What is creativity? And where is creativity to be found? Researchers around the world have been asking these questions for more than half a century. For Associate Professor Tan Ai-Girl, this search has taken her across continents for over 20 years. SingTeach catches up with her to find out how teachers can be more creative.
“Creativity is at the age of renaissance!” enthuses Ai-Girl, currently Visiting Professor at the Department of Psychology, University of Munich, Germany.
Ai-Girl’s interest in the study of creativity started when she was a research associate in Tokyo, Japan, in the late 1980s. Her desire to better understand creativity brought her to the University of Munich, where she graduated with a PhD in Psychology in 1995.
Today, as Associate Professor in National Institute of Education’s psychological studies academic group, Ai-Girl continues to study creativity. In particular, she is interested in exploring teachers’ and children’s conceptions of creativity within their learning context.
While creativity is a complex concept with multiple meanings, it is something that Ai-Girl believes is within each of us. However, it “is something that has to be cultivated,” she says.
In the classroom, “creativity is essential for teachers” and can be fostered through the interplay of several factors:
Teachers need to know their subject area well. Just by imparting knowledge, teachers are providing their students with the raw materials for creative thought.
They need to be skilled in teaching and learning. The mastery of a sound and substantive repertoire of pedagogical strategies helps in the effective communication of knowledge.
Teachers need to be passionate about their chosen area. This passion provides the motivation for imparting knowledge and skills and for integrating creative strategies and techniques into their teaching.
• Open mind
It is important, for teachers, to be open to new experiences, cultures and contexts. Such a mindset translates into a supportive and open learning environment where students are encouraged to inquire, interact and reflect.
Teachers need to believe in the importance of nurturing creativity. It really boils down to a belief in developing each student to his or her fullest potential.
But while there are many techniques for teaching more creatively, we must not miss the forest for the trees. After years of research, Ai-Girl is convinced that the aim of cultivating creativity in the classroom is really about uncovering our students’ creative potentials.
“To me, creativity in education is the search for growth of every child’s potential to its fullest, prosperity in all human societies, and peace among nations and people of different backgrounds,” explains Ai-Girl.
She uses the term “constructive creativity” to describe the kind of education we want to give our students. Constructive creativity is “the development of creative cognition and behaviour beneficial to individuals as well as to the communities in which they are members” (Tan & Law, 2004, p. 14).
Creativity in education, then, is about developing our students into better persons who know how to care for themselves and for others. In this vein, education becomes a process of transformation, where each experience becomes an opportunity for continued growth as a person.
Pointing to the key role teachers play in this process, Mark Runco says that because our children spend so many years in formal education, teachers are responsible for many of the experiences that can dramatically influence the creative expression.
“If creative potentials are fulfilled,” he adds, “the world will be a dramatically different, and better, place.” (in Tan, 2007, p. vii)
It is this aspect of creativity that stands out most to Ai-Girl because it lends tremendous meaning to the task of an educator. The students we groom today can contribute to the overall well-being of our society tomorrow.
“To encourage creativity, we need to let [our students] experience the creative process in which possibilities are made into reality,” says Uichol Kim (in Tan, 2007, p. xi).
So, do not be afraid to put your seemingly bizarre ideas into action! You never know how that lesson of yours can fire up the imaginations and hearts of your students in envisioning creative possibilities for their future.
Tan, A.-G. (2000). Psychology of cultivating creativity. Singapore: Lingzi Mass Media.
Tan, A.-G. (2005). My conceptions of creativity and the search for its meaning in education.Gifted and Talented International, 20(1), 66–71.
Tan, A.-G. (Ed.). (2007). Creativity: A handbook for teachers. Singapore: World Scientific.
Tan, A.-G., & Law, L.-C. (2004). Creativity for teachers. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish.