Posted by: Principal/Editor | November 2, 2012

Creative Thinking- An amalgamation of imagination and innovation

Creativity is a process that requires change therefore, it is important for leaders who implement changes within an organisation to be equally skilled in facilitating creative thinking, both in themselves as well as in others around them (Zacko-Smith, 2009). Creative leaders have a clear view of future needs and opportunities. They have the ability to attract people and possess competencies to parallel challenges by discovering effective solutions to resolve them. They are able to introduce positive change and make quantum leaps for the organization.  The school is a rapidly evolving milieu. I believe in order to lead a department or school, leaders need to think creatively to address, manage and solve challenges so that they are able to meet the demands of the 21st century. Moreover, this viewpoint is confirmed by a study conducted by IBM to 1500 CEO’s in which the collated data showed that creativity is the topmost important quality a leader should encompass.

At the school or classroom level, we need to create our own definition what creativity means base on our students’ context. Sometimes I wonder should we embed a lesson of creativity in our curriculum. For instance one of the elective modules I attended has taught me to integrate Creativity Problem Solving (CPS) within our lessons in the curriculum. This will not only engage students during lessons but allow them the space and environment to embark on a higher level of thought process.

In planning curriculum, it is imperative that teachers recognise how creativity allows new ways for teaching and learning to co-exist. A CPS lesson can help children develop more in- depth understanding while allowing them to delve beyond content areas. Furthermore, research has indicated that teacher’s role model will undeniably enhance students learning. In a creative lesson, teachers model the process of finding, solving problems and communicating their ideas. Students then are able to see that their teacher brings a spectrum of creative and differentiated ideas to enhance their learning experience.  Thus, conceivably by immersing themselves in a CPS directed lesson, students formulate questions, make connections to solutions and bring diverse ideas to discussion which benefits both teachers and students in their learning experience.

In general our schools do poorly at developing creative-thinking skills (Trilling & Fadel, 2009).One of the hurdles in the current school curriculum is generating students’ imagination. There appears a greater need to complete syllabus which compromises imaginative thinking as there is no allocation of time for our students to generate their imagination. Imagination is one of the key factors of innovation and creativity.

Teachers face a myriad of challenges in trying to encourage imagination in students.  Consequently, if sufficient time and resources are not employed for students to explore their imagination, we cannot thus expect students to innovate and come up with creative ideas.  One other challenge faced by teachers is time or rather the deficiency of time when they want to introduce CPS lessons in their class. CPS lessons are usually not welcomed with open arms by teachers.  Most teachers race to complete their syllabus and ensure that they meet the school targets. The buy-in process can be a big challenge. Teachers must first and foremost believe that a creative lesson benefits the student in their learning and then transfer this believe in their lesson delivery.

The good news is that the many years of research and practice in the field of creativity have clearly demonstrated that creativity-skills can be enhanced through training (e.g., Scott, Leritz, & Mumford, 2004). A teacher needs to have the required skills to teach a CPS lesson. Schools need to realise that just by sending teachers to attend one training session will not equip them with the skills to conduct a good CPS lesson. This is a progressive journey where constant sharing of ideas among teachers and post lesson reflections are some of the ways teachers could continually improve their CPS lessons.

Posted by Ravindran



  1. The call for Singapore educators to develop creative thinking skills in our students was started by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong when he launched the new vision for education ── Thinking Schools, Learning Nation ── in 1997. He argued that the the economy was going to be one characterised by constant flux and globalisation, where knowledge and innovation would be key for survival. The initiative led to greater school autonomy, curriculum reduction and increased resources to encourage ground-up innovations. 15 years on, while numerous school-based innovations had emerged (visit MOE ExCELFest to see for yourself) and we have seen evidence of students innovating, I agree with Ravindran that our students don’t yet exhibit the level of creative thinking we had hoped to see.

    While I disagree that insufficient time or resources had been committed to this cause ── there is Coyote Fund, time-tabled time, curriculum white space, Innovation Adoption Platform etc ── I concede that there are several institutional impediments within our system which might just make it harder to achieve the objective of inculcating creativity in our kids.

    Firstly, our accountability framework could discourage teachers from trying new approaches in instruction. Schools and teachers are held accountable for students’ results in the national examinations. As such, teachers might employ an exam-oriented approach in teaching. Questions are usually close-ended with single solutions, mirroring those found in the national examinations. Hence, it is not surprising for a teacher or school to keep doing what has been working well in delivering results. In fact, it is even harder for a very successful school to change its ways.

    Another challenge has to do with mindset and culture. Growing up and living in a society that is evaluative and very quick to judge, teachers are always eager to tell students where they had gone wrong ── they probably have good intentions for doing this. Such a behaviour however discourages students from exploration and imagination, and the judgemental attitude may rub off on the students. While the kids grow up to be discerning, they also become intolerant of mistakes and quick to judge, making it difficult for ideas to emerge pr cross-pollinate.

    The third issue that I want to touch on is something institutional. Being part of the Civil Service, teachers are cautioned against profligacy and are advised to be prudent in using public funds. However, innovating and creating involves making mistakes, sometimes repeatedly. While this principle of prudence is fundamentally good for the public, it could also discourage teachers from testing new ideas.

    Until we circumvent the above issues, it is unlikely that teachers would become innovative practitioners, and hence students too would never develop into creative thinkers.

  2. Our 21st Century world places a demand on the next generation of leaders to possess mindsets and skill sets that allow them to initiate and manage change. We need leaders with the ability to solve problems and facilitate change process. Incidentally, creative problem solving (CPS) skills which draws upon different facets of thinking – diagnostic, divergent and convergent, seems to be able to offer an attractive proposition to address our contemporary leadership demands. In addition, CPS can provide us with the tools to bring out the innate creativity of every person and establish a culture of innovation in an organisation.

    How then can educator leaders embed these creative mindsets and skill sets more firmly within our educational institutions to bring about meaningful and lasting change?

    First of all, creative leaders have a particular mindset that values creativity and engages in some specific behaviors that support creativity. For instance, they model the behaviour of taking calculated risks and trying out new approaches. They accept that success may not come about on the first attempt and builds resilience amongst the staff so that they will persevere with their efforts.

    Secondly, creative leaders adopt a growth mindset over creativity. This means they believe that creativity can be nurtured and even taught to their staff. Creative leaders actively seek out methods and processes that can help their staff to foster creative thinking and upgrade their skills in facilitating the creative process.

    While I agree with the 3 institutional impediments that Alex had raised against creativity, I would like to take on the view that creative problem solving is indispensable even in our daily lives. As the saying goes, change is the only constant in life. Every day, we are called upon to manage and plan for many commitments at work and at home and to fit in bonding time with our family all happening within the limited 24 hours we have. I thought that requires a lot of creativity on our part.

    If creative thinking is an integral part of our lives, how can educators and parents look beyond the impediments to better prepare our students to take on these challenges that will come their way?

    Promoting intrinsic motivation and problem solving are two areas where educators can foster creativity in students. Students are more creative when they see a task as intrinsically motivating, valued for its own sake. To promote creative thinking educators need to identify what motivates their students and structure teaching around it. Providing students with a choice of activities to complete allows them to become more intrinsically motivated and therefore creative in completing the tasks.

    Teaching students to solve problems that do not have well defined answers is another way to foster their creativity. This is accomplished by allowing students to explore problems and redefine them, possibly drawing on knowledge that at first may seem unrelated to the problem in order to solve it.

  3. I think the crux of the problem with teaching creativity lies in the word “teaching”. This carries an underlying assumption that creativity is “taught” i.e. transmitted from teacher to learner. However this assumption is highly troublesome. what if the teacher has no creativity to transmit? what if the teaching in ineffective? What if the perspectives of what is creative between teacher and learner are at odds with one another? This mental model carries with it a host of problems. Given that it focuses on the teaching of creativity, rather than the collaborative uncoverage of creativity between teacher and learner. power relationships, structures and procedures are invariable formed that may well stifle creativity in the learner or prevent it from being manifested.

    In order to develop a learner’s creative thinking capacity, several factors should be attended to:
    – An open and safe learning environment
    – A lack of structures (some structures may be necessary, for instance defining a performance task. however the problem is that teachers often over scaffold)
    – Collaboration and reflective conversation between teacher and learner and learner and learner.
    – Trust. Both in terms of the teacher trusting the learner and the learner trusting the teacher and also learners trusting learners)

    Building creative capacity is a reflective practice where the art is conceptualised, manifested, reflected on, reflected against and refined. This can only happen if the environment is liberal enough to permit it.

    By extension, in reforming schools or departments or curriculum, the same criteria applies if we want to seek creative input from those around us. The problem with most organizations if that oftentimes, there is just too much structure in the process, a seminar, a cafe conversation, each group presents its views ….all to well orchestrated timing. I feel that for reform to become truly co-owned by all stakeholders, the gestation process must carry a certain level of creative problem solving that is genuinely entrusted to all stakeholders in an environment of reflection and trust.

  4. According to Michael (2000), effective leadership behaviour fundamentally depends upon the leader’s ability to solve the kinds of complex social problems that arise in organisations. The skills needed to solve organisational leadership problems include:

    – Complex Creative Problem-solving skills (associated with identifying problems, understanding the problem, and generating potential solutions);
    – Social Judgement skills (associated with the refinement of potential solutions and the creation of implementation frameworks within a complex organisational setting); and
    – Social skills (associated with motivating and directing others during solution implementation).
    These skills, and knowledge, grow as a function of experience as leaders progress through their careers and education.

    Apart from knowledge, Creative Problem Solving skills is essential to solve organisational leadership problems. This calls on one’s ability to be able to think divergently and herein lies a potential gap in our educational system. From young, we are always trained to be efficient in finding (or obsession in finding) the correct answer and in the process, ignore other solutions that may potentially produce more interesting answers, which may inadvertently lead us into finding new problems to solve! Singapore schools train students well in problem solving, but may not do so well in identifying and understanding problems. One way to concretize this is to allow for more opportunities for students in schools to encounter open-ended problems and set aside adequate time for students to incubate their ideas. It is sad that, often in our rush for syllabus, we deprive the time for students to delve further into exploration of an idea or concept.

    Have we also asked ourselves the question: What do students want? In my interview session with students, we discover that most students like to learn by first exploring and trying to tackle the questions, before they are told what to do. This is similar to Torrance and Safter (1990, p.13)’s findings: people prefer to learn creatively – by exploring, questioning, manipulating, rearranging things, testing and modifying, listening, looking, feeling – and then thinking about it – incubating.

    So, please allow our teachers and students to have opportunities to explore and incubate. Else, year after year, we will be doing the same and only inching forward.


    Michael D. Mumford (2000) Leadership Skills for a Changing World: Solving Complex Social Problems. Leadership Quarterly, 11(1), 11 – 35

    Torrance & Safter, H. T. (1990). The incubation model of learning and teaching: Getting beyond aha: Buffalo, NY: Bearly Limited.

    • Divergent thinking crucial in problem solving. A team’s capacity to think divergently is contingent on the range of complementary talents, skills amongst members. Creativity is the disposition that can promote divergent thinking, enabling the team to explore a variety of possible situations beyond the pre-conceived ideas if the team had consisted of only a type of thinker specializing similar disciplines. Without diversity of team’s profile, creativity cannot thrive much less the team’s capacity for problem-solving, divergently. However, problem-solving involves more than just having the capacity to exercise creativity. Whilst it is good to have a creative disposition in exploring possibilities and designing a solution that works best for the problem at hand, it is equally important for one to be able to think critically.

      Critical thinking affords one the necessary range of cognitive tasks, which include problem identification, problem definition, problem analysis, contextual analysis.. etc. These abilities require a careful and rigorous look at the problem, breaking it apart, deconstructing it, establish correlations of factors and determining the causality of of problems identified. Without this, it would be challenging to deal with problem solving.

      In fact, I’d propose that creativity and criticality goes hand in hand. The first offers the divergence needed to investigate a range of possible and plausible solutions the second offers the criticality of analysis, analysis of the problem at hand and analysis of the solutions conceived for evaluation and implementation.

  5. “In a creative lesson, teachers model the process of finding, solving problems and communicating their ideas. Students then are able to see that their teacher brings a spectrum of creative and differentiated ideas to enhance their learning experience.”
    The skill of ‘knowing in action’ describes tacit knowledge that is implied but not easy to describe. Or as Donald Schon puts it ’…the know-how implicit in their actions is incongruent with their description of it’. The departure from standard teaching can be seen, where knowing-in-action is dynamic, facts, theories, rules and procedures are static. This difference provides the foundation for that education needs reform.
    Two models of the teacher are as described; A Constructionist where the teacher constructs situations of their practice (‘world-making’) that they come to accept as their own reality. An Objectivist view, that of fact finding through research where professional knowledge is accumulated. It facilitates the ability to solve ‘all meaningful disagreements with reference to the facts’. Both views share ‘the tacit process of world-making’ that underlies their practice.
    The teacher has to create a setting that is designed for the task of learning a practice, where the task is learnt, recognized and aspired to and by the student. The key difference that requires reform is that knowledge that is taught versus knowledge in action gained by students.
    In educating the reflective practioner, Schon observes Quist, an architectural lecturer who is a practitioner of the ‘language of designing’. Schon analyses Quist’s experiments as encompassing three areas; of exploration, move testing and hypothesis testing. How drawing and speaking provide a fluid and involving way of communicating with students. This act gives rise to the term of ‘virtual worlds’ that allow students to easily access the thinking behind their lecturer’s ideas. This allows Quist to ‘perform artistically but to experiment rigorously’. It is the rigorous exploration that Schon feels defines the artistry in Quist’s professional practice.
    Using the context of design as a vehicle to teach the CPS, it is the role, knowledge and capacity of the teacher to allow students to construct their own learning through coaching, allowing them to appreciate the artistry of the CPS process. With regular use of the process, it will reach a level where the skill of using CPS becomes a habit and art.

  6. By saying that ‘it is important for leaders who implement
    changes within an organisation to be equally skilled in
    facilitating creative thinking, both in themselves as well
    as in others around them’, it seems to suggest that there
    would be people who would resist change and creative thinking.

    However, I argue that the degree of change can be moderated
    to ensure acceptance of creative changes.

    These questions also came to my mind:
    Must change always involve creativity?
    Does creativity always suggests something positive?
    Does change always suggest something negative?
    Can something negative involve something positive?

    It is also said that a ‘teacher’s role model will undeniably
    enhance students learning. In a creative lesson, teachers model
    the process of finding, solving problems and communicating their
    ideas.’ So does modelling means copying? Is copying opposite of
    what creative is all about?

    I do agree that it is important for students who are new to the
    creative process to see it at work, practised by someone
    who knows it well, so that they can use the same ‘steps’
    in the creative process. While they ‘copy’ the steps, whatever
    they create is totally creative and new.

    I also question if ‘completing syllabus must definitely compromise
    imaginative thinking as there is no allocation of time for our
    students to generate their imagination?’ With summative assessment
    requiring much thinking nowadays, there is time and space in the
    curriculum and syllabus for students to practise imaginative
    thinking so as to be able to answer ‘creative’ questions that
    require higher-order thinking skills in summative assessments.

    While it is true that time is needed for innovation, let’s not
    forget about the inspiration, the spark and the catalyst that
    can reduce the time needed. However, time is definitely needed
    to onduct CPS lessons and for students to think through their
    innovative and creative ideas, and to put the ideas into words/fruition.

    It is said that ‘the good news is that the many years of research
    and practice in the field of creativity have clearly demonstrated
    that creativity-skills can be enhanced through training (e.g.,
    Scott, Leritz, & Mumford, 2004).’ I dont quite agree with that because
    training does not always mean there is an effective transfer of learning.
    Besides, even if the teacher has learnt well, it does not mean that
    he or she will actively use creativity skills in his or her lessons
    if buy-in is low.

    But I definitely agree that ‘schools need to realise that just by
    sending teachers to attend one training session will not equip them
    with the skills to conduct a good CPS lesson. This is a progressive
    journey where constant sharing of ideas among teachers and post
    lesson reflections are some of the ways teachers could continually
    improve their CPS lessons.’

  7. In the article, the author identified that there are gaps between the intended curriculum and the enacted curriculum, as well as the experienced curriculum. What cause these gaps? Are these gaps negative spaces? How can these gaps be bridged?

    I would like to share my views to the above questions.

    Buy-in from Stakeholders
    In Singapore, the intended curriculum is a national curriculum which spells out what knowledge is most worth – the most important goals and objectives. It maintains high standards of knowledge and skills for all students to thrive in the future society and economy in Singapore and the world. Campbell (2006) refers this as ‘curricular authority’ – the legitimacy of standardised curricular guidelines. The gaps will arise when MOE does not get the buy-in from the stakeholders like the school leaders, teachers, students and parents. In Singapore, the syllabus will be revised every 6 years. The intent and the key changes have to be communicated clearly to the stakeholders, and the stakeholders must buy-in to these changes. The gaps arise when stakeholders do not buy-in. For example, some of the KPs in Social Studies are not bought over on the significance of the subject which may result in the lack of understanding by teachers about the learning of Social Studies. In addition, students do not prioritise Social Studies as it is not a ‘ticket’ to tertiary education. These gaps have to be bridged because the gaps affect the impact of the intended curriculum. Being a Curriculum Planning Officer, I do ask myself “How do we create that value of Social Studies for the stakeholders?”

    Build and Sustain Support in Schools
    The enacted curriculum is often shaped from professional judgments that are made by teachers during implementation, and the professional judgments are often shaped by the teachers’ experience and mental models about the intended curriculum. If the teachers do not understand the objectives of the intended curriculum, the enacted curriculum will not align with the intended curriculum. One key strategy to close the gaps is the support from School Leaders. School Leaders play a critical role to teachers as School Leaders can shape the culture to address the needs, concerns and aspirations of the teachers. By doing so, the school leaders will be able to grasp the motivation and mindsets of the teachers and henceforth providing a strong support for the teachers and students. Such strong support is important because it strengthens relationships in schools. The strong relationships in schools will definitely narrow the negative spaces between the intended and the enacted curriculum as well as the experienced curriculum.

    Teachers’ mindset and competencies
    Curriculum is shaped by aspirations and beliefs. The intended curriculum is influenced by the teachers’ knowledge, perception and practice of the subject which they teach; the pedagogy, learning and curriculum resources. It is also influenced by the teachers’ access to resources and support, understanding of the students’ learning needs and the school context. For me, the gap may not necessary be negative spaces if a teacher has strong beliefs and competencies. If a teacher believes that strong subject mastery will make a positive difference when he/she delivers the enacted curriculum to create a positive lived experience for the students, the gaps may not be negative spaces. For skilful teachers, they will acknowledge the gap because the gap provides the space to customise their lessons to create different learning experiences for their students. If we believe that teachers are ‘Change Agent’, I would think that it is good that teachers feel comfortable with these gaps. However, I am also mindful that some of these gaps can be negative. For Social Studies, some teachers may not have the necessary qualification in his/her teaching discipline, and there are teachers who feel that it is just a propaganda subject. Thus, it is important to look into the professional development for teachers to address these negative gaps.
    Although curriculum is constructed by human, we must also note that the gap can be created by the physical capacity. When ICT Master Plan was launched, the wave to promote the use of ICT in teaching of our curriculum may not be well implemented due to the uneven distribution of resources in schools. As we go into MP3, there are still schools that will pass a iPad to every teacher to get them to design lesson using iPad without considering if the tools are appropriate. The intent was good but there are times I would like to ask “How are our resources and system serving the teachers to effect implementation successfully?

    It is important that we understand the nature of these gaps. It might not be the best ‘prescriptions’ but personally I think the buying-in, building capacity of teacher and fostering strong support among MOE, and schools are key to ensure that the intended, enacted as well as the experienced curriculum are aligned.

  8. I would argue that there are opportunities for students to be creative in schools. However, my experience in supervising and moderating students’ projects in my school has led me to a few observations about creativity and the issues that accompany it.
    1. It is hard to be creative without knowing enough.
    If students do not read enough, it is difficult for them to form new workable ideas. They need to understand existing problems, how things work in order to suggest ideas that make sense. A certain level of knowledge is necessary to formulate good ideas without being trapped by it.
    2. Judging creativity is difficult.
    It is always tough trying to judge creative work by students without being influenced by our own beliefs and experiences. It is hard also to differentiate an idea that is simple nonsensical from one that is just ahead of its time sometimes.
    3. Process vs product.
    The learning from creativity comes from the process, not the product. If we keep focusing on delivering a workable product, then we are losing the essence of creativity, which is to learn productively from the failures in the process. But judging the process is much more difficult than judging the product. The process can be messy and spans across a period of time whereas the product is only at one point in time at the end.

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