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Inside the Classroom

Having a Creative Thinking Mindset in the Classroom

What would the world be like if it were possible to be creative on demand? We know that creative thinking involves our brain’s ability to make sudden, strange, and beautiful connections. However, these connections don’t happen on demand. You’ve probably experienced challenges in finding a creative mindset, whether you’re in the classroom and looking to motivate students, or whether you’re looking for some innovative thinking to solve a problem on your own. What does it take to make creativity happen?

Renowned comedian and Monty Python member John Cleese may have an answer. As an expert on creativity and business, Cleese has developed a theory on how creative thinking happens: it’s all about establishing the right working conditions. When we’re feeling pressured to get things done, our brains can lock into a functional mode. In this mode, creative thinking can become impossible to access. But when we allow ourselves to play, have fun, and get away from stress, we have a better shot at experiencing that creative spark.

Cleese’s ideas are supported by research. According to studies, creativity is not a talent you’re born with or a skill that only certain people possess. Instead, researchers have verified that everyone can be creative in the right conditions. Here are some conditions Cleese identifies that will help your imagination come out to play. Give them a shot—they’ve worked for me!

Create a safe space for creative thought.

Get away from obligations that might pull you away from the problem you want to solve. Create a safe space by turning off your phone, closing your email, or even going out for a walk or a drive! Exercise can also help you to distance yourself from issues causing stress. In the classroom, encourage students to do the same thing: set aside other homework and devices unless they’re being used to brainstorm, and focus on the problem. Create a specific time where creativity is encouraged and distractions are limited.

Set generous deadlines to avoid feeling rushed.

Sometimes, even though you’ve set aside a safe space and time, creativity just won’t strike. Be patient with yourself. Don’t let anxiety rule the day! Avoid forcing yourself to make decisions. Set aside time so you can sleep on it, and take another look at your problem the next day. If you’re a teacher, build in opportunities for students to “sleep on it” by coming back to a creative problem in another session. Set scheduled breaks to allow students to rest their minds (while still subconsciously working on their problem).

Have a spirit of playfulness.

Humor and creativity are closely linked. Have fun when you brainstorm, and be willing to laugh at your own silly ideas. Teachers can encourage fun, play, exploration, and humor in classroom sessions, too. Students should be encouraged to express themselves in a creative way, while maintaining an atmosphere of respect.

Encourage confidence.

Creativity isn’t likely to strike if you feel you’re facing an impossible task. Remember, everyone can be creative, no matter what your talents or areas of expertise may be. In the classroom, build up your students’ confidence. Put them in a positive, uplifting environment, and creativity will be that much more likely to surface.

Remember, it’s all about confidence, playfulness, patience, and boundaries. Work to create the right conditions, and you’ll find yourself and your students making amazing connections!

About the Author


Chris Martin

Chris has a BA in geography and American studies from the University of Southern California. Before joining Edgenuity, he worked for several years in K-12 classrooms, serving a wide student audience in traditional and blended learning environments. He is currently an Editor for Edgenuity’s Product Development team and has worked for the company since 2010. He enjoys the opportunity to build effective and engaging social studies content that will reach all students and help them succeed in the classroom.