Towards a Theory for Supporting Creativity in Schools
Education recognizes that creativity is important for students and society. However, teachers have scant direction about how to support it, in part because current understanding of what works is piecemeal, as is the empirical research on creative school environments. This dissertation explores the breadth and depth of the experiences afforded to secondary students in a Western context that support and stifle creativity. This work focuses on student perspective as the meanings that students make of their creativity-experiences determine their consequences. I used a constructivist grounded theory methodology to guide this research, with the focus of study secondary school experiences of creativity encouragement and discouragement. The experiences students described to me encompassed both the human and non-human elements in the learning environment with which students interacted, and students’ responses to these interactions. In this retrospective study, postsecondary students chose and reflected on experiences that they had two to five years earlier and described the consequences of the experiences in their current lives. Three hundred and sixty-nine students communicated the experiences and their reactions to them through an online questionnaire, and fourteen students through more in-depth, iterative interviews. Through constructivist analytic approaches, three conditions for the support of creativity in secondary schools were conceived: freedom, meaningful challenge, and teacher belief. The parallel opposite conditions—constraint, lack of meaningful challenge, and lack of teacher belief— led to creativity discouragement. In my study, the consequences of creativity-encouragement entailed expanded creativity behaviour and beliefs, enhanced learning, and prosocial beliefs and behaviour. In parallel opposition, creativity-discouraged students consequently curtailed their creativity behaviour and took on diminished beliefs, contracted from learning, and took up anti-social beliefs and behaviour. These consequences lasted into the present day for many students. The responses were psychologically driven by students’ positive/negative emotions and students’ decisions about competence and identity. These findings are discussed in light of intrinsic motivation, self-efficacy, and self-fulfilling prophecy. The grounded theory developed in this dissertation enriches understanding of the conditions required to support youth in their creativity in education contexts and describes the consequences of this support (or its lack) on students’ future behaviour and beliefs.