An Ethic of Excellence

The new Educational guru of the moment seems to be Ron Berger, author of ‘An Ethic of Excellence’. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his short book, and have taken a lot of inspiration from it. The book opens with Ron describing a pretty tense moment where he was asked to show some of his students’ work at a national conference, and his portfolio momentarily went missing. His panic grew, as he felt that as an ordinary classroom teacher, he wouldn’t be taken seriously, however he believes passionately in the power of the students’ work. When the portfolio was recovered, the audience were blown away to the point of disbelief that young people could produce such polished, mature work.

Ron Berger champions the idea of ‘beautiful’ project work, where students have the opportunity to produce professional quality work that has been honed through the rigor of drafting and re-drafting until it is almost perfect. He believes in quality, not quantity. analysing models of work and teaching students to improve step-by-step.

In our curriculum, and with the sometimes limiting demands our schools place on us, we don’t often have the chance to work on a single piece of work for weeks, or months on end to achieve this level of ‘beauty’, however, here are some of the tips I’ve taken that I will try to incorporate into my practise:

* examples of good work should be celebrated, displayed and analysed. Never throw out great work from previous years; build your own portfolio that can be used as inspiration for future students time and time again
* don’t accept poor quality: find the time to allow students to work on the feedback you give them – on our school we call this ‘closing the loop’
* think outside the box – is there a way that the work done in your classroom can be made relevant in the real world, e.g. posted online, entered into competitions, etc.
* Make feedback specific, manageable and honest. Too much sugar-coating is bad for your students as well as your teeth!
* Aim HIGH! Expect more from your students.

I really recommend this book as a different view of teaching, a little antidote to the never-ending marking of sub-standard work and the disappointment this can bring to us as educators!