On Beautiful Work

Tim Breen, Head of School
Throughout this spring, and culminating this summer, I had the privilege of working in a group with six other teachers here at The White Mountain School to explore the evolution of teaching and learning.  We followed an on-line course called “Deeper Learning” led by a broad partnership of various educational organizations (including High Tech High in San Diego, the MIT Media Lab, and Stanford University, among others).  As a group here on campus, we discussed the weekly readings and video panels, then got together this summer for three days of deep exploration of the issues.

There were several compelling strands of our conversation (perhaps for later posts!).  Here I want to note one: Giving students the opportunity to do “beautiful work.”  We do not refer only to aesthetically pleasing work – rather “beautiful” here means work that is accurate, well-presented, and of value.  It is work that the student is truly proud of.  When we reflected on how much work from our own high school years we had saved, there were very few examples.  If you think of the huge quantity of work we each produced, there is something sad about this!  As teacher and author Ron Berger has written:

“Schools can sometimes take on the feel of a production ship, students cranking out an endless flow of final products without much personal investment or care. The emphasis is on keeping up with production, on not falling behind in class work or homework, rather than on producing something of lasting value (2005, p. 37).

Giving students the opportunity to do truly beautiful work takes time – it requires us to choose quality over quantity.  But the benefits can be enormous.  Educators often say they want students to do higher-quality work, to develop initiative, curiosity, creativity, communication skills, and critical thinking skills.  The production of beautiful work requires all of these.  It also better mimics the expectations of college, where students will be asked to do fewer assignments, but complete them at a higher level.  

I look forward to exploring beautiful work throughout next year.  I feel lucky to be at a school where the teachers are so engaged in thinking hard about learning and teaching.  I know our students are better off for it.


Berger, R. (2005). What is a culture of quality? In T. Hatch, D. Ahmed, A. Lieberman, D. Faigenbaum, M. E. White, & D. H. Pointer Mace, (Eds.) Going public with our teaching: An anthology of our practice. (pp. 34-56). New York: Teachers College Press.

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