“Work of excellence is transformational. Once a student sees that he or she is capable of quality, of excellence, that student is never quite the same. There is a new self-image, a new notion of possibility. There is an appetite for excellence. After students have had a taste of excellence, they’re never quite satisfied with less” (p. 2).
“Students my have different potentials, but in general their attitudes and achievements are shaped by the culture around them. Students adjust their attitudes and efforts in or to fit into the culture.” (p. 5)
I thought of my own “appetite for excellence” when I read these statements and the culture of excellence within our cohort. Each week, you all push me to expect more of myself, and I thank you for it. I know that each of us have “different potentials,” but I think that our teachers and our collective passion for what we are working to understand has created an ethic of excellence that I find myself constantly wondering how I can replicate in the the classroom. I believe that part of this comes from our collective desire to be better teachers, and as Bobby noted, Alfie Kohn’s lecture was eye-opening. It made me think about how much more I can do to foster student-led inquiry.
I also think that it comes from the models of excellence provided by our teachers. This is clearly not a place to slack off, and even though we are graciously supported, we are expected to produce beautiful work. I know that I push myself as much as I can to rise to the occasion, and sometimes I get so overwhelmed by the excellence that surrounds me that I fear falling short. I guess that part of what I expect my students to do is become comfortable in that place of fear and hold tight to previous experiences with excellence. I know that I have pushed myself through difficult projects and reaped the benefits. The reward is that much sweeter when the level of effort is novel.
I have noticed that those of my students who do well are those that are okay to take new risks because they have experienced success in the past. Last year, I spoke with a student who was facing the prospect of not graduating. We looked at what he needed to do in his classes, made a plan, and then I asked him the big question: “Are you read to work for it?”
“I guess,” was the reply...
I then asked him the second big question: “Can you remember another time like this when you knew that you had to work really hard for something, you did so, and you experienced that joyful pay-off?”
His reply: “... No.”
Those sweet rewards are so critical in encouraging students to dig in and try again! The people who surround us encourage us to take those necessary risks, and I need to remember that some students may feel like Jason are are uncertain how to enter into a “culture of excellence.” Additionally, I must make sure that my classroom is one that inspires the excellence I wish my students to rise to.