Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit”


One of my summer reads was Ron Berger’s @RonBergerEL Ethics of Excellence. If you haven’t read this then please do, it is a wonderful, uplifting book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Although Berger’s context perhaps couldn’t be different to my own teaching elementary school in rural America the ideas, principles and his vision is truly inspiring. You can see one of his approaches by watching Austin’s Butterfly below:

Whilst writing this post I came across these blogs that explore this area too.

Tom Sherrington’s @teacherhead post a few years ago on not accepting mediocrity

David Didau’s @daviddidau post a few years ago on improving peer feedback through public critique

So in September fresh full of new ideas from the book I introduced an ‘Ethics of Excellence’ to my Year 8 Science class. I asked them to look through their exercise book from last year, a very simple yet extremely effective thing to do it seems. As a class we explored their reflections independently and with a partner.

What did they think of their own work? Were they impressed with it? How could it be improved?

This was fascinating and enlightening, students were insightful and determined to do better this year and so they wrote down some targets related to the quality of their work and how they wanted to improve on it this year.

The next part was to introduce the idea that in future assessments throughout our course their work would undergo a more public critique within our own class and potentially a wider audience. The success of these assessments would be based on the collective responsibility of the whole class, if they were to be successful individually excellence would have to be achieved for all. For example we were raising expectations of what could be produced and no student wanted to let the class down. To ensure that students achieved excellence during each assessment there were a couple of opportunities for students to get peer feedback to what they had produced so far and to then redraft and improve their work to make it even better.

One specific homework that we completed over half a term was given a secret audience which achieved a great sense of curiosity and mystique. Students set off creating presentations on a specific element or compound, they checked in every couple of weeks to be challenged by their peers and to push up the standards and the quality of work produced. The importance of audience and a ‘secret audience’ and the impact that seemed to have on the students was phenomenal. I was starting to get worried that the secret audience may not fulfill their expectations.

However I was fortunate to have enlisted the generous help of a very important scientist through the medium of Twitter. Lord Robert Winston had kindly agreed to be the secret audience to my class and as I write this blog I have recently come from the lesson where the secret audience and his feedback to them as a class has been revealed.

Our students were absolutely delighted that Robert had taken the time to feedback on their work and were really inspired by his comments and encouragement.

Have you tried this approach in your own classroom?

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