In Search of a Voice by Dr Helen Street

in search of a voiceHow can we help students to develop their creative voice within the confines of our modern education system?


With the energy of this year’s Positive Schools conferences still fresh in the educational air, I want to take this opportunity to share the key messages of my own Positive Schools presentation.  In my thirty minutes on the stage, I introduced the notion that young people need to have more unstructured free time to develop their creative voice in learning and in life.  I also lamented on the difficulties of giving students more of this much needed free time in the highly structured education system that exists in the majority of Australian schools and colleges today. Increased content, increased school and student assessment and the starting of compulsory education at an earlier age all add up to a highly structured and highly monitored curriculum. 


I hope that we will eventually revolutionize this fast food education system, and embrace a less content driven and more student centered model of learning. However, I appreciate that things are not going to drastically change overnight… 


Thus, as a means of supporting young people realistically and more effectively in the current educational climate, I am putting forward my top ten list of ways to nurture creativity in to-days world.


  1. Value Imagination. With Google at our fingertips and the world changing at a faster rate than ever before, we need to stop ‘giving’ students so much content or even so many questions. Instead we need to encourage them to use their imagination and not only come up with possible answers of their own, but to come up with questions to our suggested topics.


  1. Give students a voice. The more students believe that they have a voice of their own in the classroom, the more they will feel a sense of ownership and control over their learning. An increased student voice supports creativity, engagement in learning and cooperation.  Let students decide on the class rules, dates for homework completion and where possible, the order of the timetable.  Make decisions together.


  1. Encourage collaboration. Young people work more effectively and more creatively when they work collaboratively.  Collaboration benefits those who are doing well in a subject as much as it does those who are struggling.  Students may sometimes need to be assessed on their own, but they need to learn together.



  1. Support diversity in learning. There is more than one way to do just about everything in life, and we need to accept that traditional methods of learning may not suit everyone.  One student may write a great literature review. Another may prefer to present a review in a video format, or even to paint a picture depicting their take on a novel.


  1. Nurture appropriate risk taking behavior. By definition, being creative means being able to move outside of your comfort zone and take a risk or two.  Students need to understand the benefits of appropriate risk taking and then be supported in taking risks as they are ready to do so.  For example, we should never force an anxious child to present to a class, but it is great to help them understand their discomfort when they are ready to do so.


  1. Help students develop a sense of mastery – embrace mistakes. We expect little kids to get messy when they learn to eat and to fall over when they begin to walk.  Yet, we often become intolerant of mistakes in older kids and in each other.  We need to take a breath and remember that mistakes are to be embraced.  They are a vital part of every learning journey, sometimes they even become a creative and innovative outcome in themselves.


  1. Support intrinsic motivation. Engagement in learning comes from attention to the details of what we do.  The more that we can focus on the details, the more that we can value what we do with a sense of ownership and creativity.  Think about your teaching; you may not be able to control the big picture curriculum but you can certainly embrace the details of how you deliver it.


  1. Value strength. Although it is certainly important to help students to improve in areas of weakness, we must also make sure we give adequate time and attention to helping them build on their strengths.  Students who are engaged in their passions are happier and better able to learn across all domains.


  1. Reduce extrinsic reward systems. As much as I like to wax lyrical about the problem of reward systems in reducing students’ motivation and engagement in learning, I think it is also important to be aware that reward systems reduce creativity.  As soon as our attention is taken away from what we are doing – and placed on an anticipated reward, we are less able, less engaged and less creative.


  1. Encourage creativity out of school hours. Set homework that requires students to switch off the TV or computer for a day, or even a week – and then report of how they spent their time.  Encourage them to invent a game, present a piece of work in a completely novel way or simply start each day with a private rambling.  Ten minutes in the morning of writing anything that comes into your head (even if that means writing you have nothing to say…) helps to unleash creativity throughout the day.


There are far too many people out there caught up in a need for approval, missing out on the creative things they would love to do.


This list not only embraces the need to nurture creativity in young people, it embraces education as a vital opportunity to help students find and develop their own voice in the world.



Helen StreetDr Helen Street originated Positive Schools with co-chair Neil Porter.  Helen has an extensive background in social Psychology and education who regularly presents ideas and strategies for positive education in schools, in articles, in the media and at conferences Australia wide. Contact Helen through Positive Schools at



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