Excellence? Yes, excellence.

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Our School seeks the excellence in all of us.

It says so in our Mission.

I get impatient with people who roll their eyes at the notion of excellence. These skeptics have heard it said so often (about a team, a school, a business, or an organization – whatever), and they have seen these same businesses, teams, school, organizations or whatever crumble shoddily in the crucible of excellence, that they wonder how anyone can offer up this effigy if it is only going to be burned. We should know better, they say, than to invite the jaundiced judgement of those who know the world cannot be an excellent place.

Too often, the jaded eye-roller is simply confusing excellent with perfection. The pursuit of perfection is an obsession, and too often distorts the life of the individual pursuing it and damages those nearby. Debaters can debate if perfection is attainable at all; Olympic gymnasts would say it is. It might even be repeatable, but essentially it is the thing of a moment, a one-time thing. Excellence, on the other hand, as Aristotle says, is a habit.

Any School that seeks excellence should consider needs to make sure the word lives, and articulate it. When we developed our Mission fifteen years ago, we did that. Because it is central to our Mission, we needed some flesh on that skeleton. So we had a discussion – staff, students, alumni, Board –  that sought meaning for the word.

We decided that, at St. Michaels University School, excellence had four elements.

First, excellence is about the achievement of potential. We believe that inside all of us is a spectrum of excellence, narrow or wide, that deserves to have its chance in the prism of our School.

Secondly, we believe that students who have a particular individual excellence should be supported as they pursue it.

Thirdly, we believe that we should have programs that are measurably excellent by external criteria.

Fourthly, we believe that an excellent education necessarily includes breadth, so that students become whole people.

Each of these statements has ramifications and consequences. But: in simple terms there is excellence for you. In case you were wondering.

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Bob Snowden
Bob Snowden is Head of School at St. Michaels University School.

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