I went to a concert at the Royal Albert Hall over the summer holidays, part of the Proms series of concerts. Performing as part of the programme was Hiromi, a Japanese pianist. I’ve played the piano for many years and have always thought of myself as competent, but watching this virtuoso play was simultaneously rather depressing and utterly inspiring. She played with such flair and technical skill. It made my solid mastery of the instrument seem terribly pedestrian!
Our staff training day on Monday, the first day back after the summer break, focused on instilling excellence. We committed as a team of teachers and support staff to instil excellence in all of our work as a school – in our teaching, in our professional relationships, in our leadership, in our professional development – and to require excellence from our students, in their attitudes to learning, the pride with which they wear their uniform, the quality of their written and practical work and the development of their values and characters. Just as I had experienced real excellence in Music at the Royal Albert Hall, so I wanted it to be the mark of the education that we all participate in at The Nottingham Emmanuel School.
If instilling excellence is key, for both staff and students, to fulfilling our wonderful mission as a school, I posed 3 questions:
- Do we know what excellence looks like? We can’t hope to exemplify or foster excellence in our classrooms unless we do. Therefore, we must deliberately expose ourselves to sources of excellence in teaching and in our subject specialisms. Are we reading the latest thinking about our subjects? Are we visiting each other’s classrooms to see aspects of excellence on our doorstep? It’s precisely for this reason that we are joining a Multi-Academy Trust. We won’t find excellence personified in any one school or in any one colleague, but we will see bits of it as we come into contact with more schools and be able to share our own excellence with others.
- Do we use the language of excellence? We have to talk the language of excellence before it becomes a reality. The scholar John Scharr wrote that “the future is … a place that is created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating.” Our language with colleagues and students and parents – treating each other with dignity and hope – makes or breaks us as a school. It either instils excellence or it inadvertently, largely unnoticed and over many weeks and months, allows low expectations in through the door.
- Can we sustain excellence over the course of an academic year and beyond? Excellence isn’t an event or a one-off. Samuel Johnson wrote, “Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverence”. What our students need and our parents value is consistently high-quality education. That’s why have dramatically reduced our use of external supply teachers over the past 2 years and reduced the number of classes which are split between multiple teachers; we want every child to be known by their teacher and for teachers to have a positive sense of ownership and accountability.
It’s our job to develop habits and language which inculcates excellence in our work as teachers and support staff and in the children we teach. It’s an ambitious mission but it’s a hugely exciting one and a privilege to be involved in.