By Emily Wehling, New Berlin School District

As a fourth-year teacher, I was feeling more confident and at ease during parent-teacher conferences. I recognized the parents of one of my most enthusiastic artists– he was an avid art club member and one of the most creative students I have ever encountered. When his parents sat down at my table, they started by thanking me for all of my hard work. I specifically remember his mother doting on the hours that I had recently spent with the club creating decorations for a hospital charity event. She emphasized the fact that her son felt a true sense of community within the club.

What came next caught me completely off guard. 

His parents asked me to try and encourage their son to pursue a career that did not pertain to visual art. They sat down with me, the visual arts teacher, and asked me to encourage their son to avoid his passion and natural talent and pursue something more “traditionally acceptable.” This is one of the first times that I felt a significant need to advocate for the benefits of creative thinking for my students.

Defining Creativity

In a 2004 study, Plucker, Beghetto, and Dow found that the majority of researchers were not defining creativity explicitly in their work, so Plucker et al proposed the following definition: “Creativity is the interaction among aptitude, process, and environment by which an individual or group produces a perceptible product that is both novel and useful as defined within a social context” (p. 90). Other scholars later argued for a more nuanced definition that promotes different levels of creative expression, such as in Beghetto and Kaufman’s Four C Model of Creativity (2009):

“The Four C Model provides a framework for including creativity in the curriculum and helping students develop their creativity to higher levels.”

Beghetto and Kaufman explain that “the school and classroom environment often send subtle messages that play an important role in determining whether students will share their mini-c creative insights and have the opportunity to develop their creative competence… research shows that creativity can suffer when people are promised rewards for creative work, when learning conditions stress competition and social comparisons, or when individuals are highly aware of being monitored and evaluated by others” (2009). In other words, we educators must establish common definitions of creativity in order to recognize the nuances and conditions necessary for students to grow into the higher levels of creative thought.

Fostering Creativity

For students to feel comfortable taking risks, a respectful rapport must be maintained within the classroom (Amabile & Khaire, 2008; Beghetto & Kaufman, 2013). The teacher should present students with a non-hostile environment where everyone’s voice can be heard (Amabile & Khaire, 2008; Gute & Gute, 2015). The teacher can also provide feedback that supports and challenges student efforts(Beghetto & Kaufman, 2013). Another strategy to encourage student creativity is to provide autonomy through a variety of choices or options (Amabile & Khaire, 2008; Beghetto & Kaufman, 2013).  In this type of environment, students are more willing to work in groups and share diverse ideas (Amabile & Khaire, 2008)

Teachers can also use metacognition strategies to encourage students to develop coherent and efficient thinking patterns (Jones, 2014). Examples of these include: forming strong mental images, deciphering the importance of information, rethinking problems as more information is gained, creating visual maps, and managing impulsivity (Jones, 2014).Students should understand that thought is flexible and adaptable and that there is not always one specific route to an answer (Jones, 2014; Meikle, 2014). Creative classrooms use inquiry-based instruction, which encourages students to generate questions, analyze information, solve problems, and establish outcomes (Starko, 2013).

Ms. Wehling’s art students dressed up as Andy Warhol & his famous works

For more ways to foster creativity, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21) offers an extensive study that includes key actions to help enhance student creativity in educational contexts and beyond:

The Need for Creative Minds

As stated by Sir Ken Robinson, creativity is a critical 21st century skill necessary for successful problem solving within the current economy and workplace (Jones, 2014). According to the Harvard Business Review, the creative sector of the U.S. economy currently employs more than 30% of the workforce, or over thirty-eight million architects, artists, designers, educators, engineers, entertainers, scientists, and musicians (Florida, 2004). Corporate recruiters are visiting art schools around the United States looking for innovative talent. As stated by Florida (2004), “…because of abundance, businesses are realizing that the only way to differentiate their goods and services in today’s overstocked marketplace is to make their offerings physically beautiful and emotionally compelling” (p. 54).

Furthermore, many of the top medical schools in the United States are training students through unconventional, creativity-focused methods (Florida, 2006; Gute & Gute, 2015). For example, medical students at the Yale School of Medicine refine their observational skills by visiting the Center for British Art (Florida, 2006). According to studies, students who learn to read paintings excel in discovering subtle details about a patient’s condition (Florida, 2006). As jobs shift and technologies change, our economic stability will depend on creative adaptation and innovation. In understanding the role of creativity in today’s workforce, we can justify implementing creative problem-solving within our curriculum and understand the potential benefits of doing so.

Some people believe that creativity is just something you are born with, but I have seen “non-art” students really open up and dig deeper when asked the right questions. I have also had students, who were major behavioral challenges, succeed when given choice and autonomy inside of the art classroom. Once a clear definition of creativity is established, we can determine strategies that encourage all students to be creative thinkers.


Amabile, T., & Khaire, M. (2008, October). Creativity and the role of the leader. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from   

Beghetto, R., & Kaufman, J. (2013, February). Fundamentals of creativity. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 70(5). Retrieved from 

Florida, R. (2004, October). America’s looming creativity crisis. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Gute, D., & Gute, G. (2015). How creativity works in the brain: Insights from a Santa Fe Institute Working Group. Cosponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. National Endowment for the Arts, Washington DC. Retrieved from 

Hennessey, B. A., & Amabile, T. M. (2010). Creativity. Annual Review of Psychology, 61, 569–598.

Jones, V. R. (2014, September). Habits of mind: Creativity. Children’s Technology and Engineering, 19(1), 26-28. Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Lehrer, J. (2012). Imagine: How creativity works. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Meikle, S. (2014). Embracing our creativity: A key ingredient of great teaching. Independent School, 74(6), 64-69.

Plucker, J., Beghetto, R. A., & Dow, G. (2004). Why isn’t creativity more important to educational psychologists? Potential, pitfalls, and future directions in creativity research. Educational Psychologist, 39, 83–96. Retrieved from

Starko, A. (2013). Creativity on the brink. Educational Leadership, 70(5), 54-56.

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