Tolerating Ambiguity

The creative resource of Tolerating Ambiguity offers us an opportunity to engage on multiple levels. First, we can strive to set a path for students to tolerate or even embrace ambiguity as it presents itself in daily life. Second, studies show (see articles in additional resources) that students are consistently more engaged in a classroom that offers space for uncertainty. Genuine learning happens when the path is not overly structured. How can we make space for uncertainty in our classrooms?

Course Materials

Teacher Priming: Developing Competencies

Do you remember learning to ride a bike? Do you remember learning to swim? For many of us, these beginner experiences are far enough in the past that we struggle to recall the intense experience of facing so many UNKNOWNS. These early learning experiences provide a snapshot of our own capacity for tolerating ambiguities. They were unlit paths we navigated successfully.

**We recommend doing this short reflection activity on your own first.

Creative Routine: What Do You See?

This activity presents an opportunity to practice tolerating ambiguity, close observation, and idea generation. The task is to look until one sees some shape or visual story in the image, then look again for a new shape or story. The pausing and looking process supports development of tolerance for ambiguity.

Creative Routine: Art Analysis Links

In this activity, we ask participants to practice tolerating ambiguity through observation. We’ve selected a number of abstract works of art along with guiding question that help lead a discussion around perception our ability to tolerate and interpret ambiguity.

Creative Challenges: Stick Drawing Exercise

This activity induces the beginner experience by simply exaggerating the length of a
typical drawing/writing tool. Attaching an arm length stick to a marker changes the
mechanics of drawing enough that simple shapes and forms require slow and
deliberate focus. This activity invites us to release ourselves from outcomes and
exactness, and experience the full body focus one engages when trying on the new
and unfamiliar.

Creative Challenges: My Capable Body

The intention of this activity is to provide space for students to identify and celebrate
their own skills acquisition. When we take time to reflect on a particular learning path
– to recall the phases of skill development we passed through – the struggles and
frustrations we faced – and the little epiphanies we enjoyed; we get a retrospective of
ourselves embracing the ambiguous and taking risks.

Deepening: Heebee Jeebees

In this exercise we confront the experiences that make us most uncomfortable. 

Additional Resources: Tolerating Ambiguity

We’ve included some additional links to classroom exercises and readings related to our topic of Tolerating Ambiguity. Follow the listed PDF links for a deeper dive into the subject.

Resources: Need for Closure

Need for closure is the desire for certainty. The need for closure scale measures the degree to which a person has that desire.

The Need for Closure Scale assesses one’s ability to tolerate ambiguity by asking a series of questions related to uncertainty. 

For additional reading on the Need for Closure Scale – and the methods behind the research, download a 2004 journal article that offers a deep dive into the subject.


A week-long artist residency program providing our team with space and time to ideate, create, iterate, experiment and reflect. The experience allowed us to step into the role of our professional development recipients and try out new systems for collaboration and communication.

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Creativity is for everyone.

Creativity is for everyone.