We are what we repeatedly do.

Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

~Aristotle 

I think that we sometimes lose sight of what is important. We focus on individual acts, or in schools, individual assignments, and on praising final products and presentations. We often lose sight of the continual work, the tireless editing and polishing, and the consistent effort that will produce those final (shiny) products that seem to garnish all the attention.

Excellence does not come without hard work. But the hard work does not need to feel hard.

Excellence does not come without motivation. But motivation is internal and not easily developed by external forces.

Excellence does not come without failure. But failure can be a barrier that never lets a person achieve excellence, unless that person is willing to work hard and maintain motivation to succeed.

So how do we inspire excellence in schools? 

I think that we need to provide students with: (Video version)

  1. More Choice
  2. Greater Voice
  3. Authentic Audience
  4. Supportive Communities
  5. Opportunities to Lead
  6. Chances to Play
  7. Learning Networks

Yesterday, our Superintendent Patricia Gartland, and Robert Martellacci from Mindshare Learning Technology and C21 – Canadians for 21st Century Learning and Innovation (where Patricia is a C21 CEO Academy leader), visited Inquiry Hub Secondary School.

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After a student-led tour, Kassandra (Gr. 12), Laef (Gr. 11), and Jazmine (Gr. 10), gave short presentations discussing some of their work at our school. As impressive as I think their presentations were, it was not the presentations themselves that were a highlight, but rather the obvious vision, research and effort put into developing the projects they presented. I believe that these students embody the ideas that excellence takes hard work, and is driven by internal motivation and perseverance through challenges, (and sometimes failed attempts).

I recently shared parts of the C21 Canada ~ Shifting Minds 3.0 document on Scaling Out and Scaling up. And at the end of that post, I shared our work at Inquiry Hub to help other schools do just that: Creating the time and space for self-directed, personalized, inquiry learning.

I love this quote from the C21 Report:

The transformative view is that learning is a social process, with students and teachers working in partnership with each other and with experts beyond school, supported by digital technologies. In the transformative view, collaboration, creativity, innovation, entrepreneurial know-how, and ethical citizenship infuse teaching and learning. Students and teachers co-design their work. The learning environment, which extends beyond the classroom, is purposefully designed for students to think, research, analyze, develop and improve their ideas, and demonstrate deep understanding through the work they produce.

If we are going to authentically empower students, to help motivate them and provide them with opportunities to be excellent, they need to be partners in creating the learning environment. They also need to be empowered to make choices about what they want to learn and explore.


(What are Inquiries? – on YouTube – and yes, students created this video.)

While writing this, I’m in a private DM Twitter chat with one of our students about the design of our new posters for the school, (our old logo is still on the current school posters, not our new student-designed and co-approved logo). It’s the Saturday of a long weekend, and he initiated the conversation.

It was intentional that the tour to start Patricia and Robert’s visit was student led. It was intentional that our students presented before our teacher, John Sarte, spoke about our schedule. And it wasn’t John or I that organized the students meeting to coordinate slides and practice their presentations (with each other, not with us).

Excellence may come from within, but it is our job as educators to create an environment where students feel empowered to excel, and to create expectations that students can and will do amazing things.

(Student Powered Learning, from John Sarte’s Ignite – on YouTube)

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The photo above is of Terry Fox‘ Memorial just outside of Thunder Bay, where he had to stop his run across Canada because his cancer had returned. He was running a marathon a day, in the hopes of raising $1 per Canadian for cancer research. When he stopped, he had a grapefruit-sized tumour in his lung. The day he stoped, he had run a marathon. The day before he stopped he had run a marathon…

What few people know about Terry Fox is that in his first year of high school he was the last kid off the bench for his basketball team. In his graduating year he was co-captain of the same team. For him, excellence was not a single act, it was a habit.

We need not all be as courageous as Terry. We need not all achieve great things. But we can all strive to be excellent in an area or a field that we are passionate about.

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Update ~ Image below created by Aaron Davis


Also published on Medium.

4 comments on “Excellence is a Habit

    1. Aaron,
      Thank you for posterizing my quote (added at the bottom of the post above).
      Your point that creating a space to flourish is both hard to measure and manage is spot on. Where I think that this really connects with my conversation with Remi is first that educator agency is needed to create a nurturing space, and secondly that learner agency starts with the teacher as learner… And if the environment is such that the teacher-learner can flourish, I think that (will usually) create an ideal environment for the student learner too. I’m not sure how easy this is to measure, but I do think it is easy to tell when agency is missing for any learner.

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