Dear High Schooler,
A new school year is starting. I know this is a weird one. You’ve probably already gathered the materials you will need this year in your backpack, or in your designated learning space if you’re doing virtual learning. But there’s one more important thing you’ll need, this year more than any other, and you won’t find it on the school supply list: Creative thinking skills.
Why creative thinking skills? This year, because of the pandemic, school will be different. You’ve already experienced some of these changes as the last school year ended with an often-tricky transition to virtual learning. Teachers are experimenting with new teaching methods, and students need to adjust how and where they learn. Creative thinking skills will help you navigate the challenges of the year ahead. Let’s look at some of these skills.
First, we all need to strengthen our ability to embrace ambiguity*. Nobody knows how long this situation will last. Accepting the uncertainty, staying open to possibilities, and adapting and being flexible as needed, are all essential. Here’s an example of being adaptable: let’s say you have some technical issues when learning virtually. Instead of simply complaining about it, try to find another way to connect. Maybe there’s another device available that will work better with your school’s system. Thinking about solutions will not only help you to tolerate challenges but to embrace challenges*, another creative thinking skill that will significantly help you throughout your life. With a problem-solving attitude, you can come up with multiple alternatives to overcome the difficulties that arise. The more you practice, the better you will get at using these skills.
Remember that YOU are also responsible for your learning. Be an active participant. If you don’t know where to begin, start with your curiosity*. A curious mind will be open to exploring new things. Expanding your knowledge will help your creativity flourish. Creativity is about connecting things to create new ideas and expressions, but first, you need to collect things to inform your creativity. The more open you are to new experiences (reading, watching videos, talking to diverse people, visiting different places, learning new skills), the better. Instead of staying in your comfort zone, go to your growth zone, that special place where you will be continuously challenged.
Thinking creatively is also about looking at things in different ways*. If and when you get stuck, try to see things from other points of view. Gaining new perspectives opens up new opportunities, and when you find them, don’t hesitate to explore them. You can even consider possibilities that may not exist! Get glimpses of the future* by asking “what if” even if people say it is a waste of time. Imagining new possibilities is the first step to building a better world.
While you have a unique opportunity to practice these skills during this upcoming school year, they will continue to provide you guidance and support beyond your high school years. The world is changing fast. New technologies are coming, and with them, some jobs are disappearing; others are emerging. Nobody knows precisely what the world will look like in 10 or 20 years. In these unusual times, even the next few years aren’t as predictable as they may have once been. But we know that to succeed, people will need to adapt to new conditions.
Most of the problems that the world will face post-COVID will be unprecedented, demanding new solutions. There will be no predefined right answer. People will need to understand each new challenge, come up with new ideas, and then test, refine, and implement them. This is what creativity is. Mitch Resnick, a professor at MIT, stated that “there is a pressing need to help young people develop as creative thinkers so that they’re prepared for life in a fast-changing world.”
But dealing with problems and challenges is not the only reason why you need creative thinking skills. John Baer and James Kaufman, two creativity scholars, have said that “thinking creatively makes us more joyful, more interesting to ourselves and others, more alive to life and its possibilities.” In those challenging moments, when you feel stuck, creative thinking gives you options. It provides you with the tools you need to come up with ideas, change your perspectives, and make new connections. It opens up a world full of opportunities. As Dr. Roger Firestien, a great professor, taught me, creativity gives you hope.
So as you start this new and different school year, grab your backpack, but don’t forget your set of creative thinking skills. As an educator, and as a student myself, I assure you: it is the most important thing you can bring to the classroom.
I wish you an incredible, creative learning journey.
Luciane Bonamigo Valls
Takeaways for Educators:
- Creative thinking skills can be developed. Consider designing activities or assignments toward this end, by asking students to generate multiple ideas, switch perspectives, use their imagination, and be original by making new connections.
- More than ever, we need to see challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. Consider modeling a positive and productive attitude when facing technical difficulties or other challenges while teaching.
- Curiosity is essential to learning and creativity. Consider providing the space and time for students to talk about and research topics they are interested in, and encourage them to ask lots of questions, especially when there’s no single right answer.
* Embracing the Ambiguity, Embracing the Challenge, Curiosity, Looking At It Another Way and Getting Glimpses of the Future are creative thinking skills described in Burnett and Figliotti’s book, Weaving Creativity into Every Strand of Your Curriculum.
Luciane Bonamigo Valls has more than 20 years of experience with children, teenagers, families, and educators. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and two graduate certificates (Educational Psychology and Educational Management). Luciane is pursuing a Masters’ Program in Creativity and Change Leadership at SUNY Buffalo State, where she received the Mary Murdock Creative Spirit Award. Originally from Brazil, Luciane has been living in the USA since 2012. Her previous experiences include projects such as creating and teaching an online course for teenagers about invention and innovation, problem-solving, and creativity, and working with teachers and school administrators to bring creative thinking into schools.
Baer, J. & Kaufman, J. C. (2012). Being creative inside and outside the classroom – How to boost your students’ creativity – and your own. Sense Publishers.
Burnett, C. & Figliotti, J. (2020). Weaving creativity into every strand of your curriculum. Creativity and Education.
Resnick, M. (2018). Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating creativity through projects, passion, peers, and play. MIT Press.