Is teaching creativity possible, or must it be inherited? This seems to be a frequently debated question.

Sandy Laszkiewicz is a 2015 winner of “Those Who Excel”, awarded by the Illinois State Board of Education to recognize teachers who go above and beyond the requirements of their job description. Sandy is a fifth grade teacher at Jackson School in Elmhurst IL School District 205, which is a kindergarten through 5th grade public elementary school. This is Sandy’s 26th year at this school and she is masters-prepared with a degree in special education for talented and gifted students. She has taught all grades and has been the teacher for the gifted program previously.

Only one teacher or employee per school district wins the Those Who Excel award each year. Sandy was nominated by the school principal for work she did to promote reading literacy. She coordinated a new writing program called the Lucy Calkins units of study program for K-5th graders. She volunteered to head a committee to implement this program in her school and coordinated the implementation into the classrooms. She also helped create a writing community within the school.

Then Sandy got an idea to get kids to read more during down times in school. She posted works of writings that students had penned in some of the areas where students waited in line to get into certain classrooms. The young authors’ works were displayed outside the art and music rooms and outside of the gym, so that while students were waiting to change classes they could read work done by their classmates. This unique and creative continuation of the literacy program helped Sandy obtain the well-deserved Those Who Excel award.

We discussed the concept of teaching creativity, specifically if Sandy thought it can be taught, and how teachers including her use creativity in their work. She is certain that creativity can be taught and states “I get on my soapbox about this topic because I think we absolutely have to spend more time teaching creativity and allowing students to think creatively”. Unfortunately, the current climate in education demands that teachers “teach to the test”, and for students to get grades that are required to keep schools funded.

Kids used to have more time in school to practice creative expression, but curriculum requirements in this era focus on other topics. This is counterproductive, Sandy feels, to producing the type of thinkers we need in the future for careers. She explained further: “The United States has always been the innovator in many areas. Now, with so many of the rote and mechanical jobs outsourced overseas, the USA will need to have jobs that focus on innovation, creativity and design to keep our economy strong with employment that is unique and less likely to be sent abroad”. Sandy noted the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, for example, which test for creativity. This could be used to assess an important student asset and then, like any other subject, creativity could be enhanced through teaching methods.

We finished our discussion by talking about how teachers use creativity in their work. “Sharing creative ideas has never been easier in this age of the Internet” Sandy remarked. Specifically, Pinterest has been a great source of ideas for the classroom for teachers, and groups of teachers share Pinterest posts with each other to use in daily work. According to Sandy, there is nothing wrong in using the creative work of others to inspire more creativity, especially if someone feels that they are not instinctively creative. “As a teacher you don’t need to always reinvent the wheel. The Internet has a whole arsenal of ideas” she remarks, and “the more ideas you can get into your head the more you can inspire kids to be more original in their thinking.”

Additional methods of teaching creativity can be found at this Ted-Ed blog post.

Parents often gift teachers at Christmas time or the end of the school year. With exceptional teachers like Sandy educating and preparing our youth for their futures, we should think of creative ways to thank our teachers all year round. Next time you meet one, thank a teacher! Sandy received a gift from her brother of a Lively Bottle with a photo of her award from Those Who Excel!

Lively Bottle sells reusable custom water bottles personalized with photos, student art, names and logos. Contact [email protected] for assistance.

Lisa Radville