Striving to be Adequate


I'm so proud of my principal.

There was a watershed moment at our faculty meeting this week as our principal continued to present her vision for our high school. Probably like many of you, our school has adopted the Dufour's PLC model as a vehicle for improvement. But every vehicle needs a destination...a spot on the map where we can focus our efforts... and a timeframe in which to get there. On Thursday our principal placed a pushpin into the map, and it's a doosie. Her goal?

To be the best high school in the nation.

I was absolutely beaming as she announced this. Why? Because it changes everything about the way our school proceeds. You see, I don't believe that any principal gets up in the morning and thinks "let's get about the business of providing an adequate education to our students." Yet, when we don't verbalize that we want to provide the very best education for our students we oftentimes tacitly create an environment whereby "striving to be adequate" becomes the norm. As long as we are "improving" then it's good enough. What parent desires a "good enough" approach to their child's education? Stepping up to the plate and proclaiming that we desire to be the very best is essential.

Yes, teachers are professionals and perhaps some might think that providing excellent instruction is a given. But we still need guidance, we still need to know what (exactly) is expected. How good is good enough? What does improvement really mean? On Thursday our building found out that only our very best will suffice. "Improving" isn't enough, striving to be adequate won't cut it. And one thing that is about to become crystal clear in the coming months is that the only way to provide the best education available is to work together. Our PLC framework just became laser-focused, and mediocrity was shown the door. I love it. The next phase will be exciting as we decide what students who graduate from the best learning environment should be able to know and do. What will a graduate from our institution look like, and how will we get them there?

The jaded teacher might say that education is not a competition...that we shouldn't be trying to be better than other schools. But that is typical obfuscation. Offering the best education isn't about competing with other schools. Striving to be the best is what all of our schools should be doing. It is in the process of creating a culture of excellence that we discover what education is really about. It is about serving the needs of all students, it is about a changing the building culture from "why do I have to do this" to "I'm ready for the next level." And that goes for all of us...teachers, students, administration, and staff.

The best schools in our country already know this. They aren't competing, they are focused on providing the absolute best education for their students because it is the right thing to do. It is why they come to work each day. And we just got to join that party.

Game on.

3 responses
I've taught in a district that adopted Dufour's PLC model and said "We're in the top 10% of the state - we want to be the top 1%" - sounds great, but in that district, being "the best" is what their community wants, and it unfortunately is a superficial goal.

When you measure success by your test scores and the number of championships your teams win (including the marching band team), the result is elitism, which means "only the strong survive" and the average middle-of-the-pack kid is a 3rd class citizen.

My idea of a school reaching for excellence is one that provides opportunities for every student down to the most challenging to widen their "field of possibility" in terms of personal growth.

Thomas I agree with you that any type of improvement can be superficial. But I believe that we need to go on the record with intentions rather than just saying "let's improve." The question of "how good is good enough" needs to be answered. There are many ways to go about it rather than simply making high test scores the be all end all.

Saying that you want to provide the best education in the nation is not in my mind saying that you are competing with other schools. In fact I believe that the very best schools pay little attention to what other schools are doing because they are solely focused on their own students' learning. I believe tthat our students deserve no less than the very best teaching, and any principal who expects my best every day has my respect.


I agree 100%. When you set the goal of being the best it changes the culture, and not just at the school. The community rallies around the vision, and residents begin to find ways to make it happen. The parents, businesses and nonprofits, senior citizens all come forward to partner in unique ways. I've seen it happen -- there's a community pride in meeting the needs of every student and making sure they all reach their potential. After all, these are "our" kids.

About 8 years back we had a superintendent who made the same bold statement. "Our high school is rated in the upper 10%, but we WILL be in the upper 1%. We will be the best." Oh yes, she was a controversial figure!

There were people who didn't believe it could happen, but others who got on board and said, "why not?" We had the resources in our community to do it. "The best" began to empower everyone down the food chain, and a junior high principal jumped out of the "adequate is good enough" zone to cement a relationship with Apple Computer. He was willing to take a risk with the support of "the best" mandate and a visionary school board. It took leadership and courage to implement the first 1:1 laptop program in the state at his junior high. The result was more engaged students, more individualized learning, a significant drop in absenteeism at that school, higher test scores, and students who are better prepared for a digital future.

Amazing things can happen if you aim to be the best. Staff begins to actively seek opportunities when they know they'll get support from the top.