Adam Tilove is the Head of School for the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island.
We at the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island pride ourselves on being an institution that “inspires creativity.” I was asked by the folks at the Creative Scholars Project “how” we do that on a practical level. Here is a series of ways we make our school creative—and ways other institutions could, as well.
Put it in the mission statement. Many organizations use their mission statements to influence a plethora of decisions, from marketing, to budgeting, to hiring staff. Our mission statement says that we “nurture each student’s innate creativity and curiosity…” That mission statement is in every office and every classroom, sometimes subtly and sometimes overtly influencing the decisions we make. Organizations that are mission-driven should make sure their values appear in their mission statements!
Make space for creativity. This year we restructured our school, cleaned out one of our biggest classrooms, and created a Design Lab. In the Design Lab we have all kinds of resources and materials, from cardboard, to pipe cleaners, to Legos, to hot glue guns. Our Design Lab is a cross between science class, art class, and shop class. It is a flexible space that can be rearranged every day. We are undaunted by mess and encourage students to fail fast forward. By creating a space in which students can feel comfortable dreaming, creating, reflecting, and destroying, we empower and embrace their imaginative and creative lives.
Make time for creativity. The Design Lab is open for teachers to use at almost any time, but Design Lab also appears on students’ schedules once a week. Creativity can’t be an “only if we have time at the end” activity. If creativity is to be taken seriously, it has to appear on the schedule with every other subject like math, ELA, or lunch.
Put creativity in the budget. I once heard someone say, “You can tell what someone’s values are by looking at their bank account—we spend money on what we care about!” A school should have a ‘creativity budget,’ even a small one, to experiment with games, toys, and materials. Both teachers and students should be encouraged to experiment with whatever is new and exciting.
Encourage creativity amongst staff. Often during staff meetings, we engage in creative activities such as sketching or six-word memoirs. As an administrator, I could spend the full hour and a half covering important information or asking teachers to work on a project. But it is equally important and more exciting to encourage teachers to embrace their own creative potentials. If it feels valuable and empowering to them, they will pass it on to their classes.
Light a fire. It’s sad but true that often in life we only get done what has to get done. Even things we find important get relegated to what’s urgent or what’s demanded by our bosses. As the Head of School, I have asked teachers to write up a lesson plan that focuses primarily on supporting creative capacity. While I would hope that all teachers would take this value to heart in every lesson, I am well aware of the myriad pressures weighing on teachers every day, especially in a dual curriculum like ours. As the lead administrator, I know that when I ask for something to be done, there is added pressure to the staff, so I choose my deliverables with forethought and deliberation. Since creativity is a prime value to our mission, I asked teachers to wrestle with and prepare a lesson in this area. As a result, they put extra research, energy, and enthusiasm into these lessons.
Too often schools and institutions stifle creativity and create a culture that values following directions, repeating content, and producing deliverables according to particular specifications. To build a creative culture, schools must take creativity seriously and make room for it in every way.