A Surefire Way to Kill Creativity in the Classroom

surefire way
The word “no” sets boundaries. Often boundaries are good and healthy for us to establish in our lives. When we set boundaries by establishing rules and consequences for our students, it often leads to positive results. Sometimes “no” is the appropriate word to choose. But there is one spot where the word “no” kills what art teachers strive to cultivate in their students: creativity.

Have you ever had a student want to go a different direction on their artwork than what you had planned? Perhaps the thought of saying yes made you a bit nervous. Or maybe there just wasn’t enough time to accomplish the request. You may have replied, “No” or, “Not today” or, “That’s not exactly the direction we were heading.” The hard truth is that phrases like those actually kill our students’ creativity. I’ll be the first to admit that I have said those statements before and immediately regretted them.

If you are in a Choice-Based classroom, then this is less of a problem. However, for those of us who don’t fall into that category you might be asking, “How can I incorporate more ‘Yes!’ into my day?” Fear not, we’ve got five simple strategies you can start implementing today.

Five Strategies for Saying “Yes” More Often


1. Start Small

It’s easier to say “Yes” to your students when the changes they want to make aren’t that large. Perhaps a student wants to add color? Sure! Or maybe they want to add a few more details? Go for it! Saying yes to small changes will make it easier to say yes when those changes get bigger.

2. Stop and Think

Often times saying “No” just seems to come automatically. But if we really think about it, there really aren’t that many times when it is necessary. If saying “Yes!” isn’t frequently used in your vocabulary, then try it out just one time today when a student is seeking your approval for their own creative direction. Try to incorporate the word a little more every day.

3. Try a Different Phrase

You're the artist
Instead of just saying “Yes” give your students ownership over their own artwork. I love using the phrase, “You’re the artist” when students want to do something a little different in their artwork.

4. Create More Time

Often teachers feel the crunch of the clock when determining if a student has the time to take their artwork in a different direction. Consider building in an extra day each quarter to allow students to wrap-up and explore different directions with their artwork. Don’t let time become the determining factor in your students’ creativity.

5. Provide Enrichment Opportunities

If saying yes to every student in the class overwhelms you, then consider using some extra time you might have in your day (prep time, lunch, before or after school…) to pull in those select students who are really craving some more “yes.”
Saying “yes” might seem a little daunting to some of us, but the more you use the phrase with your students the easier it will become. Plus, you’ll be sure that you are cultivating creativity in your students instead of killing it.

What advice for do you have for teachers who struggle to say “yes” to their students?

How do you cultivate creativity in your classroom?


Jennifer is an middle school art teacher in Kansas who is passionate about creating an organized, well-managed environment where students feel comfortable to learn and explore.


  • melissa purtee

    I love this! Great article!

  • Mr. Post

    Mr. Post can I…
    add wings to my clay pig so it can fly?
    make a baby to go with my penguin?
    draw a dinosaur in my cave art picture?
    give my guy a mohawk?
    Yes, Yes, You know dinosaurs and cavemen weren’t alive at the same time right? but Yes and Yes.

    Teaching art is much more fun when you say Yes all day.

    When my son was in 3rd grade he made a drawing of a tower with long arms that makes the all of the weather in the world. Clouds, snowflakes, and sunshine cascade down the page in repeating patterns from the arm of the tower. He made this drawing in a sketch book we gave him to draw in when he had free time at school. Kids have fertile brains and make cool things when the answer is yes and adults aren’t hovering over them.

    One of my favorite ideas about art comes from the painter Eric Fischl. He said something about how in the 20th century art really has no rules. So what you have to do is create a problem for yourself and then solve it, breaking your w own rules along the way if you have to.

    To put this in simpler terms, imagine the teapot form. It’s got to have a lid, a handle, a spout and a body – but artists have been infinitely creative in approaching all of these parts and thus there is vast range of teapots being made today. A simple problem – make a teapot – can lead to an abundance of creative solutions. Good art lessons have this – a simple problem and then an abundance of ways for kids to approach making art about it.

    There is a rule in stand-up comedy improv. When a comedian throws out an idea like “Our boat is sinking!” The other actors cannot say “No it’s not”. The word no kills the flow of the improvisation. The other comedians embrace the idea that the boat is sinking and start adding jokes and ideas to that statement. Saying no kills comedic ideas, saying yes makes the jokes and the improv flow.

    • mel


    • Mr. Post,

      You words are the perfect match for this article. I never knew that about comedians, but it is pure genius. Saying no kills art ideas too. But saying yes will not only make our students joyful but it might just elicit the best kind of art…the unique kind.

    • Leah

      loved reading this- the article and this comment from Mr. Post. I want to save both to revisit later! I am personally working on saying “Yes” more often in my teaching practice. I find it easier to “let go” year after year

    • Rachel Mardis

      I love everything you said. I’ve heard that idea about improv before but I adore it used in the context of art! Thanks for sharing!

  • Christina Stephenson

    As a pre-service teacher, I see this play out in my placement all of the time. It kills me a little bit inside when I hear a student’s idea shot down by a somewhat flippant “no.” I agree that sometimes we say “no” simply out of habit, but that if we take the time to consider whether our decision to say “yes” will make or break a lesson, I bet we would see that quite often it won’t. And saying “yes” will actually give validity to what we do as art teachers! The teacher in my placement has a couple of posters that say “Art Rocks.” When I think about rock stars, (and let’s face it, you are all the rock stars in your buildings), what they do well and master is breaking the rules. Sometimes we have to allow our students to break the rules of a project in order to unleash their creativity.

    Great article!

    • Great words of wisdom Christina. It is so easy to just say “no” without thinking it through, but art really is about breaking the rules and doing things differently.

  • ElizTownsend

    Yes! I like this!

  • Jen

    I think sometimes AOE forgets that some students need pushes and no can be used as a means to not end too early in a process. Can’t I just color it all in with crayons (HS)? No. I like it like this. No, you just don’t want to put the time in to do more. Miss you ask too much. Sometimes starting with limited choices forces students to think of creative solutions around boundaries. Students, especially in underserved, minimal art in education environments sometimes need to start with concrete goals so that they can gain the confidence to make more and more thoughtful, personal and well crafted decisions later on. I don’t totally disagree with your article this is just something I feel isn’t said enough.

    • Jen,

      I agree completely. Just like I wrote above, “The word “no” sets boundaries. Often boundaries are good and healthy for us to establish in our lives. When we set boundaries by establishing rules and consequences for our students, it often leads to positive results. Sometimes “no” is the appropriate word to choose.”

      Some students do need redirection and encouragement when creating artwork to help keep them on track. When a student wants to finish something early or wants to take an easy way out I try to think of ways to redirect them without necessarily saying “no”.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • Audrey

    I love this article! Saying no can often times come too quickly. We’ve been focusing on building creativity in most of my classes right now.

    Some student need you to scaffold their creativity. If I were to throw a new project at them without enough guidelines, they may freeze up. Stick with what is comfortable/safe for them. Others may be able to run with it.

    Giving clear directions or boundaries can really help a student to work those creative muscles… Then if they have an idea to push those boundaries you have a perfect opportunity to say “yes.”

  • Shelley Menhennet

    I like “You’re the artist!’ That just says it all. I usually say, “It’s your painting/drawing/clay work!” when asked , “Can I……?” And my students know that I rarely say NO. Especially if they can give me a reason/explanation for their request. This usually eliminates the requests to just finish off when they can’t be bothered!!!

  • Ugh

    You know, It was really great! “You’re the Artist!” LOLS dafgfdhgjyfgr