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Fostering a Creative Workplace

As a manager, you have an opportunity to nurture creativity in your staff. When staff feel empowered to be creative, so will the children and youth they serve.

  • List aspects of a creative work environment.
  • Describe the dispositions that unleash creativity in staff.
  • Identify strategies for fostering creativity in staff.



During this course, you have learned how creativity is significant to child and youth programs, and how to cultivate creativity in children and youth. This lesson focuses on ways to promote creativity in your staff. You will find that some staff members may feel they don’t have a creative bone in their bodies, others may seem to ooze with creativity, and then others may be somewhere in between. By promoting a commitment to life-long learning and recognizing that adults learn differently and have unique learning styles, you are creating a culture where everyone feels free to express their creativity.

"You cannot use up creativity. The more you use the more you have."­ - Maya Angelou

Aspects of the Work Environment that Stimulate Creativity

Just as program spaces cultivate creativity in children, your work environment cultivates creativity in adult learners. Kaufman identifies eight aspects of the work environment that promote creativity (Kaufman, 2009, p. 49):

  • Adequate freedom: Adults need the ability to make personal and professional choices. In child and youth programs, choices can sometimes seem limited. For example, many forms, policies and procedures are prescribed. Break times and work schedules may be scheduled based on staff availability rather than individual staff preference. These practical needs do not mean that creativity is impossible in the workplace. Rather, you should work to find ways to help staff find the exciting opportunities and freedoms in their work. Are there new materials they can help choose for purchase? Can they choose curricular themes based on children’s interests? Can teams work amongst themselves to identify who will take first lunch, etc.?
  • Challenging work:There is no doubt that working in child and youth programs is challenging. Each day is different and each child is different. The nature of this work can spark creativity. Help staff members see challenges or concerns as problems they can solve.
  • Appropriate resources: We all need tools to do our jobs. Appropriate resources (like planning tools, resource libraries, classroom supplies, and time for planning, reflection, and support) are prerequisites for feeling creative. Although “necessity is the mother of invention,” it is important that staff members have the basic tools and support they need to do their jobs.
  • A supportive supervisor: As a member of your program’s leadership team, you play a role in helping staff members feel supported. You meet with staff members regularly and observe in their classrooms or programs. This close contact with staff members can give them the support and feedback they need to do their jobs well. You can encourage, motivate, and inspire staff members.
  • Diverse and communicative coworkers:You probably have teams that seem to generate good ideas every day. These teams have some characteristics in common. The members complement each other; they have different experiences and expertise that is recognized by all members. They also talk freely and seem to enjoy each other’s company. Ideas flow in conversation. These teams plan well together, laugh with each other, and help each other feel motivated.
  • Recognition: You and the management team can and should recognize good ideas and efforts. You can use subtle or formal strategies. Subtle strategies include a brief encouraging conversation or a note in the mailbox. Formal strategies include highlighting staff members in a newsletter, certificates or awards, or celebrating a team’s success during a special event.
  • A sense of cooperation: Creative spaces are collaborative spaces. People feel safe to share ideas — even ideas that they don’t think will work. Team members build one another up.
  • An organization that supports creativity: You are not alone in the quest to cultivate creativity. A truly creative workplace operates coherently at every level. Your entire management team prioritizes and recognizes creativity.

Life-Long Learners

Humans are always learning. In every occupation, every day, there is always something to learn! In fact, you are reading this information right now as a way to become informed of the latest research and the best practices when it comes to managing a child and youth program. Learning inspires creativity. While people are always learning, their approach to learning changes across their lifespan.

Malcolm Knowles was among the first to explore the concept of adult learning. He believed that adults approach learning in unique ways and that they are driven through their own styles of learning and their life experiences. Adults are:

  • Autonomous and self-directed
  • Knowledgeable and have life experiences
  • Goal-oriented
  • Relevancy-oriented
  • Practical
  • Desirous of respect for their knowledge

When staff members see you modeling a commitment to lifelong learning, they get a message that continuing to learn and grow is valued. Attending professional development alongside staff, sharing journal articles that you have read, and staying current on trends and regulations are all ways to demonstrate that you are committed to life-long learning.

A popular approach is to create a community of learners. Communities of learners can be organized in a variety of ways around a variety of topics. Here are a few ways you could utilize them at your program:

  • Borrowing the format of Reggio Emilia, you could set up study groups to examine children's work, plan curriculum or problem-solve situations. Groups could be set up during nap times on a rotating basis, after hours, or on in-service days.
  • Staff could review journal articles or chapters from books and create one-page summaries for the rest of the staff. This could be done on a rotating basis as well, one person per age group per month.
  • Staff attending training, conferences, classes or workshops could report on what they learned at a staff meeting.
  • Staff could be part of a "kitchen cabinet" by researching the pros and cons of suggestions generated from program surveys and presenting their recommendations to you based on their findings. This is a great way to develop buy-in, particularly for unpopular decisions.
  • Create a discussion or blog board where ideas could be shared among staff. Provide a board for parents as well so ideas about child rearing and child development could be posted.

When you model and implement strategies likes those listed above, you unleash creativity in very important ways. You develop new leaders and divergent thinkers who communicate and collaborate with one another to think outside the box.

Different Types of Learners

While you intuitively know that people are unique, it’s possible to forget that what you see on the surface is just a small representation of the person as a whole. As you have learned in other courses, people are shaped by their experiences, and therefore the things that motivate them and their reactions can vary greatly. There are many tools available to support managers in their work with a varied workforce. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Personality Test is a widely used tool for identifying personality types in order to be a more effective manager. There are also theories which describe different types of learners.

David Kolb, a theorist who builds on Carl Jung's theory of personality development, identifies four different types of learners:

Accommodating:This type of learner relies on intuiting and perceiving ideas rather than on logic.
Diverging:Divergent learners are able to look at things from different or varying perspectives.
Converging:Learners in the converging style are able to solve problems and use learning to come up with solutions.
Assimilating:Learners who use this style approach ideas and concepts as more important than people. They tend to be concise and logical.

Follow the link below to examine the chart identifying styles and approaches to learning.

Not everyone is always one style and one style alone. Learners may be strong in one learning style or they may be a blend of several styles. Examining your approach to learning is the first step in understanding how best to appeal to all kinds of learners. Meeting staff where they are is the best impetus to getting them to move outside of their comfort zones.

Nurturing Creative Dispositions in Adult Learners

A common theme across all of the courses is that the person you are is as important as the work you do. As a manger, you play a critical role in creating your program’s culture. The alignment between your words and actions defines what is valued. Outside of keeping everyone safe, there is no more important value than exhibiting a passion for learning. When staff members see that you are energized by your work, approach challenges as opportunities, and reflect on decisions, all while maintaining a positive attitude, you are encouraging dispositions that embrace creativity. There are several things you can think about to help you prepare to nurture creativity.

  • Be flexible and open-minded. Staff members should feel safe sharing their ideas with you and admitting when they are out of ideas. This requires flexibility and open-mindedness. Listen without judging ideas. Encourage brainstorming. Instead of saying, “No” or “Yes, but…,” consider saying, “Yes, and…,” adding your own ideas. Truly creative teams generate a lot of ideas. Once those ideas are generated, the team can work together to think critically about which ideas will work best.
  • Be excited about promoting creativity. Help staff get excited and stay excited about their work.
  • Be encouraging. You should strive to be considered a trusted mentor to staff members. Expect creativity in your program and praise it when you see it.

In Summary

There are a multitude of ways to encourage creativity in your program. While you may not feel very creative at any given moment, staff are taking their cues from you. Take a moment to think of something creative you could be doing at this moment. You won’t have to look far. Coo with the infants, dance with the toddlers, build castles with the preschoolers, play basketball with the school-agers. If you ever forget the pure joy of creativity in your daily routine, repeat this exercise.

The video below shares a few ideas that other child and youth program managers utilize to foster a creative workplace. Their curiosity, resourcefulness, and passion are the dispositions necessary to fostering a creative workplace.

That's My Job - I did it Today!

Starts with the staff and flows to the children.


Create a “Wall of Recognition” to celebrate the accomplishments, large and small, of the staff. Take pictures of new achievements, talk about successes, and have staff members share their experiences. Encourage adoption of sound innovation. Work with staff as they review new practices and then work to implement them.


An important aspect of your job is to ensure that classroom practices are aligned to your program’s philosophical framework. When it comes to creativity in classrooms, teachers can have very different perspectives. One perspective might be that children must be ready for school and to that end there is little time for “play.” Another perspective is that there is plenty of time for children to get “schooled” and that they should engage in unstructured play all day.

You will be able to observe these different perspectives in action when you are observing in classrooms. The varying perspectives will sound different, feel different, and look different. As you have learned, a balanced approach is best. Moving teachers more towards a balance between process- and product-oriented experiences should be your goal. Of course, getting staff to change their practice involves more than telling them what should change; it involves sharing and modeling.

Supporting the one-way, right-way, “trees can’t be purple” teacher will require that teacher to first talk about the reasons behind their philosophy. They probably feel a great amount of personal responsibility for the children and youth they teach. They may even feel that it is what parents want. Or they may not feel very creative themselves and therefore they play out their own experiences. In many cases, moving forward for this teacher involves releasing some control and accepting that things may often times not work out as planned.

Supporting the play-all-day, “it is inappropriate to have structure” teacher also requires open dialogue to explore their beliefs. These teachers probably feel that childhood is a very special time and it should be honored, not rushed. They may feel it is their way to take control of the system; or they may not have adequate classroom management skills. In many cases, moving forward for this teacher means trying new methods, involving a lot of trial-and-error, and realizing that mistakes are an important aspect of learning.


Community of learners:
A group of people who actively engage in learning from one another. Learning communities are cooperative and supportive. They have joint responsibility for learning and share resources and points of view, in a mutually respectful environment
A person’s attitude or inclination towards something
Kitchen Cabinet:
A group of unofficial advisors; used frequently by government leaders


Finish this statement: As a manager, you can model strategies that nurture creativity by …
True or False? There are four different styles of learners and each of your staff members falls into one of these categories.
A staff member asks how she can share ideas about creativity with other staff and families. What do you say?
References & Resources

Lieb, S. (1991). Principles of adult learning.

Ormrod, J.E. (1995). Human learning. 3rd edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill-Prentice Hall.

Robinson, K. (2009). The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. New York: Penguin Group.

Chapman, A. (2021). Kolb's learning styles

Kelley, D. (2012). TED talk: How to Build Your Creative Confidence.

Myers-Briggs Foundation. (n.d.) MBTI basics.