Are you stifling your teachers’ creativity?

May 29, 2010

Educational program leaders and directors have a tough job managing programs. They need to oversee all aspects of program management including operations, human resources, curriculum, scheduling and budgets, just to mention a few things. Most program directors are overworked, underfunded and understaffed. They work like mad just to keep their head’s above water. If that sounds like you, then I have a question for you: In all this hustle and bustle what are you doing to keep your teachers motivated?

Like students, teachers have different gifts and talents. Do you give them opportunity to use those talents? Better yet, do you give them an opportunity to share their expertise with their peers?

Teachers need more than to just deliver content to students. This is especially true if that content is “canned”, that is to say, it’s very structured, rigid and inflexible. I once had a teaching job that I loathed because all the teachers had the same textbook and had to cover exactly the same content every week. We had a week-by-week outline of all the content we had to teach. Tests and assignments were developed by the two head teachers without input from others. All the assignments given in every class, by every teacher were the same. Every teacher had to give the same test on the same day.  Teachers were instructed on grading practices, so that grading would be “simpler and standardized”. Those in charge said it would increase quality.

It was true. It was all very standardized. And I’ll be honest, a monkey could have taught that class. There we were, a group of dynamic, engaged professionals, all of whom had bachelors or master’s degrees, churning out canned classes like robots. I stayed for a while and then resigned. Why? Because by being overly prescriptive about our teaching, the quality didn’t increase. It decreased.

One by one, the most engaged, dynamic and creative teachers all left. Those who stayed did so either because they liked the ease of not having to prepare much or because they were too afraid to look for work elsewhere. In any case, the result was the same. The teachers became disgruntled, disengaged and unhappy.

Now let’s consider another case. At a local college, my friend Val is an ESL teacher. While she has particular objectives in her teaching, she also had an idea about using Reading Circles in her work. She asked for the opportunity to run a reading circle with her fellow teachers at the college. Her superiors said, “Go for it!” The reading circle was a success and her project became hot talk among her peers. She moved on to do an applied research project about using reading circles for ESL and literacy. She was asked to do a presentation at the college about her work. People started talking. Val’s idea began to spread. She has gone on to present at conferences. There’s even a YouTube video about Val’s Reading Circles.

Val was given the opportunity by her superiors to use her creativity and not have it stifled. By being given the chance to explore and develop her ideas and talents, Val went about digging deeper into an area she has an interest in, develop professionally and become a leader in her own right in the area of reading circles for ESL literacy.

Giving teachers a chance to showcase and celebrate their professional expertise achieves 5 things (maybe more):

  • Offers them a chance to share their knowledge and passion with their peers.
  • Motivates them to become self-directed learners themselves as they have the chance to investigate what they’re interested in.
  • Provides recognition from others, both inside and outside your school.
  • Increases the teacher’s commitment to the profession.
  • Raises the profile of your school by highlighting the talented professionals who work with you.

What are you doing to encourage your teachers to use their creativity?


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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