Notes from ‘An Ethic of Excellence’


Key Summary

 Students need to see what excellence looks like, encouraged to be given meaningful audiences for their work, and opportunity to redraft.


  • With models of work from former students and models of work from the professional world class sits and admired. They critique and discuss what makes the work powerful. These is kept as a library of excellence – on the walls, on counters, in boxes – pupils visit and recharge their vision.
  • Culture matters – there needs to be a culture of excellence and excellent work rather than the volume of work.
  • When considering improving education, focus lesson on what is delivered to students, consider schooling as an experience not a delivery system.
  • “When kids walk into run-down, ugly buidings constructed as cheaply as possible and often falling apart, what message do these children get? We don’t care about you. We don’t value you. We don’t expect much of you.” Pg 46 – the same could be said for classrooms?
  • Excellence does not just mean excellence in work – but also excellence as a human being – being the kind of person who will be a credit to our society.
  • Students produce high quality work because they did not spend years reading textbooks in unison or filling in blanks on worksheets.
  • Uses project work but projects are structured to make it difficult for students to fall behind or fail.
  • When apprentice builder long explanations were not used – instead a model was given. Therefore RB always knew what he was striving for, what quality work looked like.
  • Need to admire models, find inspiration in them, and analyse their strengths and weaknesses. The same needs to be applied to feedback – need to model it.
  • There will be tribute work, work of a student who borrowed work from an example, but this is to be encouraged as it allows students to develop skills.
  • Students need to know from the outset that quality means rethinking, reworking, and polishing.
  • Three simple rules for critique:
    • Be kind.
    • Be specific.
    • Be helpful.
  • Guidelines for critique:
    • Begin with the author explaining their work.
    • Critique the work not the person.
    • Begin with something positive about the work.
    • Use I statements “I am confused” rather than “this makes no sense”
    • Use questions when possible “I am curious why you began with this?”
  • Teaching is hard, harder than can ever be explained to anyone. Doing it well consistently take a unique stamina.

Potential Action Points

  • Consider modeling for students. Saving past student work.
  • Spending more time looking at work with students – possibly earlier in the process.