The Creative Process for Teachers

If there’s  one thing that’s overlooked in education, it’s professional development where teachers are able to feed their own fires.  Sound corny?  Ya, a little bit, but it’s true!  If you want to know why I said it that way, read this post where I first started talking about feeding our flames.  But basically, what I mean here is that teachers, as professionals need the opportunity to learn through the creative process if we are to ask that of our students.  We need to get inspired in order to BE inspiring to our students.

You know that Chinese proverb:

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

This has been thrown around in education as a reminder for teachers to actively engage their students in their learning.  But I think it can mean something even more profound if we take that concept and apply it to professional development.

How many times have you sat through a workshop and were told idea after idea, concept after concept?  How much do you truly remember, let alone use actively in your teaching?  In my experience – none of it.  No matter how valuable the information is, it just doesn’t stick.

Have you attended a class where you are shown what to do?  You may flip through texts together with colleagues, view a video of the strategy at work or watch another group of teachers explain and demonstrate what they have done in their classrooms?  The ideas, the concepts are valuable, but still you are quite passive in the experience.  Seeing it, as well as hearing what the presenter has to say is more memorable, yet when you leave the confines of the presentation, the desire to follow through may be lost with time.

Yet in a place where you, the participant are involved with the presentation, things really start to make sense.  This is where the creative process, a learning process can be utilized to help teachers get a feel for how powerful creativity and hands-on learning can be.  For when we are able to experience it ourselves, we are more apt to implement it into what we do each day.

This past summer, during the arts integration class I taught, the teacher-students were very much involved with so much of the learning.  In fact, I witnessed them each go through their own creative process throughout the five days.  They created things including visual art, and music, stories and lesson plans.  And we brought all these to life through performance and role play.  When reflecting on what they had learned, one teacher said that going through that entire process of creation first hand made the idea of arts integration a realistic goal for her teaching this fall.

The same is true for teachers who attended the Teacher Art Retreat.   The concept of those three days of workshops was for teachers to truly experience different art forms by DOING them.  They created things from start to finish and were able to reflect on what they did and how it applied to learning.  One teacher said that actually going through that process brought to light how she could give herself and her students the freedom to explore and be creative.

Another theme that came up in both PD offerings this summer was that in understanding the creative process by DOING, teachers were also able to gain a new understanding of how different people process things and learn.  In a few cases it was by watching how the other teachers worked and listening to their reflections of how they worked through things.  In another case it was by putting oneself into a new situation by doing something (like playing a drum) completely foreign to them.  (Read that interesting story here.)

In all cases, teachers grew – me included.

One thing that can’t go without saying is that when teachers are put into these types of PD, an incredible community is built.  When people (of any age) experience things together and go through the creative process together, bonds are built on a different level.

Needless to say, I am a huge proponent of active PD where teachers are highly involved in the topics and activities.  Only then will we truly be motivated to use the valuable skills and strategies that so many presenters and consultants have to offer.


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Article by Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth Peterson has devoted her life to education and to reaching out to other teachers who want to remain inspired. Mrs. Peterson teaches fourth grade in Amesbury, Massachusetts and is the host of She holds an M.Ed. in Education, “Arts and Learning” and a C.A.G.S. degree with a focus in “Arts Leadership and Learning.” Elizabeth is author of Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book that includes a method of music integration she has developed and implemented into her own teaching. She teaches workshops and courses on the integration of the arts into the curriculum and organizes the annual summer Teacher Art Retreat. Mrs. Peterson believes there is a love of active, integrated learning in all children and from their enthusiasm, teachers can shape great opportunities to learn.
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  1. Elizabeth — I agree with every syllable you wrote here and hope that PD can move toward this for the benefit of students and teachers.
    In many schools, the first obstacle to proposing PD that looks like this would be the question, “Where’s the data?” This is usually a clue that PD is being used to serve a curriculum rather than people.
    Like you, I’m concerned that we are developing a generation of test-bot teachers who are well versed in assessment but lack depth in student-based classroom strategies and an understanding of their unique teaching and learning styles.
    Thank you for an important post.

    • Thanks for your comments. The reality is that there really should be a balance. Yes, the data is important, but so is the teacher PD where teachers are doing the stuff that makes them get inspired to teach students. Test taking strategies are unfortunately necessary to some degree – that’s what our students are required to do. BUT we, those in the classrooms everyday, have the power to transform the classrooms into lively learning arenas. Inspiring PD is what can get us there. Thanks again for continuing the conversation…

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