Ron Berger’s book “An Ethic of Excellence” is, well, excellent.
Am really looking forward to trying out the whole critique, redraft, improve idea – and it’s certainly made me realise I have to be more proactive about finding model bits of work and archiving them.
Anyway, my dogears:
“One of my jobs as a teacher, I feel, is to be a historian of excellence, an archiver of excellence. Wherever I am, in my school or in other schools throughout the country, I am on the lookout for models of beautiful work, powerful work, important work.”
The Value of Community
The power of the culture rests in the community. When I’ve visited effective schools I’ve been struck with the realization that though the settings and resources are often widely different, every effective school I’ve seen has a strong sense of community… Students and staff in all these settings feel that they are part of something – they belong to something.
Small is Beautiful
Building strong school communities means fighting the social trend of bigger everything, the trend of super-stores and massive shopping malls… in a small school students and teachers are highly accountable – it’s hard for the students to fall through the cracks. The web of personal relationships supports and pushes students and staff.
We can’t first build the students’ self-esteem and then focus on thier work. It is through their own work that their self-esteem will grow.
When teachers ask me when I could possibly find the time to fit in critique with all the lessons I need to teach, I explain that these sessions are the lessons. Rather than talk in the abstract about how to write well, how to compile a good bibliography, or how to prepare a data analysis, we sit as a group and critique examples of our attempts at this work, refining our criteria and vision of what constitutes excellence.
… I have just three rules
Be kind. It is essential that the critique environment feel safe, and the class and I are vigilant to guard against any hurtful comments. This includes sarcasm.
Be Specific. No comments such as “It’s good” or “I like it”; these just waste our time.
Be Helpful. The goal is to help the individual and the class, not for the critic to be heard. Echoing the thoughts of others or cleverly pointing out details that are not significant to improving the work also wastes our time.
Teaching as craft
Carpenters learn their craft in a sensible manner. They spend years on the job as apprentices and journeymen before they are considered masters. Independence and responsibility are granted slowly as young carpenters labour under the watchful eyes of experienced builders. They prove themselves not by taking tests but by demonstrating good work skills, high quality standards and a strong work ethic. They are taught by the entire crew[my emphasis]
Imagine that a carpenter fresh from school was sent to build your house. He had read carpentry books and had taken lots of tests but had spent only a few months on an actual building site and had been given real responsibility on that site for just a single week. Not only that, he was going to build your house entirely by himself, with no one collaborating with him, guiding his work, or watching over his decisions. You’d be out of your mind if you felt comfortable with this arrangement. How did it com to be that we send our children to first-year teachers with this type of preparation?
Business and education
I understand and respect [businessmen's] perspectives, and I believe that their impatience stems from a genuine desire to improve schools, particularly urban schools. But in some basic ways, what I do with my life is not business, and business strategies are not always the best model. My daughter started a catering business and she runs it with impeccable standards; it’s very successful and I couldn’t be more proud of her. When she gets poor quality food deliveries, she sends them back. When I get students with difficulties or poor skilss, I can’t send them back, nor do I want to. If my daughter’s business begins to overtake other caterers and drive them out of business, I’ll be pleased for her success. I am not working against other schools and I feel that the children in every school deserve the best – I don’t want any school to fail.
The implications of my work seem tenuous or even empty if the only paradigm being discussed is scaling up. Scaling up works for systems, not for an ethic that is built carefully, by hand, over time.