Setting the Stage for Creativity to Thrive

Group of studentsYouth starting a media project may have a wonderful array of arts and technology tools at their fingertips. They can draw pictures, take photographs, shoot video, design graphics. They can share any message they wish with their friends, their community, the world…. All they have to do is ‘just be creative.’

But “creativity isn’t something that ‘just’ happens,” says Kane Milne, an educator from Auckland, New Zealand.  “You have to be really intentional about the environment, relationships, and opportunities,” and “you have to teach kids a creative process” for their creativity to flourish.

In his program at the High Tech Youth Network, Kane says “there’s an expectation:  youth have to use their imagination and be able to envisage what they want to create.” They must ask themselves, “What skills and tools do we already have, and what do we need,” and then make plans to exhibit what they’ve done.

As a facilitator, Kane gives young people “a fair amount of freedom to find their own creative process, but I have come to understand there are some key things that need to be there to maximize the creative potential.” He describes these key elements:

Vision – being able to imagine what you are creating, even if the vision changes or isn’t fully clear.

Resource Identification and Planning – helping youth discover their skills and strengths, and to name those areas they struggle in.

Peer / Self Review – stating from the outset that there is need to review and get feedback on the project.

Showcasing – being able to stand in front of people and show your work.  There are few more powerful learning experiences; it is hard but hugely empowering, and vital to the process.

Reflection – taking the opportunity to identify successes, failure, trials and tribulations.  This locks in the learning for the youth.

In addition, as a regular practice, Kane adds “an element of social responsibility by asking youth what benefit the project will have for themselves, their families or their communities.”

Setting these expectations for youth and making demands of their creative process boosts creativity. It builds both confidence and creative abilities when youth think through what they want to make and why, learn to incorporate feedback, and share and reflect on their work. It’s a kind of accountability, requiring youth to be more thoughtful, more rigorous – and more creative.

One specific way Kane helps youth reach their creative potential is to challenge their creative and technical skills by restricting options as they work. For example, youth are given a theme, such as bullying, and told not to include any dialogue in the video they make. Kane says, “This forces them to just use the camera, music, and their own storytelling skills to get the story across.” With this approach, Kane and his team are helping them negotiate a wide array of design choices and “forcing them to think creatively.”

This media making exercise can lead to compelling projects, like this piece called Resisting Temptation.  It’s not just a teaching trick, however. In the real world, people are usually constrained in the ways they can approach problems.  Teaching creative problem solving is empowering for youth and a public good. Educators like Kane set the stage for a brighter tomorrow when they inspire young people to share their creative ideas for positive change.