Sunday, 1 September 2013

Just Enough Vs Excellence

I was fortunate as a kid to have an amazing teacher. A teacher who taught me that no matter how well you had done, you could always do better. Mrs Carter was my swimming coach.

School and I didn’t get on.
School wasn’t the place where I developed a passion to learn and achieve.
I was a swimmer.
Swimming took over my life. Swimming gave me direction. Swimming taught me to want to win.
Swimming felt like I was flying, water was my sky, which I guess just made me some kind of superhero who had to settle for the nearest pool.

Mrs Carter taught me that in life you only get one chance - so you may as well be truly excellent.
She never had a harsh word to say or even an extreme sense of competitiveness, Mrs Carter just knew that the journey was never done and If you’re any good at all, you know you can be better.
Achievements were celebrated, personal best times applauded and trophies awarded, however, you still knew that a pep-talk was coming and you still had work to do.
Reflection became automatic and essential. We knew that if we were simply content with an average performance - then average was all we would ever be. With 5 x 4:30am starts each week and over 70km in distance to plough through - average wasn’t something I was striving for.

How was school different?

School taught me that Just Enough - is enough. 50% to pass. Add those pretty borders and over utilise that lettering book. Not at one point did my academic education teach me excellence or give me the tools to strive to be the best.

Through complete disengagement with the system, I skipped years 10 and 13 and still entered into a restricted tertiary course - by achieving "Just Enough."

As I reflect on the opportunities I give my students to celebrate achievements and embark on next steps - am I encouraging or insisting on excellence. Is Just Enough still enough!
Too often, as teachers we use fabulous and fantastic adjectives to describe attitudes or achievements without thinking about what we are saying. Was that outcome amazing? Really?

I'm watching the students reflect on their creations, and those of their friends, and time and time again they are reluctant to be critical and are happy with simply having created something. 

Can we expect improvement if mediocre is what they are happy with? Or.... am I unrealistic?


  1. Thought provoking post Miss K. I wonder a couple of things off the top of my head.... first thing is that excellence is not a concrete goal until you have experienced it. For you it was in swimming. Once you've touched it, tasted it, delighted in it then you can look for it in another domain. I guess this is where helping every individual to excel at that first thing is such an important thing to do as a teacher.
    Second, I was away on the weekend with 31 delightful year 7/8 kids and the talking turned at one point to which were the BEST movies shared this term. I was intrigued that as the ripple went around the dining room there was no disagreement amongst the kids about the 5 or 6 they considered excellent. Now I am going to watch them to see why they chose them.

    I'll think about this some more :)

  2. A thought provoking read. Thanks. The way I see it is that there are three things at play: effort, motivation/aspiration and the effectiveness of our attempts to improve. As an observer of your practice from afar I see you providing strong supports for the students learning with information clear instructions etc. Do you think an increased understanding of how students can be clear in their feedback for improvement might help? Driving motivating others to keep aiming higher is a real art; perhaps also a science. How do we develop Mrs Carters?