When I began teaching, I had lots of great role models: teachers who had been in the classroom for 30 years and still loved it and teachers who were taking on new challenges even late into their careers.
Unfortunately, I also witnessed teachers who were the opposite. These teachers were so burnt out in the profession that most things they did served as a reminder of the kind of teacher I did not want to be. This was the teacher who used the old text even when the department bought a new one because he didn’t want to change, or the teacher who lacked any flexibility, even in the seating, having students lined up in perfect rows sitting in alphabetical order, or the one who practically had laminated her lesson plans. One of the teachers I had the good fortune to work with once said to me, “you can either teach one year thirty times, or you can teach for thirty years. Which one do you want to do?”
How to Find Rejuvenation
Now going into my 25th year in education, I like to think that I still care deeply about my students, that I enjoy going to work every day, and that I still have passion for this profession. What do I attribute this to? I think the biggest asset is my ability to tap into my creativity in order to rejuvenate myself, to find projects, situations, and new challenges that keep me fresh and relevant. This is not always an easy thing to do. Comfort is…well…comfortable. Change can be difficult. Why would someone do things differently if what they have been doing seems to work?
The Need for Feed
As teachers, we need to feed our creative side. Given that teaching is a reflective profession, one in which we can always make things better, you can identify a lesson that is not going as well as you wish it to and think about changes you could possibly make. You could create a completely new lesson, something you have not done in the past, learn something new yourself, or find a new way to teach something you know about. You could take on a challenge that will force you to be creative to figure it out.
If the past year in education has taught us anything, when backed into a corner, we can find creative solutions. We may have been forced into this, but it is amazing what we can do when we tap into that creativity. As stressful as the past year has been on many teachers, I think many of them will find themselves rejuvenated because they were able to be so creative. Hopefully, this will continue even after things go “back to normal.” Normal is boring. Normal lacks creativity. Normal doesn’t inspire people. Normal is comfortable. Normal is not where the best teaching takes place.
Three Things to Try
Here are three things you can do to feed your creativity and allow it to inspire you in the classroom.
1. Try New Things
This could be a new subject, a new assessment, a new technology, a new activity, a new teaching strategy. It is not new for the sake of doing something new; it is doing something new because it allows you to use your creativity whilst problem-solving. The excitement of learning along with our students is something that stops when we keep doing the things we have always done. Find new ways to teach and you will get out of that rut of doing the same thing over and over.
2. Challenge Yourself
Just as if you were a student sitting in your class, unwilling to challenge yourself, things are going to get very boring if you just do the bare minimum. What are ways you can challenge yourself in your teaching profession? How do you put yourself out of your comfort zone and use your creativity to enhance the experience for both you and your students? It could be reading a book or listening to a podcast that challenges the way you teach; it could be shadowing a colleague who challenges the way you interact with students, or it could be setting a very difficult goal and then trying to achieve that.
This past year I decided to teach an online class to Chinese students on essay writing. I had taught essay writing before but never to students where English was a second language or in the style that was being asked of me. Taking on this challenge allowed me to use my creativity to develop lessons, develop activities, adapt, and improve as a teacher.
3. Find Outlets for Creativity in Your Personal Life
It’s not always about work. Finding ways to use your creativity in your personal life, whether it be hobbies, redecorating your house, or working on your relationship with your spouse and/or kids can be very rejuvenating. To have this creativity satiated will give you the second wind to carry this over into the classroom and your work with students.
I found a massive creative outlet in the writing I do, but even that was beginning to stifle me creatively after publishing several books and hundreds of articles. I am not a painter as my wife and kids are. They produce pieces of art that could be proudly displayed on a wall, unlike mine, which causes small children to cry. However, our downstairs bathroom needed redecorating and by chance, my wife was leaving for a week, and it was coming up on our anniversary. I decided to design and paint our bathroom into a theme that she would enjoy. Here is the result:
I found myself walking into the bathroom and just staring at it for minutes at a time, marveling at how proud I was of the work I had done and happy to express my artistic creativity. Now I am coming into the new school year with this confidence under my belt which I plan to carry over in my work with students.
Rebooting Your Mind and Soul
If you find yourself in a professional rut, if you or students are getting bored by what is going on in your classroom, or if you have just become tired of hearing yourself repeat the same lesson over and over, I invite you to tap into your creativity to reinvigorate yourself. By feeding your soul and your mind, you will find yourself more inspired to be the best teacher you can be.
Todd Stanley is a National Board teacher and the author of many teacher-education books including Project- Based Learning for Gifted Students: A Handbook for the 21st Century Classroom (2nd Edition), Authentic Learning: Real-World Experiences that Build 21st Century Skills, and most recently, How the Hell Do We Motivate These Kids. He served as a classroom teacher for 18 years and is currently the gifted services coordinator for Pickerington Local Schools where he lives with his wife and two daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @the_gifted_guy or visit his website at thegiftedguy.com where you can access blogs, resources, and view presentations he has given.