Can you teach creativity?

It is becoming more and more evident that employers are looking for graduates with creative minds, graduates who are creative thinkers. It has become a valued skill, leaving educators to ask – can creativity be taught? Over half term I spent four days in Rome at the IB Conference for Head teachers from across Europe where we were asked that very question –how do you teach creativity?
At the Conference, researchers from the MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, defined creativity as the ability to make non-obvious connections. They sampled a range of people, from all walks of life, and asked them to draw a perfect circle without any apparatus. All took part in the task and drew a circle, none were perfect. 70 percent tried again, on the next attempt another 50 percent tried to perfect it, the next attempt the numbers trying to perfect it continued to drop off and by the sixth or seventh attempt less than one percent persevered. The solutions on these last attempts were the most original. They were making connections between the problem and looking for non-obvious solutions. They were being creative, finding solutions when others had given up. Creativity, to the researchers, is as much as about persistence and resilience as it is about an innate instinct.
I believe as educators what we should take from this is that it is important to encourage our pupils to persist, reward them more for failing and persevering than reward them for finding the solution easily. Creativity comes with an understanding that it is the sixth or seventh attempt that leads to the non-obvious but exciting solution. History is littered with many examples of the power of persistence, you just need to think of Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel to understand the resilience he needed to create such a splendid piece of work. Thomas Edison said “of the 200 light bulbs that didn’t work, every failure told me something that I could incorporate into the next attempt”.

Too often girls are afraid to fail and it is this that inhibits them, stops them from being creative and stops them from wanting to solve problems. As a school we are becoming more focused on giving them problems to which there are no easy answers, encouraging them to take risks and when they do not succeed to reflect on what they have learned. MIT are offering internships for pupils who love to learn, but more importantly pupils who love to learn from their mistakes. They rate this as a more important skill to determine future success than the qualifications earned at school.
To educate girls for the future we need to give them these challenges. We need to develop their intellectual character rather than cram them with content. The IB programme does just this, which is why it is fast becoming the qualification to have for the future and why as a school we embrace it.
Jo MacKenzie, Headmistress, Bedford Girls’ School

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