How can teachers develop their creativity in the classroom? Marisa Constantinides, who recently presented a webinar on the subject for our EnglishAgenda website, gives us her tips.
When I recently asked some colleagues what attributes they associated with creative teachers, flexibility (or thinking on one's feet), being open to new ideas, and being imaginative were at the top of the list.
But how can we develop these qualities? What are the first steps?
Step one: become a knowledgeable teacher
Today, it's easier than ever before to learn about teaching. There are lots of books, training courses, free online courses, online resources, and university programmes that can help us develop as teachers.
Learning about other things is important too. Creative teachers bring more to class than just a knowledge of teaching. They are educated in other areas, and can draw on their experiences and outside interests.
I recommend taking up an artistic hobby such as learning to play a musical instrument, or following a drama course. As well as enjoying these things for their own sake, you can use them in your teaching to great effect.
Using songs in the classroom, for example, is very motivating for learners and can help them process the language and improve pronunciation. Including drama techniques and integrating them into your syllabus is another great way of allowing a hobby to enrich your teaching.
Step two: connect with other teachers
Although formal training will help you develop as a teacher, it's important to connect with others in your field. Inspiration can come from the big-name speakers and writers, but just as often, it comes from teachers like you and me.
It's never been easier to find inspiring teachers to follow on Facebook, Twitter and in the blogosphere. Follow and read their blogs, join a teacher’s association and attend talks and workshops live or online.
Inspiration rubs off and will create in you the desire to imitate these teachers in your daily teaching practices.
Step three: become a collector of teaching ideas
It doesn't matter if you don’t use the ideas you collect straight away. The important thing is to collect and organise them in a way that makes it easy to try them out when the right opportunity presents itself. It's these ideas that will nudge you along the road to creativity, especially as you begin to adapt and experiment with them.
When discovering new ideas online, be sure to use the various bookmarking and curation tools available today, and follow the curated collections or lists of others.
Curation will also help you to be more resourceful: you'll have ideas and activities at your fingertips in case things go wrong!
Step four: share your learning
In my experience, teachers (like learners) can pick things up from others as they go along, but there comes a point when they find they have to make a commitment or a contribution.
If you have training days in your school, offer to lead a session and then research the topic, so that you feel confident about sharing your knowledge with your peers. This can be a daunting but momentous moment in the life of a teacher, and you'll be amazed by how much you learn in the process.
Start a teaching journal or a blog. The act of blogging and describing your teaching ideas generates conversations with other teachers, and those conversations stimulate more ideas; they are a great bridge to creative teaching.
Step five: remove the blocks to creative thinking
Many people are confident about their creative potential and are not afraid to dip their toes in the pool, but lots of us at various times have felt we cannot do it. In those moments, we might feel we lack the imagination, that we're not clever enough, young enough or talented enough, and so on.
No-one can claim that every person has the same skills and abilities as everyone else, but all people have the potential to be creative. Look what we do with language! Using a finite vocabulary, each of us creates original utterances, never articulated in quite the same way before, every time we speak.
Work on your self-esteem; be around supportive colleagues who share the same interests and goals and make you feel good about yourself.
Step six: practise your creativity
Just as athletes maintain their ability through continual training, our brains also benefit from regular exercise. What do you do to exercise your mind? Do you enjoy crosswords, Sudoku or jigsaw puzzles? These and similar 'brain-training' activities have been shown to increase our concentration and boost creativity.
We often tell our students that practice makes perfect, but it's important that we apply this to ourselves. Skilled people in all fields, from dancers to chefs to teachers, reach the highest levels through practice – they didn't get there overnight. But practice takes discipline and patience.
When practising anything, it's a good idea to set your mind to the process rather than the goal. In other words, take satisfaction in what you're doing in the present moment rather than worry too much about what you have yet to achieve.
Step seven: start experimenting and reflecting on your teaching
A sure-fire way to burn out as a teacher is to stick to the same ideas and techniques without trying something new. This approach is bound to demotivate your students at some point too.
Learners respond positively to teachers who don’t follow the same old steps in the same old way day in and day out. As much as learners like teachers who are patient, tolerant and able to explain things well, they appreciate teachers whose lessons have surprises and elements of fun.
Try out new ideas or adapt old ones, but remember to stop, think and evaluate the experience when done. Learn from your successes and your mistakes, and try to make this a regular part of your teaching.
Step eight: make creativity a daily goal
Being creative can help you solve problems. This is useful to teachers because problem-solving is what teachers do every moment of their working day, from deciding on teaching materials, procedures and grades, to adapting an activity that learners are not responding to, and helping individuals who are not progressing as they should.
To keep developing these skills, you need to make creativity part of your daily routine rather than an occasional activity. Look at everything you do with a critical eye and consider how your lessons could be made more motivating, productive and interesting for your learners.
Above all, give yourself time and don't judge yourself harshly. Developing one’s creative thinking abilities, just like developing any other cognitive ability or skill, is not a straight and smooth progression but requires patience, dedication, and a passion for excellence.
Marisa Constantinides is a teacher educator, conference presenter and English language teaching (ELT) author. You can follow her on Twitter @Marisa_C or read her blog.
Teachers, watch a recording of Marisa's webinar on creating creative teachers.
Sign up to Nik Peachey's webinar on creativity in the English language classroom, which takes place on 16 July 2015.