Monday, October 24, 2016

Equipping Kids with Toolboxes of Excellence

Special Note - I am honored to share this post by Rene Sawatsky, Assistant Principal at Blue Ridge Elementary School, Blue Ridge ISD, Blue Ridge, Texas.  When it comes to excellence, I am always excited to see how others create a culture of excellence and this post gives another lens through which leaders and educators can view the process of developing excellence in all learners.


Do you have a toolbox of excellence at your disposal?  How are you using that toolbox?  In Ron Berger's book, An Ethic of Excellence, he describes 3 toolboxes of excellence.  The first toolbox of excellence is creating a culture of excellence in your classroom, and the second toolbox has to do with the creating and expecting the work of excellence.  The third tool box is self-esteem

"Self-esteem comes from accomplishments not compliments."

Below are a few suggestions to help teachers begin to work with students to create their own excellence:

1.  Incorporate Powerful Project Learning - As Berger puts it, "there's only so much care and concern that students can put into fill-in-the-blank work."  When students see purpose in their work, the self-accomplishment rating goes through the roof.  Celebrate their high-quality projects, publish the results so parents can see, align your projects with real community needs, connect globally with others to show off what's being done, but whenever possible show how their work is of service to others outside the school walls.  This is highly motivating for the 21st century student!

2.  Show good models so students know the difference.  Collect work samples from some of the best and show them off, telling why they make outstanding examples of work being done.  If this is the first year or you don't have models, use images.  Challenge them to strive to create work that is at the level or more excellent than the model.  Have students critique the models of various levels of excellence, so they can make determinations about what constitutes and excellent work before turning them loose on their own projects.

3.  Utilize peer critique and multiple drafts of work, keeping the drafts as a paper trail for the level of improvement and growth.  Make a clear distinction between what's rough and what's polished.  Create an atmosphere where the first is always a draft, where mistakes are common and need to be revised to make it better.  Utilize peers to encourage students that they're on the right track with their ideas.  Build a camaraderie in your classroom so students don't feel threatened but welcome input to make their projects even better.  

Be Kind, Be Specific, and Be Helpful - 3 tenets of peer critique that the author feels are important for students to develop this skill with each other.

Put your Tools to Work
When we work with an attitude of excellence, seek excellence in all things, and make the ownership of the excellence belong to the student (instead of seeming like punishment from the teacher), the self-accomplishment quotient will rise to the top and give rise to even more excellent work in the future.

It's what Berger calls working on the work!

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