Big Wins, Small Steps: How to Lead For and With Creativity


Ronald A. Beghetto

  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Text Size

  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Copyright

    Praise for Big Wins, Small Steps by Ronald A. Beghetto

    “In a world in which change comes at alarmingly faster rates each year (or so it would seem), it is refreshing to have a source that encourages us to take small steps within the context of our current efforts in instructional leadership that will lead to greater gains. This book is a great companion for any educational leader who wishes to model creative leadership within their building.”

    Rich Hall, Director of Elementary Education
    Henrico County Public Schools, Virginia

    Big Wins, Small Steps gives principals, teachers, and instructional leaders a framework to reference when looking at how to increase the creative spirit in our schools, and what steps we can do to support our students.”

    Kristopher Kwiatek, Principal
    Kadena Middle School, Okinawa, Japan

    “At a time when creativity has become the holy grail in education, Beghetto presents an authoritative, accessible, and unpretentious pathway toward creative leadership and leadership for creativity. Insightful, practical, and based on solid research, not popular myth.”

    Yong Zhao, PhD, Author
    World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students

    “Creativity is a process. It is an intrinsic skill—the key skill needed to negotiate a complex world. Big Wins, Small Steps invites educators to teach creativity by first practicing deliberate creativity. This practical guide will cultivate your creativity one small step at a time.”

    Beth Miller, Executive Director
    Creative Education Foundation

    “I suggest that all school leaders consider this book, as Ron Beghetto’s engaging work on creativity has profound implications for schools and for the staff and students within them.”

    Larry Rosenstock, CEO
    High Tech High


    For Jeralynn and Olivia, with all my love.


    Why This Book?

    Creativity has taken center stage in education. Whether it is discussed as a 21st century thinking skill, at the heart of popular educational trends (e.g., the maker movement and design thinking), or a complement to constructivist and student-centered views of learning, creativity is in the spotlight. It has therefore caught the attention of global leaders, government officials, and educational policy makers. Many of them view cultivating creativity in schools as an investment in their children’s and their country’s future. In short, they view creativity as a top educational priority. But this hasn’t always been the case.

    When I started teaching in the early 1990s, creativity wasn’t even on the educational radar. I valued it, but it clearly wasn’t a priority in teaching and learning. The situation didn’t improve when I studied creativity in graduate school or in my first few years as a professor in the early 2000s. In fact, when I was a brand-new, untenured professor my department head informed me, “Creativity is dead.” He went on to caution me that if I wanted to increase my chances of attaining tenure, I should focus my attention on studying more “mainstream” educational topics. His admonition was well intended. And he came close to persuading me that I should abandon my interest in studying creativity in education. He pointed out that accountability mandates and standards-based assessments were the clearest educational beacons for young professors to follow. He predicted that school accountability mandates were here to stay.

    My department chair’s prediction was partially correct. School accountability continues to occupy much thought, discussion, and resources in education. He was wrong, however, about his concern with creativity. The concern with creativity is not that it’s a dead topic, but that schools are killing it. The idea that schools harm creativity is widespread. In the fall of 2014, for instance, I was invited to give a talk at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha, Qatar. More than 1,500 delegates from over 100 countries attended the event. During the opening ceremony the results of an informal survey of participants indicated that 66% agreed with the statement “Schools kill creativity” (World Innovation Summit for Education, 2014a)

    Such beliefs are widespread. In my discussions with students and teachers, many tend to believe that schools stifle creativity. Such sentiments are also expressed in the popular media. Sir Ken Robinson’s (2006) wildly popular 2006 TED talk titled “How schools kill creativity” has more than 34 million views. Similarly, Newsweek magazine ran a cover story in 2010 titled “The Creativity Crisis” that included the subhead “For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining. What went wrong—and how can we fix it” (Bronson & Merryman, 2010).

    These concerns, however, do not tell the whole story about creativity. Although it is true that creativity can be suppressed in schools. It is also true that it can and often does thrive in schools and classrooms. Teachers and students routinely unleash their creativity on complex, real-world problems such as habitat restoration (Stone, 2001); documenting new patterns in bee behavior (Young, 2010), deterring lions from preying on livestock in Kenyan towns and villages (Kermeliotis, 2013), and finding ways to counteract the drug resistance of ovarian cancer cells (Chang, 2011). Moreover, creative instructional leaders, like Larry Rosenstock, founder of High Tech High, have created learning environments saturated with creativity by rethinking a few axioms of schooling (see Buck Institute for Education, 2009).

    There isn’t anything extraordinary about these creative students, teachers, or leaders. Rather, creativity is an extraordinary capacity of ordinary people. The difference is, those who have demonstrated high levels of creativity know: Big wins come from small steps. All creativity needs is a little nudge. And you, as an instructional leader, play a critical role in providing that nudge. It all starts with you. Unless you are willing to approach complex challenges and ill-defined problems with a creative mindset, then it cannot be expected of your students and colleagues. It all starts with you taking the first, small steps.

    What Is the Purpose of This Book?

    The purpose of this book is to introduce a practical framework for infusing creativity into your leadership practices. The framework, called the Small-Steps Approach to Instructional Leadership (SAIL), represents an extraction of applied insights drawn from my own and other creativity scholars’ work. The SAIL framework is composed of four core principles and associated principles of practice. Taken together, the principles will help you take creative action when faced with even the most complex or ill-defined problem or challenge. The nice thing about principles is that they are flexible. Unlike rigid, “ready-made” procedures, you can easily incorporate them into your existing practices. The flexibility of principles will also allow you to apply them in various contexts, including everything from small-scale classroom teaching and learning projects to large-scale school and district-wide instructional leadership initiatives.

    What Makes This Book Unique?

    This book has several unique features, including:

    Practical Framework. One of the key features of this book is that it introduces a practical framework for how to infuse creativity into schools and classrooms by making slight adjustments to your existing practices. The principles of the framework are based on the latest thinking and research in the field of creativity studies and will provide you with guidelines that you can use to address almost any challenging or ill-defined teaching, learning, or leadership situation. Each core principle also includes “principles of practice” that provide concrete guidelines for how to apply the principles in your professional work and everyday life.

    Creative Leader Checklist. Each chapter also includes a “creative leader checklist.” The checklists will serve as a quick summary of the key ideas and principles introduced in the chapter. The creative leader checklist also serves as a resource and guide for you and others when applying the principles in your professional work. Appendix A includes all the creative leader checklists (for easy reference).

    Ability to Go Deeper. The primary aim of this book is to provide practicable and actionable insights. It also has a goal of furthering learning and subsequent study. As such, the book includes numerous citations, provides boxed text that elaborates on key concepts, additional resources for continued learning (Chapter 6), and a full list of all cited sources (References).

    Actionable and Sustainable Insights. The ideas and principles in this book have the goal of providing you with guidelines for how to take small steps toward improving existing teaching, learning, and leadership practices. This book is not about radical changes but slight adjustments. Those slight adjustments, however, can lead to radical improvements. Moreover, taking a small-steps approach can also be used when confronted with highly complex and large-scale problems. Given the focus on small steps, the ideas presented in the book are not only actionable and feasible, but also sustainable. Indeed, the principles are easy to incorporate into existing practices and thereby can quickly become part of your approach to improving teaching, learning, and leadership.

    How Is the Book Organized?

    In Chapter 1, you will be introduced to the SAIL framework in the context of creative instructional leadership. Specifically, you will learn more about the nature of creative leadership, what it means to respond creatively to the challenges of leadership, and how you can use the SAIL framework to address any ill-defined problem or complex leadership challenge you face.

    Chapters 2 through 5 focus on each of the core SAIL principles and related principles of practice. These chapters introduce you to each principle and the related subprinciples and provide examples of how to apply the principles to complex and ill-defined teaching, learning, and leadership scenarios. Each of these chapters also includes a creative leader checklist that serves as a summary of the principles and reminders for how you can put each principle into practice.

    Chapter 6 provides a summary of actionable items that will help you cultivate and sustain a creative mindset in schools and classrooms. The twelve actionable items serve as a quick refresher and elaboration on key points and principles introduced throughout the book. The chapter also includes a list of resources you and others can draw on to continue to learn about creativity and how it can be meaningful incorporated and sustained in schools and classrooms.

    Finally, the appendices include all the Creative Leader Checklists (Appendix A), Ground Rules (Appendix B), Heuristics for Possibility Thinking (Appendix C), and Action Items for Instructional Leaders (Appendix D) presented in the chapters throughout the book. These tools can serve as advanced organizers and quick summaries for busy leaders and to help guide professional development workshops and in-service training led by principals, coaches, or teacher-leadership teams. These items are also available in .pdf format that can be downloaded from

    Who Should Read This Book?

    Instructional leaders are the primary audience for this book. More specifically, it is aimed at administrators and teachers who want to take a more creative approach to their teaching, learning, and leadership practices, but feel overwhelmed by their existing professional responsibilities. This book provides practical suggestions and concrete examples demonstrating how incremental changes can result in new ways of thinking and acting. It is meant to be both provocative and practical. The goal is ultimately to help instructional leaders learn how to take small steps toward reclaiming and sustaining creativity in schools and classrooms.

    This book also has several secondary audiences, including school board members, advanced students of education, teacher educators, parents, and anyone interested in the role creativity can play in schools and classrooms. Each of these groups would benefit from learning how small changes can result in big differences when it comes to incorporating creativity into everyday learning and life. I believe that it would be of high interest to all these groups. This book is appropriate for both individual readers and for professional development teams. It can stand on its own and would be appropriate for the self-study of individual readers or professional-learning-circle reading groups. The book would also serve as an excellent complement to professional development workshops for teachers, principals, and school district leadership.

    Concluding Thoughts

    The journey of an instructional leader is ongoing. Taking a creative approach to teaching, learning, and leadership will enable you to approach complex and ill-defined problems with a spirit of possibility. It will also enable you to enact new ways of thinking and acting. Doing so requires your willingness to take the first step. Big wins start with the small steps you take. By adopting the principles of creative leadership introduced in this book, not only will you take a more creative approach to leadership, but you will also be able to support the creativity of others. It is time for you to take that first small step toward your next big win.


    I would like to thank all the students, teachers, and leaders whom I have had the privilege of working with over the past two decades. Without them, there would be no book.

    I am also grateful to my acquisitions editor at Corwin, Arnis Burvikovs; editorial assistant Andrew Olson; senior project editor Melanie Birdsall; and everyone at Corwin for their assistance along the way. I would also like to thank my colleagues and collaborators at the University of Connecticut, specifically James C. Kaufman, Jonathan A. Plucker, and Joseph Renzulli. Having creative colleagues is one of the very best ways to establish the conditions necessary for developing one’s own creativity. I would also like to express my gratitude for the leadership at UConn: Del Siegle (department chair), Dean Richard Schwab, Vice Provost Sally Reis, Provost Mun Choi, and President Susan Herbst. It is a true joy being able to work in an environment that not only welcomes but also actively encourages creativity and innovation. Finally, I would like to thank all my family and friends, especially my wife Jeralynn and daughter Olivia for the inspiration and persistent support they provide.

    Publisher’s Acknowledgments

    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    • Cyndi Burnett
    • Assistant Professor
    • International Center for Studies in Creativity, Buffalo State
    • Buffalo, NY
    • Rich Hall
    • Director of Elementary Education
    • Henrico County Public Schools
    • Henrico, VA
    • Kristopher Kwiatek
    • Principal
    • Kadena Middle School
    • Okinawa, Japan
    • Sherry Markel
    • Professor
    • Northern Arizona University, College of Education
    • Flagstaff, AZ
    • Emily McCarren
    • Educator, Director
    • Wo International Center, Punahou School
    • Honolulu, HI
    • Angie Young
    • Principal
    • Jefferson Elementary
    • Jerome, ID

    About the Author

    Dr. Ronald A. Beghetto is an international expert on creativity in educational settings. He serves as Professor of Educational Psychology in the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut. He is also Editor-in-Chief for the Journal of Creative Behavior and a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Society for the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts (Div. 10, APA). Dr. Beghetto has published numerous books, articles, and scholarly book chapters on creative and innovative approaches to teaching, learning, and leadership in schools and classrooms. He speaks around the world on issues related to helping teachers and instructional leaders develop new and transformative possibilities for classroom teaching, learning, and leadership in K–12 and higher education settings. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Connecticut, Dr. Beghetto served as the College of Education’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Education Studies at the University of Oregon. Dr. Beghetto earned his PhD in Educational Psychology from Indiana University (with an emphasis in Learning, Cognition, and Instrution). More information about Dr. Beghetto is available at his website,

  • Creative Leader Checklists

    The following checklists were presented in Chapters 1 through 5. You can use these checklists as an advanced organizer for each chapter or as a quick reminder of the some of the key ideas presented in the chapters and the core principles of the SAIL framework.

    Chapter 1 Creative Leader Checklist

    Respond Creatively

    Responding creatively to challenges you face as an instructional leader requires that you:

    • Understand what creative instructional leadership is (and is not)
      • ❒Creative leadership is more about working creatively inside the box rather than trying to work outside of it
      • ❒Knowing how to think and act creatively, as the situation dictates, is the hallmark of creative instructional leadership
      • ❒All leaders have the capacity and responsibility to respond creatively to ill-defined problems and challenging situations
    • View each crisis you face as an opportunity
      • ❒View each crisis you face (big or small) as an opportunity to improve existing practices
      • ❒There are multiple ways you can respond to a crisis (ranging from dismissive to aggressive)
      • ❒The most viable response to an ill-defined or uncertain situation is often the most moderate (or small-steps) response
    • Use a Small-Steps Approach to Instructional Leadership (SAIL)
      • ❒The SAIL framework is based on flexible principles of practice (not rigid prescriptions)
      • ❒The SAIL approach will enable you to infuse creativity in your existing leadership practices
      • ❒Remember that big wins can come from small steps
      • ❒The SAIL framework will help you approach almost any challenge of teaching, learning, and leadership more creatively and effectively

    Available for download at

    Copyright © 2016 by Corwin. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Big Wins, Small Steps: How to Lead For and With Creativity by Ronald A. Beghetto. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, Reproduction authorized only for the local school site or nonprofit organization that has purchased this book.

    Chapter 2 Creative Leader Checklist

    Sit With Uncertainty

    When faced with uncertainty:

    • Anticipate and address creativity-stifling fears
      • ❒These fears are normal, but left unchecked can undermine your and others’ ability to recognize and capitalize on creative opportunities
      • ❒Resist the temptation to become risk adverse by distinguishing between reckless and sensible risk taking
    • View uncertainty as a sign that new thinking is needed
      • ❒Avoid the temptation to quickly resolve the uncertainty
      • ❒Avoid the temptation of forcing a solution
    • Prepare yourself and others for engaging in possibility thinking
      • ❒Start shifting away from certainty and predetermined strategies
        • Be aware of how you are thinking about and describing the situation
        • Start shifting away from fixed thoughts
      • ❒Establish a supportive environment
        • Avoid using fixed, controlling and guilt-inducing language (e.g., “We must,” “We’re falling behind,” “Why didn’t you,” “We have to,” “This is the way to . . . ”)
        • Acknowledge and accept that people may be experiencing negative emotions
    • Have the courage to drop your tools
      • ❒Use uncertainty as a cue to stop what you are doing
        • Let go of the routine way of seeing and doing things
      • Explicitly acknowledge the uncertainty
        • Give voice to the uncertainty you are experiencing and signal to yourself (and others) that it is time to move into an exploratory direction

    Available for download at

    Copyright © 2016 by Corwin. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Big Wins, Small Steps: How to Lead For and With Creativity by Ronald A. Beghetto. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, Reproduction authorized only for the local school site or nonprofit organization that has purchased this book.

    Chapter 3 Creative Leader Checklist

    Engage in Possibility Thinking

    When engaging in possibility thinking:

    • Assemble a small PT team
      • ❒Invite people with diverse perspectives and experiences
      • ❒Select people who are willing to engage in exploratory thinking
      • ❒Make sure your team members are open to having their ideas and assumptions challenged and can “play well” together
    • Establish exploratory ground rules
      • ❒Cultivate explicit norms of social interaction that emphasize (re)focusing the problem and exploring new possibilities
      • ❒Use ground rules that establish expectations to keep thinking and dialogue open, tentative, and exploratory—including prefacing comments with “What if . . . ,” establishing agreements that everyone is expected to share and listen to ideas and explanations (even seemingly unrelated and unusual ones), responding to others in the spirit of “Yes, and . . . ,” and agreeing to challenge even your most cherished ideas
    • Redefine the problem by reasoning backward
      • ❒Stop focusing on what has been and start exploring the question “What might be?”
      • ❒Use strategies that will help you see the situation with new eyes, such as: notice the uncommon and small features of the situation, search for potential explanations and connections (especially unlikely ones), and look for new connections by combining opposites
    • Flip your assumptions and move forward
      • ❒Relentlessly explore and flip your and other people’s taken-for-granted assumptions
      • ❒Use strategies, such as the tactics for flipping assumptions, to help you generate new insights, alternatives, and possibilities

    Available for download at

    Copyright © 2016 by Corwin. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Big Wins, Small Steps: How to Lead For and With Creativity by Ronald A. Beghetto. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, Reproduction authorized only for the local school site or nonprofit organization that has purchased this book.

    Chapter 4 Creative Leader Checklist

    Prune Possibilities

    When pruning possibilities:

    • Establish evaluative ground rules
      • ❒Establish norms of interaction focused on evaluation, but still maintain openness to new possibilities
      • ❒Use ground rules that will guide you and your team in strengthening all ideas and identifying the best ideas for implementation
    • Start where you are and remain open to possibilities
      • ❒Start where you are with each idea and take the time to work through each one (even seemingly weak ideas)
      • ❒Resist the temptation to jump ahead to the ideas that you feel are most promising
      • ❒Remain open to the possibility of discovering hidden strengths in seemingly weak ideas and potential limitations in seemingly strong ideas
    • Ensure critiques are deep, specific, and useful
      • ❒Critiques should highlight deep, underlying issues
      • ❒Critiques should focus on specific issues and should be clearly stated
      • ❒Critiques should focus on providing useful and, when possible, actionable information
    • Look for novelty in practical ideas and practicality in novel ideas
      • ❒Try putting a new twist on a practical but ordinary idea
      • ❒Find ways to make novel ideas more practical
    • Forecast first steps and potential pitfalls
      • ❒Identify a few first steps you can take with the most promising ideas
      • ❒Anticipate potential pitfalls and how you might overcome those pitfalls

    Available for download at

    Copyright © 2016 by Corwin. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Big Wins, Small Steps: How to Lead For and With Creativity by Ronald A. Beghetto. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, Reproduction authorized only for the local school site or nonprofit organization that has purchased this book.

    Chapter 5 Creative Leader Checklist

    Take Measured Action

    When taking measured action:

    • Take small yet challenging leaps
      • ❒Start with small yet challenging steps
      • ❒Take reasonable risks that you are confident in taking
    • Establish modest milestones
      • ❒Milestones should be close range (so you can fail early and learn fast)
      • ❒Milestones should be doable (within your reach)
      • ❒Milestones should be easy to measure (so you don’t get bogged down with cumbersome assessments)
    • Actively monitor and acknowledge progress
      • ❒Put conscious effort into monitoring progress
      • ❒Acknowledge progress—remember small wins can be easily overlooked, but when recognized can boost motivation, persistence, and successful outcomes
    • Make necessary adjustments
      • ❒Anticipate the need to make adjustments
      • ❒Be willing to change course and explore new directions as needed

    Available for download at

    Copyright © 2016 by Corwin. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Big Wins, Small Steps: How to Lead For and With Creativity by Ronald A. Beghetto. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, Reproduction authorized only for the local school site or nonprofit organization that has purchased this book.

    Ground Rules

    The following ground rules were presented in Chapter 3 and Chapter 4. You can use the following ground rules as an advanced organizer for the topics discussed in these chapter or as a quick refresher to help support your and others’ possibility thinking (Chapter 3) and pruning of possibilities (Chapter 4).

    Ground Rules for Engaging in Possibility Thinking

    You can use (or modify) the following ground rules, introduced in Chapter 3, when engaging in possibility thinking.

    • We agree to use the prefix “What if . . . ” when offering suggestions or responding to the suggestions of others.
    • We agree to first write out our ideas (individually) and then share them with each other no matter how unusual or unlikely they might seem.
    • We agree to read and carefully consider all ideas, insights, and perspectives being shared, again no matter how unusual, unlikely, or disconnected they seem.
    • We agree to listen to and build on each other’s ideas and speculations (e.g., “yes, and . . . ”)—avoiding reactions that may short-circuit the development and exploration of ideas (e.g., “yeah, but . . . ”).
    • We agree to hold our ideas lightly and be willing to set them down to explore alternative ideas and pick them up again if we can build on them.
    Ground Rules for Pruning Possibilities

    You can use (or modify) the following ground rules, introduced in Chapter 4, whenever you are attempting to prune possibilities with a group.

    • We agree to focus our critiques on ideas, not people.
    • We agree to take the time necessary to evaluate each possibility generated (no matter how unusual or impractical it may seem).
    • We agree to remain open to new possibilities when providing critiques (including prefacing our critiques with “What if?” to signal that our evaluative comments are one of many possible suggestions).
    • We agree to provide one or two deep, specific, and useful critiques of each possibility (to ensure that each idea is evaluated and to avoid the “piling on” of critiques).
    • We agree to try to improve each possibility (even if we may eventually abandon it).
    • We agree to identify initial steps and potential pitfalls so that we can increase the likelihood of successful implementation.
    • We agree that we can, at any time in the evaluative process, return to generating new possibilities and alternatives.

    Available for download at

    Copyright © 2016 by Corwin. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Big Wins, Small Steps: How to Lead For and With Creativity by Ronald A. Beghetto. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, Reproduction authorized only for the local school site or nonprofit organization that has purchased this book.

    Heuristics for Possibility Thinking

    The following is a quick summary of the thinking backward strategies and tactics for flipping assumptions presented in Chapter 3. You can use the following summary as an advanced organizer for key strategies discussed in the chapter or as a quick refresher to help support your and others’ possibility thinking.

    Strategies for Reasoning Backward
    • Notice the uncommon and small features of a situation or problem.
      • How might you view an atypical situation or ill-defined problem differently by concentrating on the most surprising, uncommon, or disturbing aspects of the problem? What easily overlooked clues or small details of a situation might point to new possibilities for addressing the problem?
    • Continuously search for root causes and potential explanations.
      • What if you let go of old ideas and standard expectations in an effort to continuously search for underlying patterns, unexpected connections, and potential root causes of the problem that might otherwise be overshadowed by your assumptions or expectations? What if you tried to work backward from the problem so that you can identify potentially new and more viable explanations for moving forward?
    • Look for new connections by combining opposites.
      • What if you tried combining seemingly opposite elements of the problem or situation to help you reformulate the problem, discover otherwise hidden connections, and thereby see the problem (and potential solutions) in a new light?

        Source: Adapted from Paavola, 2012, pp. 207–211; Rothenberg, 2014.

    Tactics for Flipping Assumptions
    • Causation flip: Challenge assumptions about cause and effect.
      • What if the cause of a problem (e.g., a student being a “troublemaker”) is actually the effect (e.g., a student acts like a troublemaker to avoid getting bullied by other students) or the effect of problem is actually the cause?
    • Coexistence flip: Challenge assumptions about compatibility and incompatibility.
      • What if features of a problem that seem compatible are incompatible (e.g., teachers who are friends are unable to work well together in planning a curriculum) or features of the problem that seem incompatible are actually compatible?
    • Composition flip: Challenge assumptions about multiple and singular.
      • What if a problem that seems to be made up many different elements is actually made up of a singular element (e.g., teacher frustration about a new and complex curricular mandate has its basis in a singular frustration about the impact the mandate has had on scheduling) or a problem that seems to be made up of one element is made up of many different elements?
    • Context flip: Challenge assumptions about what is unique and common.
      • What if something that seems to be unique to a particular context actually applies across many contexts (e.g., a practice used by a small private school to develop a sense of school-wide community among students and teachers can, with minor modification, be adopted to address the problem of student isolation faced by students in a large public school) OR something that seems to be common across contexts only applying in certain contexts?
    • Evaluation flip: Challenge assumptions about good and bad.
      • What if some seemingly positive feature of a problem is actually negative (e.g., providing rewards and incentives for increasing test scores undermines teachers’ intrinsic motivation and creativity) and or some seemingly negative feature is actually positive?
    • Focus flip: Challenge assumptions about individual and social/contextual.
      • What if a seemingly individual problem (e.g., unmotivated students) is actually a social/contextual problem (e.g., influence of peers) or a seemingly social/contextual problem is actually an individual problem?
    • Function flip: Challenge assumptions about what is effective and ineffective.
      • What if some seemingly effective aspect of situation is actually functioning ineffectively (e.g., a new instructional approach results in gains in reading scores, but students no longer enjoy reading) or some seemingly ineffective aspect of a problem is actually functioning effectively?
    • Movement flip: Challenge assumptions about tandem and inverse.
      • What if things that seem to move or change together (e.g., increasing homework increases understanding) actually have an inverse relationship (e.g., increasing homework decreases understanding) or things that seem to move in opposite directions actually move in the same direction?
    • Opposition flip: Challenge assumptions about similar and different.
      • What if things that appear similar are actually different (e.g., your approach to dealing with what seems to be a seemingly run-of-the-mill disagreement between two students actually makes the problem worse because this situation is very different from what you have dealt with in the past) or things that appear different are actually similar?
    • Organization flip: Challenge assumptions about structured and chaotic.
      • What if things that appear organized are really disorganized (e.g., a seemingly highly structured set of curricular standards lacks the conceptual organization necessary to be effectively implemented) or something that seems disorganized and chaotic is actually organized and structured?
    • Relationship flip: Challenge assumptions about related and unrelated.
      • What if something that seems related is actually unrelated (e.g., teachers grouped by subject area and grade level for professional development training are unable to work together due to stark differences in their approach to teaching) or things that seem interdependent are actually independent?
    • Stability flip: Challenge assumptions about fixed and flexible.
      • What if things that seem stable and fixed can actually change (e.g., a seemingly rigid and inflexible district policy for hiring temporary teachers has more flexibility than initially appears to be the case) or something that seems dynamic and changing is actually stable and fixed?

        Source: Adapted from Davis, 1971; Weick, 1979.

    Available for download at

    Copyright © 2016 by Corwin. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Big Wins, Small Steps: How to Lead For and With Creativity by Ronald A. Beghetto. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, Reproduction authorized only for the local school site or nonprofit organization that has purchased this book.

    Action Items for Instructional Leaders

    The following is a summary of the 12 action items presented in Chapter 6. You can use the following summary and reflection questions as a daily checklist. You can also use it with others to reflect on whether and how you and others are taking the kinds of creative actions necessary to continually improve your everyday teaching, learning, and leadership practices.

    • Action Item 1: Keep Creativity in Perspective
      • What are you doing to help yourself and others know when and how to use their creative capacity?
    • Action Item 2: Actively Debunk Myths About Creativity
      • What are you doing to actively debunk myths about creativity (e.g., “Creativity has no place in high-stakes and serious decisions.”) so that you and others can effectively use the principles of the SAIL framework to guide more creative teaching, learning, and leadership practices?
    • Action Item 3: Help Remove Creative Barriers
      • What are you doing to help ensure that self-created barriers (e.g., fear of the unknown, risk aversion, rigidity of thinking) are not blocking your and others’ willingness to consider new possibilities and take necessary risks to try something new?
    • Action Item 4: Approach Every Crisis as an Opportunity
      • What are you doing to help ensure that you and others view even the most challenging of situations as an opportunity for improvement?
    • Action Item 5: Have the Courage to Lean Into Uncertainty
      • What are you doing to help establish a supportive environment so that you and others can approach the uncertainties you face with a sense of openness and possibility thinking?
    • Action Item 6: Establish New Rules for Thought and Action
      • What are you doing to help identify and establish new ground rules for thought and action that might establish new organizational norms for possibility thinking and creative action?
    • Action Item 7: Approach Leadership With an Unshakeable Sense of Possibility Thinking
      • What are you doing to make sure that you and others are not underestimating what you, your students, and your colleagues are capable of accomplishing by approaching even the most challenging of problems with a spirit of possibility thinking?
    • Action Item 8: Take a Strengths-Based Approach to Evaluation
      • What are you doing to make sure that you and others use critiques as a way to identify and build on existing strengths and discover new possibilities for continually improving your own and others’ teaching, learning, and leadership practices?
    • Action Item 9: Take Creative Risks
      • What are you doing to make sure that you and others learn how to distinguish between sensible and reckless risks, take action in the form of small steps, learn from any wrong turns along the way, and quickly get back on track toward making progress at addressing the challenges and problems you face?
    • Action Item 10: Decide When to Flow Like Water or Stand Like Mountain
      • What are you doing to make sure that you and others maintain a flexible approach to your decision making so that you recognize when it is time to try something new or when it is best to stay the course?
    • Action Item 11: Cultivate an Environment Supportive of Creativity
      • What are you doing to make sure that you are cultivating an environment that helps people feel supported in taking the risks necessary for creative thought and action (rather than feeling controlled, manipulated, or micromanaged)?
    • Action Item 12: Apply the SAIL Principles to Everyday Leadership and Life
      • What small steps are you taking to ensure that whenever you face an ill-defined problem that you take the time to “sit with it, explore it, prune it, and take action on it”? In short, what are you doing to help reclaim your own creativity in your approach to everyday challenges of instructional leadership and life?

    Available for download at

    Copyright © 2016 by Corwin. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Big Wins, Small Steps: How to Lead For and With Creativity by Ronald A. Beghetto. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, Reproduction authorized only for the local school site or nonprofit organization that has purchased this book.


    Amabile, T. M. (1996). Creativity in context: Update to the social psychology of creativity. Boulder, CO: Westview.
    Amabile, T., & Kramer, S. J. (2011a, May). The power of small wins. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from
    Amabile, T., Kramer, S. J. (2011b). Using small wins to ignite joy, engagement, and creativity at work. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.
    Anderson, D. R. (1987). Creativity and the philosophy of C. S. Peirce. Hingham, MA: Kluwer.
    Aoki, T. T. (2004). Spinning inspirited images. In W. F. Pinar & R. L. Irwin (Eds.), Curriculum in a new key: The collected works of Ted T. Aoki (pp. 413225). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
    Argyris, C., & Schon, D. A. (1974). Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
    Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: Freeman.
    Basadur, M., Runco, M. A., & Vega, L. A. (2000). Understanding how creative thinking skills, attitudes, and behaviors work together: A causal process model. Journal of Creative Behavior, 34, 77100.
    Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5, 323370.
    Beghetto, R. A. (2009). Correlates of intellectual risk taking in elementary school science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46, 210223.
    Beghetto, R. A. (2010). Creativity in the classroom. In J. C. Kaufman & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of creativity (pp. 447463). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
    Beghetto, R. A. (2013). Killing ideas softly? The promise and perils of creativity in the classroom. Charlotte, NC: Information Age. doi:
    Beghetto, R. A. (2014). Creativity. In D. S. Dunn (Ed.), Oxford bibliographies in psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
    Beghetto, R. A. (2015). Creative leaders define themselves in the micromoments of leadership. Journal of Leadership Studies, 9, 7072.
    Beghetto, R. A. (2016a). Creative learning: A fresh look. Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology, 15, 623.
    Beghetto, R. A. (2016b). Leveraging micro-opportunities to address macroproblems: Toward an unshakeable sense of possibility thinking.In D. Ambrose & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), Creative intelligence in the 21st century: Grappling with enormous problems and huge opportunities (pp. 159174). Rotterdam, the Netherlands: Sense.
    Beghetto, R. A., & Kaufman, J. C. (2007). Toward a broader conception of creativity: A case for mini-c creativity. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 1, 7379.
    Beghetto, R. A., & Kaufman, J. C. (2011). Teaching for creativity with disciplined improvisation. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The 21st century teacher: Creativity and improvisation in the classroom (pp. 94109). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
    Beghetto, R. A., & Kaufman, J. C. (2014). Classroom contexts for creativity. High Ability Studies, 25, 5369.
    Beghetto, R. A., Kaufman, J. C., & Baer, J. (2014). Teaching for creativity in the common core. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
    Beghetto, R. A., & Schreiber, J. B. (in press). In R. Leikin & B. Sriraman (Eds.), Creativity and giftedness: Interdisciplinary perspectives from mathematics and beyond. New York, NY: Springer.
    Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2012). How the flipped classroom is radically transforming learning. The Daily Riff. Retrieved from
    Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (n.d.). The short history of flipped learning. Retrieved from
    Bilalić, M., & McLeod, P. (2014). Why good thoughts block better ones. Scientific American, 310, 7479.
    Bilalić, M., McLeod, P., & Gobet, F. (2008). Why good thoughts block better ones: The mechanism of the pernicious Einstellung (set) effect. Cognition, 108, 652661.
    Brečko, B. N., Kampylis, P., & Punie, Y. (2014). Mainstreaming ICT-enabled innovation in education and training in Europe: Policy actions for sustainability, scalability and impact at system level. JRC Scientific and Policy Reports. Seville, Spain: JRC-IPTS. doi:
    Bronson, P. O., & Merryman, A. (2010, July 19). The creativity crisis. Newsweek, pp. 4450.
    Bucher, H. J. (2002). Crisis communication and the Internet: Risk and trust in a global media. First Monday, 7, 4. Retrieved from
    Buck Institute for Education. (2009). Project-based learning at HTH: Larry Rosenstock, CEO, High Tech High [Video]. Presented by The Pearson Foundation and The Mobile Learning Institute. Retrieved from
    Burks, A. W. (1946). Peirce’s theory of abduction. Philosophy of Science, 13, 301306.
    Catmull, E., & Wallace, A. (2014). Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration. New York, NY: Random House.
    Cazden, C. B. (2001). Classroom discourse: The language of teaching and learning (
    ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
    Chang, K. (2011, July 19). First-place sweep by American girls at first Google science fair. New York Times. Retrieved from
    Clark, C. M., & Yinger, R. J. (1977). Research on teacher thinking. Curriculum Inquiry, 7, 279304.
    Clifford, M. M. (1991). Risk taking: Theoretical, empirical, and educational considerations. Educational Psychologist, 26, 263297.
    Cooper, J. (2013). Designing a school makerspace [Web log post]. Retrieved from
    Craft, A. (2010). Possibility thinking and wise creativity: Educational future in England? In R. A. Beghetto & J. C. Kaufman (Eds.), Nurturing creativity in the classroom (pp. 289312). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
    Craft, A. (2015). Possibility thinking: From what is to what might be. In S. Robson & S. Flannery Quinn (Eds.), The Routledge international handbook of young children’s thinking and understanding (pp. 416432). London, UK: Routledge.
    Craft, A., Cremin, T., Burnard, P., Dragovic, T., & Chappell, K. (2012). Possibility thinking: Culminative studies of an evidence-based concept driving creativity? Education, 41(5), 313. doi:
    Davis, M. S. (1971). That’s interesting! Philosophy of Social Science, 1, 309344.
    Dewey, J. (2005). Art as experience. New York, NY: Perigee Books. (Original work published 1934)
    Didierjean, A., & Gobet, F. (2008). Sherlock Holmes—an expert’s view of expertise. British Journal of Psychology, 99, 109125.
    Douglas, E. (2015, June 8). How BIG data can inform and innovate HR in K–12 education. Education Week. Retrieved from
    Douven, I. (2012, Winter). Peirce on abduction. In Edward N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Retrieved from
    Doyle, A. C. (2010). A study in scarlet. London, UK: Penguin Books. (First published by Ward Lock, 1887)
    Edwards, D., & Mercer, N. (2012). Common knowledge: The development of understanding in the classroom. London, UK: Routledge. (Original work published in 1987)
    Einstein, A., & Infeld, L. (1938). The evolution of physics. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
    Eisner, E. W. (2002). The arts and the creation of mind. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
    Getzels, J. W., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1976). The creative vision: A longitudinal study of problem finding in art. New York, NY: Wiley.
    Gibson, C., & Mumford, M. D. (2013). Evaluation, criticism, and creativity: Criticism content and effects on creative problem solving. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 7, 314331.
    Glaveanu, V. P., & Gillespie, A. (2014). Creativity out of difference: Theorising semiotic, social and temporal gaps. In V. Glaveanu, A. Gillespie, & J. Valsiner (Eds.), Rethinking creativity: Contributions from cultural psychology (pp. 115). London, UK: Routledge.
    Gombrich, E. H. (1969). Art and illusion: A study in the psychology of pictorial representation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
    Greene, M. (1995). Releasing the imagination: Essays on education, the arts, and social change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
    Grohman, M., Wodniecka, Z., & Klusak, M. (2006). Divergent thinking and evaluation skills: Do they always go together? Journal of Creative Behavior, 40, 125145.
    Groth, J. C., & Peters, J. (1999). What blocks creativity? A managerial perspective. Creativity and Innovation Management, 8(3), 179187.
    Guilford, J. P. (1950). Creativity. American Psychologist, 5, 444454.
    Halverson, E. R., & Sheridan, K. M. (2014). The maker movement in education. Harvard Education Review, 84, 495505.
    Hennessey, B. A. (2010). Intrinsic motivation and creativity in the classroom: Have we come full circle? In R. A. Beghetto & J. C. Kaufman (Eds.), Nurturing creativity in the classroom (pp. 329361). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
    Hennessey, B. A., & Amabile, T. M. (2010). Creativity. Annual Review of Psychology, 61, 569598.
    Horng, E. L., Klaskik, D., & Loeb, S. (2010). Principal’s time use and school effectiveness. American Journal of Education, 116, 491523.
    Isaksen, S. G., & Treffinger, D. J. (2004). Celebrating 50 years of reflective practice: Versions of creative problem solving. Journal of Creative Behavior, 38, 75101.
    Jagodowski, T. J., Pasquesi, D., & Victor, P. (2015). Improvisation at the speed of life: The TJ and Dave book. Chicago, IL: Solo Roma.
    Jaussi, K. S., & Dionne, S. D. (2003). Leading for creativity: The role of unconventional leader behavior. Leadership Quarterly, 14, 475498.
    Jay, E. S., & Perkins, D. N. (1997). Problem finding: The search for mechanism. In M. A. Runco (Ed.), Creativity research handbook (pp. 257293). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
    Kamii, C. (2000). Double-column addition: A teacher uses Piaget’s theory [VHS Tape]. New York, NY: Teachers College.
    Kaufman, J. C., & Beghetto, R. A. (2009). Beyond big and little: The Four C Model of creativity. Review of General Psychology, 13, 112.
    Kaufman, J. C., & Beghetto, R. A. (2013). In praise of Clark Kent: Creative metacognition and the importance of teaching kids when (not) to be creative. Roeper Review, 35, 155165.
    Kennedy, M. (2005). Inside teaching: How classroom life undermines reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    Kermeliotis, T. (2013, February 26). Boy scares off lions with flashy invention. CNN. Retrieved from
    Klein, G. (2007, September). Performing a project premortem. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from
    Kozbelt, A., Beghetto, R. A., & Runco, M. A. (2010). Theories of creativity. In J. C. Kaufman & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of creativity (pp. 2047). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
    Lavin, I. (1993). Picasso’s Bull(s): Art history in reverse. Art in America, 81, 76123.
    Littleton, K., & Mercer, N. (2013). Interthinking: Putting talk to work. London, UK: Routledge.
    Mehan, H. (1979). Learning lessons: Social organization in the classroom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    Mumford, M. D., Blair, C., Dailey, L., Leritz, L. E., & Osburn, H. K. (2006). Errors in creative thought? Cognitive biases in a complex processing activity. Journal of Creative Behavior, 40, 75109.
    Mumford, M. D., Medeiros, K. E., & Partlow, P. J. (2012). Creative thinking: Processes, strategies, and knowledge. Journal of Creative Behavior, 46, 3047.
    Mumford, M. D., Mobley, M. I., Reiter-Palmon, R., Uhlman, C. E., & Doares, L. M. (1991). Process analytic models of creative capacities. Creativity Research Journal, 4, 91122.
    Mumford, M. D., Scott, G. M., Gaddis, B., & Strange, J. M. (2002). Leading creative people: Orchestrating expertise and relationships. Leadership Quarterly, 13(6), 705750.
    Niu, W., & Zhou, Z. (2010). Creativity in mathematics teaching: A Chinese perspective. In R. A. Beghetto & J. C. Kaufman (Eds.), Nurturing creativity in the classroom (pp. 270288). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
    Paavola, S. (2012). On the origin of ideas. An abductivist approach to discovery. (Revised and enlarged edition). Saarbrücken, Germany: Lap Lambert.
    Paulus, P. B., & Yang, H. C. (2000). Idea generation in groups: A basis for creativity in organizations. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 82, 7687.
    Peirce, C. S. (1998). Pragmatisms as the logic of abduction (Lecture VII). In Peirce Edition Project (Ed.), The essential Peirce: Selected philosophical writings (Vol. 2, ca. 1893–1913). Bloomington: Indiana University Press. (Original work published in 1903)
    Perry-Smith, J. E., & Shalley, C. E. (2003). The social side of creativity: A static and dynamic social network perspective. Academy of Management Review, 28, 89106.
    Plucker, J. A., Beghetto, R. A., & Dow, G. T. (2004). Why isn’t creativity more important to educational psychologists? Potential, pitfalls, and future directions in creativity research. Educational Psychologist, 39, 8397.
    Pretz, J. E., Naples, A. J., & Sternberg, R. J. (2003). Recognizing, defining, and representing problems. In J. E. Davidson & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), The psychology of problem solving (pp. 330). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
    Reeve, J. (2009). Why teachers adopt a controlling motivating style toward students and how they can become more autonomy supportive. Educational Psychologist, 44, 159175.
    Roberts, L., Dutton, J., Spreitzer, G., Heaphy, E., & Quinn, R. (2005). Composing the reflected best-self portrait: Building pathways for becoming extraordinary in work organizations. Academy of Management Review, 30, 712736.
    Roberts, L., Spreitzer, G., Dutton, J., Quinn, R., Heaphy, E., & Barker, B. (2005). How to play to your strengths. Harvard Business Review, 83, 7580.
    Robinson, K. (2006, February). How schools kill creativity [Video]. Retrieved from
    Rothenberg, A. (2014). Flight from wonder: An investigation of scientific creativity. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
    Runco, M. A. (Ed.). (1994). Problem finding, problem solving, and creativity. Norwood, NJ, Ablex.
    Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 5467.
    Sawyer, R. K. (2012). Explaining creativity: The science of human innovation (
    ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
    Scheer, A., Noweski, C., & Meinel, C. (2012). Transforming constructivist learning into action: Design thinking in education. Design and Technology Education: An International Journal, 17(3). Retrieved from
    Scott, G., Leritz, L. E., & Mumford, M. D. (2004). The effectiveness of creativity training: A quantitative review. Creativity Research Journal, 16, 361388.
    Sharrock, D., Perry, L., Jacobs, G., Jacobs, J. A. (2014). A reel-y authentic project. Unboxed: A journal of adult learning in school. Retrieved from
    Shrivastava, P., & Siomkos, G. (1989). Disaster containment strategies. Journal of Business Strategy, 10, 2630.
    Simonton, D. K. (2007). The creative process in Picasso’s Guernica sketches: Monotonic improvements versus nonmonotonic variants. Creativity Research Journal, 19, 329344.
    Simonton, D. K. (2012). Taking the US Patent Office creativity criteria seriously: A quantitative three-criterion definition and its implications. Creativity Research Journal, 24, 97106.
    Sims, P. (2011). Little bets: How breakthrough ideas emerge from small discoveries. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
    Sternberg, R. J. (2010). Teaching for creativity. In R. A. Beghetto & J. C. Kaufman (Eds.), Nurturing creativity in the classroom (pp. 394414). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
    Sternberg, R. J., & Kaufman, J. C. (2010). Constraints on creativity: Obvious and not so obvious. In J. C. Kaufman & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of creativity (pp. 467482). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
    Sternberg, R. J., & Lubart, T. I. (1995). Defying the crowd: Cultivating creativity in a culture of conformity. New York, NY: Free Press.
    Stone, M. K. (2001). Solving for pattern: The STRAW project. Retrieved from
    Thomas, T. (Director). (2010). The classroom experiment. [Video]. BBC One.
    Von Hippel, E. (1994). “Sticky information” and the locus of problem solving: Implications for innovation. Management Science, 40, 429439.
    Wallas, G. (1926). The art of thought. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace and World.
    Weick, K. (1979). The social psychology of organizing. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
    Weick, K. (1984). Small wins: Redefining the scale of social problems. American Psychologist, 39, 4049.
    Weick, K. E. (2007). Drop your tools: On reconfiguring management education. Journal of Management Education, 31, 516.
    Wiggins, B., & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
    World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE). (2014a). Imagine-Create-Learn: Creativity at the heart of education. Opening Ceremony, November 4th, 2014. Doha, Qatar. Retrieved from
    World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE). (2014b). The 2014 World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) convened November 4–6, in Doha, Qatar. Retrieved from
    Young, E. (2010). Eight-year-old children publish bee study in Royal Society journal. Retrieved from
    Zaino, J. (2013). What big data means for K-12. Ed Tech Magazine. Retrieved from

    • Loading...
Back to Top

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website