creativity at 30,000 feet

What does the word creativity mean? To be creative, as many define it, is to invent and make something that was not previously thought or designed. Yet, how does one create when society is not designed for this freedom of thought process?

In her recent book, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and now more recently, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Gilbert writes that a creative life is an amplified life. Gilbert goes on to write that a creative life is one that allows you to “bring the jewels hidden within you—a fine art…” and this is where “Big Magic will always abide”. I do not believe that Gilbert is stating that we have “magic” rather, the point that she makes here is that one has the initiate ability to be creative and when one lets go of the fear of ________ (fill in the blank) that is where creativity begins.

Personally, I remember starting my teaching career and seeing one of my colleague’s creativity abound in her classroom. Not only was she personally creative in the way that she facilitated her lessons, but in the learning opportunities that she provided her students. I remember thinking in those early years, I could never replicate what she is doing, I am not that creative. As I got to know this teacher and continue to gain the confidence in the art of teaching, I too started to create engaging learning opportunities and creative learning spaces for students.

What I realized then, and what I now see 12 years later, is that when I let go of the expectations that I was placing on myself to be perfect all the time and the fear of making mistakes, I realized I AM CrEaTivE. As I continued to explore my own creativity (as well as the act of taking creative risks), I modeled for my students what it meant to take a creative risk, I saw my students do the same.

My students were not all comfortable taking creative risks, in fact, my students who were the higher achieving students, tended to hold back and ask me what I wanted them to do to show that they were creative.

For instance the following was a typical conversation that might take place in my classroom:

Student: “What do I have to do to show you that I am creative?”

Me: “What do you mean, what do I want you to do? Just be creative?”

Student: “Yes, I know, but what are you looking for?”

Me: “I don’t know, you tell me.”

Student: shows bewilderment

What these early exchange of conversations taught me is that even my highest achieving students needed to understand and learn what it meant to be creative. To be creative is an active verb phrase. It is the act of doing. What that doing is, is different for every person. There is no grade or point value that can be placed on creativity because it cannot be measured.

On a recent visit to the Apple headquarters in California, I was struck by the simplicity of the buildings interior design. The hallways, offices, conference rooms and even the bathrooms all had simple, clean lines and soft grey and white colors. At first, I thought (and if you know me, you know why I would think this) where is the color? Where are the VIBRANT colors and abstract designs? Isn’t this one of the most creative places in the world? It is the APPLE headquarters where creativity and out of the box thinking happens!!!

Yet, as I reflected more, I remember reading an article recently that spoke about the benefit of having a simplistic workspace when one is learning and creating. The article, was challenging the notion that all classrooms and workspaces needed to be vibrant, full of color work spaces with witty posters etc. in order to inspire creative thinking. What I believe could be argued in this article and what Apple shows in their building design, is that creativity does not happen on the outside, rather it happens within. Creating a space where one is not distracted by what one sees on the walls or the design allows one to creatively think and express in a way that has never been done before.

What I am also continuing to realize as a learner, is that creativity can happen anywhere. In the air at 30,000 feet, on the ground running, in the quiet stillness of a room… anywhere. Creativity is not bound by space or location, rather as Gilbert aptly defines it, creativity can be found when one “…keeps [their] eyes open. [When one is] ready [to] listen. Follow curiosity. Ask questions. Sniff around. Remain open.”

If you are a fellow educator or leader reading this, I believe it is our responsibility to coach and mentor our staff and students in exploring their own creativity. Where and how creativity might look is up to the individuals that you work with and/ or the students in your classroom. As I learned in my early years in the classroom, creativity is not a place that you arrive, rather it is allowing yourself to take risks and be inspired to create even when you are 30, 000 feet in the air.

“You do not need a permission slip from the principal’s office to live a creative life. Or if you worry that you need a permission slip—THERE, I just gave it to you…. Consider yourself fully accredited. Now go make something.”—Elizabeth Gilbert

To read more about Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, check out her book on

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6 thoughts on “creativity at 30,000 feet

  • I loved this. I have always admired Steve Jobs definition of creativity.

    Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people…

  • I relate to this article on many levels. I was one of those high performing students you referred that didn’t know how to be creative “But what are you looking for?”. It took a creative teacher that modeled creativity very well before I understood. It looks like I now have a new book to read! Thanks for sharing!

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