Valuing the Bad Work


In education, in classrooms, in conversations with teachers, I see and hear a lot of thoughts about what good work is and how to help students get their work to be better. There are rubrics of all sorts, there is modeling, and there are grades or scores. I’m not saying that there is not merit in these efforts but there is also a danger. The danger is that what is defined as good work is really just standard work-it meets spec. And if the goal, whether deliberately or inadvertently, becomes to have our students meet spec, we completely eliminate exploration and discovery which are crucial ingredients for innovation and creativity.

Creative and innovative work is often rooted in mistakes, experimental practices, unexplored paths, unexpected discoveries, different perspectives, and new combinations. None of these ingredients are found on those carefully crafted rubrics and none of these things are standards that the “experts” are looking for. No, these things are often found in the so-called bad work. The work that doesn’t meet spec.

So perhaps, the bad work isn’t bad, it’s just different or new. Perhaps it’s actually good or at the very least, the beginning of something good. Throughout history, the great innovations that have truly transformed our human experience have been dismissed. Inventors and innovators have been ridiculed and ostracized. They’ve even been condemned. Their work was different, it didn’t meet spec, it wasn’t standard. It looked and felt and sounded different.

Let’s make sure, that in our effort to make our students’ work better, we are leaving room for it to be truly great, or revolutionary or groundbreaking. That we are leaving space for it to look and feel and sound different.


Trevor (@trevorabryan)

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