How do you lead and model creativity? That’s a question many school leaders ask themselves. Many of us can get our arms around collaboration, communication, and critical thinking, but why is it that creativity is one area where we frequently struggle and sputter? I think it’s because we fear creativity—it doesn’t fall into a nice box that is neatly packaged with structure and details. You see, creativity is often messy, frequently busting the seams of our comfort zones and almost always requiring us to stretch and grow.

We have a responsibility to grow creatively as school leaders. The workplace doesn’t need students who are good test takers and who can think when all of the details are laid out and structured nicely for them. Just the opposite—the workplace is looking for people who can think creatively in a fluid, complex, and ever-changing world.

Check out these four questions every school leader should be asking their teachers to nurture creativity in learning:

How/what are students creating, publishing, designing, etc.?

Be willing to have the courageous conversations with faculty and staff about the need to break out of the traditional test-taking learning environment which focuses on teaching students how to answer a multiple-choice quiz. Instead, ask teachers, “What are you having students create, design, publish, perform?” By doing this, we take the onus of learning off of the teacher and place it on the student. To do this, we must challenge the status quo and be willing to have courageous conversations with faculty to change their pedagogy to model and promote creativity.

Who are students creating for?

Most likely, when you and I were students in school, we created work for the teacher, and only the teacher, to view. Now, we need to have students creating work for the world to see. Why can’t students be creating blogs for their community to read, podcasts for the world to learn from, and videos to challenge and inspire others to action. Ask your teachers, who are students creating their work for? You, classmates, or the world?

Why are students creating? 

Are students simply creating and designing for a grade in your class? Or are they creating to solve today’s real-world problems? When students create from a platform of generating real life change and improvement, they are more empowered to learn and lead. For example, students in my school worked to create a rain garden to collect the runoff from the parking lots. They did this to improve our environment and to beautify the school. But most importantly, their work changed our school for the better and empowered them to make a difference in their community. Now they are looking for other projects to work on and improve.

What are they learning from creating? 

Simply creating without taking time to reflect on the learning and growth falls short of closing the learning loop. It’s important for students to reflect on their learning and examine what they did well, what can be improved, and what would they change if they did this project again. This type of reflection strengthens the learning process and provides students with a true life example of a workflow project that is regularly practiced in the workplace. A collaborative reflection on the project allows for collective thoughts on how to improve and grow.

Finally, start small and build big. Leading creativity is energizing and empowering. When we have the courage to ask these four questions, we open up the learning culture to become more creative and empowering for students.

Bill Ziegler, EdD, is the principal of Pottsgrove High School in Pottstown, PA. He was a 2015 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year and the 2016 Pennsylvania Principal of the Year. Bill is the host of “Lead the Way, A Podcast for School Leaders,” which works to encourage, equip, and empower school leaders. He is also the co-author of Future Focused Leaders: Relate, Innovate, and Invigorate for Real Educational Change. See more of his thoughts on creativity at, follow him on Twitter (@drbillziegler), visit his website at


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