Journal Entry

Cultivating Excellence

With three helpful tips, Michael Strong explains how to cultivate excellence with high school students.

Dr. Charles Reavis’ Lessons from Extraordinary Educators tells the story of coaches, teachers, and principals who elicit extraordinary performance from “ordinary” students. We have all known a particular high school that won state or national championships in chess, debate, mathematics, choir, or other areas far out of proportion to their population.

Reavis concludes from examining several of these cases that what the educators share in common includes:

A. They all care for their students and the students know it.

B. They have very high expectations of performance and repeatedly let their students know they can achieve at the highest level.

C. They have the technical expertise required to coach to world-class performance and constantly provide honest, direct feedback to students to cultivate excellence.

I see these principles as helpful guidelines for all educators and parents.

We all want to be loved and we want to know that we are loved. If someone, educator or parent, is constantly criticizing us without a solid foundation in love and trust, the criticism may be more damaging than constructive.

We also want to be deserving of esteem—and we all know that authentic excellence is the only path to real respect. Here, as educators and parents, we need to develop the ability to recognize the domains in which the children under our care are most likely capable of achieving excellence. We need to learn to recognize the diverse forms of excellence that are valuable in the world.

Finally, if we are not ourselves capable of coaching that latent excellence to elicit exceptional performance, then we need to identify an appropriate coach or mentor who can—and make sure they are able to give the kind of feedback, based on a foundation of love and trust, that will lead, over time, to exceptional—even world-class—performance.

Because of the stress that is often associated with competitive activities, people may associate excellence with stress. But there are champions who do what they love and love what they do. There are also quiet geniuses who transform those around them in positive ways without ever entering a competition. One of our goals at ATI is to help recognize and cultivate the genius of each student through love combined with high expectations—and without the negative stress sometimes found in unhealthy competitive environments.

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