Risk-taking is one of the skills listed when describing creative individuals. It is a willingness to take chances and to fail. It is a desire to deviate and go against conformity. Often, it is an inclination to get into trouble. It is a trait that many teachers dread because it might mean dealing with a student who appears not to care or who defies the teacher, their rules, their directions, and their classroom management. These are the students that could change the world if their mischief was channeled in the right direction. History is full of examples.
Some of the most notable names in innovation were not what one would call good students. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are two of the most notable college drop-outs who went on to huge success, both leaving college to pursue their visions in the field of technology. Richard Branson’s headmaster said when Branson dropped out of high school at age sixteen that he would either end up in prison or be a millionaire. He is currently worth 4.6 billion dollars, but more importantly, he demonstrates what it means to live an authentic and successful life. Albert Einstein was known to have severe temper tantrums and left high school because “he hated the rote, disciplined style of the teachers in Munich.” These icons represent the risk-takers who had vision and passion but not necessarily school discipline or school completion. They shed a positive light of possibility on students, who are otherwise viewed as troublemakers.
The connection between creativity and deviance is not new information. Torrance and Barron acknowledged teachers’ reactions to creative students in research from the 1960s. In essence, they described young, creative students as inquisitive and curious, who asked many questions, distracted a teacher from their lesson plan and were ultimately viewed as undesirable. These students were disciplined for their distraction and stopped contributing and enjoying school over time. Kyung Hee Kim, in her article, Underachievement and Creativity: Are Gifted Underachievers Highly Creative, pointed out that teachers with rigid classrooms “discourage new and unique ideas and demand obedience, rote memorization, and conformity,” which ultimately “can stifle creativity and lead to the underachievement of highly creative individuals.” While classroom management is necessary, this information is a gentle reminder that a certain amount of flexibility and ability to recognize creativity could make the difference in a student’s enjoyment of learning and achievement in school. How might we recognize the risk-takers in high school?
Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Engagement
In high school, the students with A’s are not necessarily the creative students. So many students want to know the quickest, easiest way to get the project done and to get an “A” on it. They follow the teacher’s steps, and they don’t stray far from those steps, ensuring their extrinsic reward of a good grade. The risk-takers take the project and make it their own. At first, it might seem like they are purposely defying the teacher. They may not even come close to what the teacher had intended, but if you look closer, you might see something truly creative and remarkable. And if you ask questions, you can grasp how the student translated the work. It is easy to see by the student’s intrinsic interest and engagement in what they’re doing and that they are pursuing their work with passion and not taking an easy route.
If teachers want to support creativity in their classroom, they might acknowledge that risk-taking and bend on the original expectations of the project. If there is something specific that they need to learn in making the project, the teacher can point it out to them and make sure that they understand that technique or tool, or concept. In my classroom, I have a discussion with the student and praise their experimentation, risk-taking, and creativity. I grade their projects differently by acknowledging these things in place of other things. It’s a compromise.
Creative Engagement vs. Apathy
My experience has shown that the students who have challenged me the most are the ones that have been the most rewarding. I have to remind myself that defiance is not always about me but about pursuing creativity and individuality. These students might otherwise hate school but don’t (at least for one class) because I am willing to work with them and their interests and see the strength of their nonconformity. Sometimes deviant behavior is just that, and sometimes it is the risk-taking that supports creativity…and maybe even straight-up deviant behavior can be channeled into something more productive with a little positive attention. Almost any form of creative engagement is better than apathy. Rather than write off the students that appear to be troublemakers, try seeing them as the risk-taking innovators of the future.
- Don’t take student deviance as a personal threat to your authority.
- Recognize risk-taking and non-conformity as attributes of creative individuals.
- Allow flexibility on projects if a student genuinely engages in creating something different.
About Beverly Zapatka Weihz
Beverly Zapatka Weihz is a renaissance woman. She is a high school photography teacher, an artist, an entrepreneur, an avid traveler, and a voracious student of life. She holds a B.A. in Art Therapy and teaching certificates for both Art and English. She received a Master’s of Science in Creative Studies and Change Leadership from SUNY Buffalo in 2016. Her master’s study work focused on research in motivation and finding the balance between technology and creativity. She is currently designing the curriculum for a Creative Solutions class that will launch next fall. Her desire is to create a learning environment where all students can discover their creative strengths, learn how to problem solve and develop their own unique version of badass.
Beverly is currently a doctoral student in Transformative Studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies. At CIIS, she is exploring her key interests of creativity, education, and systems theory with the intention of writing the irrefutable argument for why creativity and the creative problem solving process should be taught in every public school.