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Fostering a Creative Workplace

Throughout this course, you have learned about the importance of creativity for children and adults. This lesson will provide specific strategies to help you nurture creativity among staff members in your program. You will learn to model creativity and respond to common staff characteristics related to creativity.

  • List the aspects of a creative work environment.
  • Describe strategies for nurturing creative dispositions in adult learners.
  • Model creativity in your daily work.
  • Brainstorm responses to common staff characteristics related to creativity.



"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." - Pablo Picasso

Throughout this course, you have reflected on children’s creativity, your own creativity, and the creativity of the staff members around you. You have learned that creativity is something that we all have. Spaces and experiences can inspire creativity. In this lesson, you will learn how to cultivate creativity in your workplace.

Aspects of the Work Environment that Stimulate Creativity

Similar to the way program spaces cultivate creativity in children, your work environment cultivates creativity in adult learners. Educational psychology professor James Kaufman has identified eight aspects of the work environment that cultivate creativity (Kaufman, 2009, p. 49):

8 Aspects to Cultivate Creativity

Adequate freedomAdults 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 discover 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 among themselves to identify who will take first lunch, etc.?
Challenging workWorking in child and youth programs is no doubt challenging. Each day is different. 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 resourcesWe 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 supervisorAs 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 coworkersYou have probably seen 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 are recognized by all members. They also talk freely and seem to enjoy one another’s company. Ideas flow in conversation. These teams plan well together, laugh with each other, and help each other feel motivated.
RecognitionYou and the management team 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 cooperationCreative spaces are collaborative spaces. People should feel safe to share ideas—even ideas that they don’t think will work. Team members build one another up.
An organization that supports creativityYou 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.

Nurturing Creative Dispositions in Adult Learners

You are an instructional leader in your program: You help nurture excellence in curriculum and programming. Your daily interactions can help set the tone for creativity among the staff members. In the Observe section of this lesson, you will read about several different ways staff members might approach creativity. You will have a chance to think about how you can respond to each staff member. 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:

This course has talked a great deal about thinking creatively about problems. You don’t need a problem to make you think creatively, though! 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.


The simplest thing you can do to cultivate creativity is to model creativity yourself. You have many opportunities to exercise your creativity throughout the day. Here are a few ways you can model creativity:

  • Take a break to exercise your body and your mind. Go for a walk on your lunch hour, call a friend, or simply get a change of scenery. Getting exercise or changing your perspective can spark different ways of thinking.
  • Play! Adults need play time too. Gather a collection of interesting objects and simple materials from classrooms. See what adults can create. Display their creations and stories around the building. Keep an in-progress puzzle or board game in your office and encourage staff members to join in when they have a moment.
  • Participate in fun, creative challenges. Post “brain teasers” in the staff area and give a prize to the winners. You could also find an uncommon kitchen utensil at a home store, and display it in the lobby. Ask families, children, and staff to guess what it is. Award prizes to the most creative answers.
  • Join in classrooms or programs. When children and staff are being creative together, get involved. Show your enthusiasm and enjoyment.


Now let’s think about the kinds of adults you might encounter in your program. While these categories are not exhaustive, they give an idea of some attitudes towards creative experiences. After reading the scenario, think about what you would say and do to support the professional growth of each type of staff member relative to creativity.

Promoting Creative Expression



The “One way, right way” teacher

Candice is a very concrete thinker. She has a hard time seeing beyond the original purpose of materials. She often corrects children if they begin to build a structure that does not look realistic. She frequently uses match-to-sample art activities. Children in her program create very lovely products, but each one is the same. She puts a lot of time into planning and preparing for experiences.

You Say

You might talk with Candice about flexibility.

  • “What happens when a child has a different idea than you do?”
  • “You are such a careful planner and you really prepare well for the children. Let’s think about ways we can continue planning open-ended experiences for the children.”

You Do

Observe and Discuss

  • Connect Candice to peers who offer more open-ended experiences and interactions. Observe with her and talk about what you see. Set goals for positive talk that encourages creativity.


The "Trees can't be purple" teacher

James is very focused on preparing children for the “real world.” He is very good at talking about academics with children, and he seems to enjoy his time with the children. He encourages children to always make their work represent the world around them: he only places out certain colors of paint or markers for certain activities, he prefers art that is very literal, and he often corrects children when their projects appear unrealistic.

You Say

You might say:

  • “James, I can tell how important it is to you that children know facts and are ready for the next step. What role do you think creativity plays in getting them ready for the world?”
  • “Next time a child uses an unrealistic color in art, what could you say? Let’s try a few ideas together.”

You Do

Reinforce with examples and research

  • Share books or readings with James about the importance of creativity. Help him feel committed to building creativity along with other important skills. Set small goals that build upon one another, so James feels comfortable gradually learning how to respond to children’s ideas.


The "Play all day" teacher

Joan is a free spirit. She believes children learn best through experience and that too much adult interaction hinders children’s learning. On her activity plans, she is able to articulate how children are meeting goals through play, but she rarely follows through with her plans.

You Say

You might say:

  • “You have such strong interactions with the children, and I can tell they really enjoy their time in the program. I’d like to talk about the planning process a bit, so we can make sure we are all on the same page.”
  • “In our program, we really believe in a balance of experience for the children: open-ended, teacher-directed, and so on. Let’s talk a little bit about how you see your classroom working and how I can support you.”

You Do

Observe, Brainstorm, and Give Feedback

  • Spend time observing in Joan’s classroom and identify times of the day that might benefit from enrichment or additional support. Help Joan brainstorm small play-based ways she can incorporate learning throughout the day. Monitor her activity plans and provide feedback on how she uses them.


The "It's inappropriate to have structure" teacher

Like Joan, Tom believes children learn through play. He does not set any time limits on children’s experiences, and he never expects a child to finish something until the child chooses to do so. Tom struggles with planning. He prefers to provide materials and see what happens.

You Say

You might say:

  • “I can tell you have a really strong philosophy and I’m glad you care so much about what you do. Can you talk to me about the experiences kids are having right now?”
  • “Some children thrive in play settings, and some children need support. Have you noticed any children who seem like they might need a bit more structure?”

You Do

Plan a schedule

  • Orient Tom to your program’s philosophy about schedules. Sit down with him to design a schedule that provides the flexibility he craves but the structure some children need. Set up times for him to observe how other staff members with similar philosophies operate their classrooms.



In the first lesson of this course, you watched a few TED conference talks. To conclude the course, watch one more entitled, “How to Build Your Creative Confidence” by David Kelley. Use the Creative Confidence activity to access the video link and reflect on what this means for your workplace.


We all need to be rejuvenated sometimes. The following ideas can help you spark creativity during team meetings or throughout the day. Use the Simple Ideas for Promoting Creativity Amongst Adults guide and consider whether you could use any of these ideas to help adults feel creative and energetic.


Finish this statement: The simplest way to encourage creativity in your staff is to …
A staff member comes to you with an idea for Family Night that you would like to add some suggestions to. You respond to this staff member by saying …
True or False? It is difficult for diverse coworkers to collaborate together and brainstorm creative ideas for childcare programs.
References & Resources

Cropley, A. J. (2001). Creativity in Education and Learning: A guide for teachers and educators. New York: Psychology Press.

Johnson, D. (2012). Developing Creativity in Every Learner. Library Media Connection. October, 2012.

Kaufman, J. C. (Ed.). (2009). Creativity 101. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Von Oech, R. (2002) Expect the Unexpected (or You Won’t Find It): A creativity tool based on the ancient wisdom of Heraclitus. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Zevin, J. (2013). Creative Teaching for All: In the box, out of the box, and off the walls. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.