space.

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