How to think about CREATIVITY in education…* { Part 2 }

In my second installment of CREATIVITY in education, I want to discuss these two perspectives on creative people- creative people can be difficult and creativity is cooperative. The first idea in particular is something that I examined in my work with first grade students studying robotics, and is an interesting perspective for teachers to use when coping with “troublemakers” in their classrooms.

#3 Creative people can be difficult

Personality-wise, stereotypes of creative individuals often refer to the “mad scientist” or crazy, eccentric artist. While the associations of creativity and mental illness are largely unsubstantiated, traits that ARE correlated with creativity include openness to new experience, ambition, self-confidence, arrogance, social hostility, impulsiveness, and lack of conscientiousness. Creative people in the arts tend to be more anxious, have more mood disorders, and are nonconforming, aloof, and unfriendly (Feist, 1999). It is important to note that these are CORRELATIONS: there is a complex causal relationship among many of these traits (in some cases the trait could lead to creativity, creative work could cause the trait, or another third variable could affect both creativity and the trait). However, imagine a child with any number of these personality characteristics. Now imagine how that child would function in a typical classroom setting.

In a 2010 book chapter, Arthur Cropley discusses the “dark side” of creativity, specifically the fact that while teachers claim to want creative students in theory, they actually dislike creative students in practice. Almost all teachers value traits such as displaying knowledge, paying attention, and working with speed and accuracy – traits that go hand-in-hand with compliance and order. Fostering creativity, however, introduces uncertainty and risk and shakes up the social order of the classroom. Creative students can be considered disruptive because of their reluctance to conform and their need for autonomy, among the other traits described above. “By its very nature, creativity involves questioning existing knowledge, doing things your own way, and being ‘difficult'” (p.311, Cropley, 2010). 

In a study I conducted last year, looking at creative problem solving skills in a first grade robotics class, I was initially shocked when I found that my most successfully creative students were some of the biggest “troublemakers” in my classroom. I believe that to truly foster creativity, as educators we need to challenge ourselves to be more comfortable with disorder, to remind ourselves that cultivating critical, independent thinkers and active learners is sometimes more important than having a constantly compliant, rule-abiding class. We need to think about some of our disruptive students as potentially highly creative individuals whose energies could be fruitful if provided the right environment and guidance.


Hanson’s (2013) fourth idea is that everyone participates in creative output. Many models of creativity look at the interaction between individuals and the cultures and authority figures of the societies in which they function. Ideas and products are successfully creative only as much as they are valued, appreciated, and used by a society. Furthermore, other researchers look at group creativity that emerges in improv groups, among jazz musicians, or even during a small business meeting.

The implications for the classroom are that already-valued 21st century learning goals such as collaboration and teamwork are also important for creativity. Additionally, I like to believe that even students who do not consider themselves “creative” can participate in the process of creation. For example, if the class is developing their own website, students can edit, spellcheck, or be project managers in addition to the more traditionally “creative” roles such as designing the layout, writing content, or taking photos to post on the site. While it is important to mix these roles up and give each student a chance to try different “jobs”, it is also highly valuable for students to understand that they can make valuable contributions to creative work in a variety of ways.


Next week I will discuss the last of Hanson’s (2013) ideas about creativity in education. Should we deploy the idea of “creativity” at all? How does creativity function with grades and assessment? Is creativity always a good solution?



Cropley, A. (2010). Creativity in the classroom: The dark side. The dark side of creativity, 297-316.

Feist, G. J. (1999). The influence of personality on artistic and scientific creativity. In R.J. Sternberg (Ed.), Handbook of Creativity (pp 273-296). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hanson, M. H. (2013). CREATIVITY THEORY AND EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE: WHY ALL THE FUSS?. The Creative Imperative: School Librarians and Teachers Cultivating Curiosity Together, 19.



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