The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Constraints that Squelch Creativity

In the October issue of Everyartist Everyday, we discussed  how constraints can spur creativity and dimensional thinking. The current research is overpoweringly in favor of constraints and how they fuel creative thought.

Not everything teachers try to do ignites creativity.  To read about teaching models and strategies that stifle creativity, read on.

Fuel Creativity with constraints.jpg
Sir Ken-creativity.png


Some Common Reasons Creativity Doesn’t Flourish in Some Classrooms:

  • Lack of support from school/administration/district/state

  • Previous instructor was a “recipe teacher”

  • Scheduling and class sizes

  • Fears of being wrong, different, or talked about. (bullying)

  • Teacher not “letting go” of control

  • “Time is short and art is long.”  -Marvin Bartel

  • Teacher’s spot/students’ spots on the creative continuum don’t coincide.

  • Lessons don’t expect/respect/connect creativity.

  • Teacher is not a creative practitioner herself/himself.


Only the first two are completely out of your control.  You can hope to affect them through advocacy; join local, state and national art organizations.  Become your school’s creativity advocate!  Show your students’ works; cover the walls with as much creative work as possible. Have signs that explain the creative process and how your students arrive at their choices. Develop your reputation as a role model, and volunteer to mentor other teachers.  By doing some of the above, you may be able to affect those teachers who do not know how to be more creative in their methods.

Some of you would argue that the ‘schedule and class sizes’ are out of your control.

However, I have always believed that you can do anything you need to for a day, a week a month or a year as long as you know you don’t have to do it for the rest of your life.

I have endured horrid schedules of 12 classes a day changing every 27 minutes with 35-54 children in a class.  I ‘endured’ this until I came up with a better idea, a workable schedule for my team of 4 ( 2 P.E. teachers, 1 music teacher and myself).  As it turned out, “the schedule” had just always been that way for reasons long forgotten, and my plan was gladly accepted, approved by administration, and instituted as soon as it was presented.

Within that schedule,  we were able to add two other components (library and computers) and radically reduced our number of students. Eventually, the next year, we all worked together to invent a schedule of 55-minute classes for grades 1-5 that adhered to state P.E. minute mandates, and only Kindergarten remained at 27 minute classes, although I knew that it would work with longer classes for Kindergarten if the engagement was high and lessons were layered and paced properly.  The second term, saw Kindergarten students join in the 55-minute rotations and succeed.


Fear is the single most stringent limiter of creativity for artists of all ages.

In our first 5 issues, every teacher interviewed has listed fear as the most prevalent reason that inhibits creativity in their classrooms and their own artwork. Fear of ridicule clamps shut mouths from offering a divergent opinion, and keeps a lot of hands from designing something original. Fear of making a mistake and not being perfect often stop some of the most creative minds from offering ideas out loud, or designs on paper.

Research shows that “communities of creativity” are very effective in bringing out the creativity in everyone participating.  When students communicate, collaborate, and create together a sense of respect, belonging and acceptance is cultivated. These cooperative learning environments are perfectly in line with the needs of the 21st Century learner.


Words and phrases that limit or kill creativity in the classroom:

Do an honest assessment of how you personally respond to “wrong” answers, assumptions, or points of view. When students are off course, hesitant or wrong, are they immediately corrected, or are they investigated? Do you ask, “why did you think that?” or say, “That’s very interesting... can you explain further?”or do you just say, “Sorry, that’s wrong?”
Do you acknowledge that every individual has a unique set of experiences, a point of view, and problems that may be reflected in his or her work? Do you honestly believe the old adage “there’s no such thing as a stupid question?” Do you always dig a little deeper before judging? These are all tough mindsets to consistently practice! Time, stress, and the way YOU were taught may taint your judgements here.

Eric Nebbia has suggestions on how to dig deeper, and possibly say “no” or “wrong" without stifling creativity.


Teacher thinking and student thinking play equal positive OR negative parts in establishing and nurturing a creative classroom environment. Simple phrases, commonly said, can greatly limit creativity. I prominently place the following poster in my classroom as a list of words and phrases that really DO NOT merit a place in a creativity-nurturing classroom.


I do have to admit that I have heard myself saying some of these when I was short on time, upset, or my patience was stretching thin...and I have heard them frequently from many students, especially at the beginning of the year.  But together we try to eliminate this type of limiting thinking.

Along the same lines, Marvin Bartel, master potter, Emeritus Professor of Art, Goshen College, Indiana, succinctly lists 11 Creativity Killers, or common classroom practices that each make it impossible to cultivate a creative environment.  


In most modern American schools, driven by accountability for mandated testing systems, our art classes may be the ONLY place that can easily foster an environment of creativity…we must be the advocates for STEAM. We must teach to get “Art Back to the Core”... the ABCs of STEAM!    Remember...

“The only thing that interferes with my learning IS my education.”    ---    Albert Einstein