Unit 1: Conditions & Connections

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Unit 2: Physical Well-Being
Unit 3: Social Well-Being
Unit 4: Emotional Well-Being
Unit 5: Mental Well-Being
Unit 6: Academic Well-Being
Unit 7: Character

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Unit 8: Citizenship

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Unit 9: Supplemental Lessons

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Lesson 28: Creative Problem Solving

The purpose of this lesson is to dive into the wellness benefits of exercising our creativity. Teachers will assess their use of creative thinking when faced with challenges. They will explore how using creativity can increase investment and enjoyment in their work, as well as how approaching problems creatively can make the process more positive.

Flexing our creative muscles can increase our feelings of wellness. According to Barbara Field at VeryWell Mind, “Creativity helps us perceive the world in new and different ways. It helps us create works of beauty, problem solve, and refresh our bodies and our minds. It’s fun, and when you are having fun, you are positively impacting your health… Expressing yourself through artistic and creative activities is like a prescription for your mental health. Turning to creativity has been proven in extensive research to relieve both stress and anxiety. Creativity also helps lessen the shame, anger, and depression felt by those who have experienced trauma.”

When immersed in a creative venture, people can feel increased attention. Some describe it as being “in the zone” or in “flow.” “This is an excellent and often euphoric state to be in. In this state, we are more mindful and relaxed. This allows us to feel more positive and brings a sense of accomplishment. People who experience flow report higher levels of creativity, productivity, and happiness,” says Field. In addition to increasing satisfaction in one’s own work, this increase in creativity and flow can impact real and lasting change when applied to problem solving. 

There are many problems to be solved in our ever-changing surroundings, and focusing solely on the problems can become overwhelming and even debilitating. Individuals who approach problems creatively are able to pivot, stay positive, and innovate promising solutions, even when the facts of the situation seem daunting. 

Every person can be creative, even if they do not play an instrument or paint. Creativity can be expressed in many meaningful ways, especially when solving problems.


Activity 1: (25 minutes) TED TALK & DISCUSSION

Watch the video, “The Transformative Power of Classical Music” by Benjamin Zander at TED.

Have a discussion:

  • Does his message apply to more than just music?
  • How does creativity and art impact his life?
  • How did it feel to slow down and focus on something other than work?
  • What are the health benefits of slowing down and taking time to notice?


Health Benefits of Creativity (Barbara Field at Verywell Mind)

  1. Provides a fresh perspective
  2. Refreshes our body and mind
  3. Relieves stress and anxiety
  4. Lessens shame, anger, and depression for those with trauma
  5. Increases mindfulness and relaxation
  6. Promotes positivity
  7. Promotes productivity
  8. Promotes a sense of accomplishment
  9. Promotes happiness
  10. Increases emotional resilience

“Engaging in a creative process, like singing, dancing, painting, or drawing, has full-body benefits. When we focus on something that is challenging and/or fun, we make new neuropathways, increasing connectivity in the brain. Increased connectivity, especially in the left prefrontal cortex of the brain, makes us more emotionally resilient in a way that is similar to what occurs when we meditate. The release of dopamine brings an enhanced sense of well-being as well as improved motivation.” (Barbara Field at Verywell Mind)

Art Therapy

  • Express mental health concerns in a safe environment (Julie Fraga, KQED)
  • Promotes greater self-awareness and self-acceptance (Julie Fraga, KQED)
  • Promotes emotional release and understanding (Kendra Cherry, Verywell Mind)
  • Helps with conditions such as: 
    • Anxiety
    • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
    • Bereavement
    • Brain injuries
    • Chronic medical conditions
    • Depression
    • Developmental disorders
    • Eating disorders
    • Emotional problems
    • Interpersonal issues
    • Poor self-esteem
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
    • Stress

(Source: Kendra Cherry, Verywell Mind)

Art therapy can include drawing, painting, sculpting, dance, listening to or creating music, many types of writing, etc. (Kendra Cherry, Verywell Mind)

Boredom and Silence

  • Boredom can improve our mental health by taking a break and reducing our stressful activities. (Shahram Heshmat Ph.D.)
  • Boredom can increase creativity by giving space in the mind to wander and daydream. (Shahram Heshmat Ph.D.)
  • Boredom encourages innovation and problem-solving. (Shahram Heshmat Ph.D.)
  • Those who handle boredom well often have better self-regulation. (Shahram Heshmat Ph.D.)
  • Silence gives time for self-reflection and improved perspective. (Cleveland Clinic)
  • During quiet moments, our fight-or-flight responses can take a break (Cleveland Clinic)
  • Silent moments can lower blood pressure, decrease heart rate, steady breathing, reduce muscle tension, and increase focus and cognition. (Cleveland Clinic)

Collaborating Creatively and Shared Creative Experiences

  • Having shared experiences can amplify enjoyment or dislike of the activity. For example, “A study found that participants enjoyed chocolate more when they tasted it at the same time as another person rather than eating it alone.” (Clark Relationship Science Laboratory at Yale University)
  • “New research led by the UCL Division of Psychological and Language Sciences (PaLS) has found that watching a live theater performance can synchronize your heartbeat with other people in the audience, regardless of if you know them or not.” (University College London)
  • “Researchers in Sweden monitored the heart rates of singers as they performed a variety of choral works. They found that as the members sang in unison, their pulses began to speed up and slow down at the same rate.” (Rebecca Morelle at BBC News)

Have a discussion:

  • Which of these ideas did you find most interesting? Why?
  • What kind of creative outlets do you long for?
  • How could some of these ideas be applied at work? How?
  • Do you consider shared experiences important? Why or why not?

Activity 3: (20 minutes) CREATIVITY BREAK

  • Create a poster for your classroom.
  • Add a creative element to an upcoming lesson.
  • Find an inspirational quote to draw or write.
  • Learn a new, creative skill that you find on Youtube.
  • Take a walk and complete one of the following activities from the book. The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker:
    • Spot something new in a familiar environment.
    • Take a color walk. Notice all of the varying hues and tones.
    • Slow down and look slowly at a chosen object or space.
    • Follow the quiet. Find the quietest spot you can and soak it in.
    • Hunt for a sound. Listen and locate the source of a sound.

Have a discussion:

  • What personal benefits do you find from time spent creating merely for the sake of creating?
  • What kind of creativity do you wish you had more time for?
  • Who is someone that you know that invests their time in creativity? What impact does that have on them?

Activity 4: (10 minutes) WHAT LIMITS CREATIVITY?

How creative are you? Rate yourself on a scale of 1–5 using your fingers.

Read this creativity definition: 

“The ability to produce or develop original work, theories, techniques, or thoughts. A creative individual typically displays originality, imagination, and expressiveness. Analyses have failed to ascertain why one individual is more creative than another, but creativity does appear to be a very durable trait.” (American Psychological Association Dictionary)

Rate yourself again on a scale of 1–5 using your fingers. Base your score on the previously read definition. Did your answer change? Why or why not?

Read the quote from Theodore Levitt, an economist and professor at Harvard Business School: “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.”

Ask the group to quickly define creativity, first in small groups, then as a whole.

Rate yourself again on a scale of 1–5 using your fingers. Base your score on the previously read definition. Did your answer change? Why or why not?

For each of these quotes or videos, answer the question: “What can limit or discourage creativity?”

  • “Schools teach you to imitate. If you don’t imitate what the teacher wants, you get a bad grade. Here, in college, it was more sophisticated, of course; you were supposed to imitate the teacher in such a way as to convince the teacher you were not imitating, but taking the essence of the instruction and going ahead with it on your own. That got you As. Originality on the other hand could get you anything—from A to F. The whole grading system cautioned against it.” (Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values)
  • Watch the video, “Artist’s Chalk Sidewalk Drawings Will Mess With Your Perception,” by InsiderArt.
  • “Let’s stop trying to be so productive all the time and make an effort to be more curious. Do you want to look back on a life of items crossed off lists drawn up in response to the demands of others? Or do you want to hang on to, and repeat, and remember, the thrill of discovering things on your own?” (Rob Walker, The Art of Noticing)
  • When seeking opportunities for creativity and joyous exploration, Walker says, “Sometimes that means letting the mind wander; sometimes that means making sure it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s about finding a pocket of stillness, and sometimes it’s about willful activity in the most unlikely circumstances. Sometimes it means blocking all distractions, and sometimes it means choosing the distractions you want the most. It’s about being in a moment or escaping one.” (Rob Walker, The Art of Noticing)

Have a discussion:

  • Can you utilize your creativity at work? If so, how?
  • What limits creativity at work? What enables it?
  • Is there something on your to-do list that you could replace with something more creative? (Think: 20% time at Google)

Activity 5: (10 minutes) FLOW

Watch the video, “How to Enter the Flow State” by Halo Neuroscience.

Read the characteristics of flow:

  1. The activity is intrinsically rewarding.
  2. There are clear goals that, while challenging, are still attainable.
  3. There is a complete focus on the activity itself.
  4. People experience feelings of personal control over the situation and the outcome.
  5. People have feelings of serenity and a loss of self-consciousness.
  6. There is immediate feedback.
  7. People know that the task is doable and there is a balance between skill level and the challenge presented.
  8. People experience a lack of awareness of their physical needs.
  9. There is strong concentration and focused attention.
  10. People experience timelessness, or a distorted sense of time, that involves feeling so focused on the present that you lose track of time passing.

(Source: Kendra Cherry at Verywell Mind)

Have a discussion:

  • How often do I experience flow at work? Why or why not?
  • What are your most common interrupters at work?
  • How do interruptions impact your work and wellness?

Activity 6: (10 minutes) PROBLEM-SOLVING PROCESS

Take 5 minutes to identify a problem and list the steps or strategies to solve it.

Read through the article, “Overview of the Problem-Solving Mental Process,” by Kendra Cherry at Verywell Mind. Have educators compare their list with the steps found in the article. After comparing, invite teachers to add to and change their list. 

Have a discussion: 

  • How do you see connections to creativity in these steps?
  • What steps are you typically good at? What could you improve on?


Read the following quotes. Identify strategies and obstacles for problem solving found within their meanings and messages. Discuss your observations.

  • “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” (Henry Thomas Buckle)
  • “Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not. ” (Pablo Picasso)
  • “Creativity takes courage. ” (Henri Matisse)
  • “I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking” (Albert Einstein)
  • “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” (Sylvia Plath)
  • “An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” (Oscar Wilde)
  • ​​“The painter has the Universe in his mind and hands.” (Leonardo da Vinci)
  • “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” (Maya Angelou)
  • “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” (Brene Brown)
  • “You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.” (Steve Jobs)

Watch the video, “The Pixar Story Trailer,” by Mike Reardon. 

Have a discussion: 

  • What strategies might Pixar use for problem solving?
  • What obstacles might Pixar experience with problem solving?
  • What attitudes can help with problem solving?
  • What attitudes can hurt problem solving?


Watch the video, “Collaborative Problem Solving,” by iAM Learning. Think of the members of your staff or team. Create a list of 3–5 people from your school and list their unique strengths and creative talents. Come up with a problem that each of those people could help you with. 

Now, list a current problem that you are having at work. This could be big or small. Everyone stand up and find someone to discuss your problem with. The person responding to the problem should do the following:

  1. Listen with empathy and ask clarifying questions.
  2. Ask if the person would like some ideas or if they just need to talk about it.
  3. Ask the person what strategies and steps they are considering.
  4. If they desire help, present some ideas. Try to find creative, innovative solutions that they have not discussed yet.
  5. If they desire help, present an alternate perspective to the problem. It is important to still validate their perspective and feelings in this situation.
  6. If they desire help, ask follow-up questions to get to the heart of the problem. What is causing it? What control over the causes do they have?

Have a discussion:

  • How was your experience collaborating about your problem?
  • Do you find it helpful? Who or why not?

Activity 9: (20 minutes) MAJOR PROBLEMS IN EDUCATION

Break into groups of 3–4. Pick one issue that you all see in education or in your district. Discuss potential solutions. Create a “Yes Room” atmosphere where every solution is considered and respected. Keep discussion constructive and solution-oriented. 

Here are some examples of topics: 

  • Compassion Fatigue
  • Teacher Retention
  • Certification
  • Accountability
  • Accreditation
  • National Health Concerns
  • Parent Concerns
  • Trauma
  • Resources
  • Limited Time
  • Mental Health

Have a discussion:

  • How was your “yes room” experience?
  • What ideas and solutions did you find the most interesting? Why?
  • How do you like to express yourself creatively?
  • Why is creativity such an essential skill to have?
  • How does creativity impact your overall wellness?
  • Are we losing creativity in schools? If so, what inhibits it?
  • How are creativity and mindfulness related?
  • When was the last time you experienced “flow”?
  • How does thinking creatively lead to problem solving?
  • What are some impactful strategies for problem solving?
  • How does collaboration impact your problem solving?
  • Take time to be creative just for the purpose of creation.
  • Create mindfully and feel the effects on your body and mind.
  • Explore art therapy and other creative mindfulness practices.
  • Let yourself be bored and quiet at times.
  • Participate in shared experiences.
  • Put away distractions while working to see if you can achieve “flow.”
  • Be very clear on what problem you are trying to solve and stay focused.
  • When problem solving, focus on what you have control over.
  • Turn to others for ideas and support.
  • Stay positive and solution-oriented.
  • Further Reading:
    • Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind by Carolyn Gregoire
    • Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Amy Wallace and Ed Catmull
    • Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Watch the documentary “A Pixar Story.” 
  • Watch the TED Talk: “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” 

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