ESSENTIAL ELEMENT #7: EXCELLENCE
This is where the rubber hits the road. Excellence. None of our work matters without it. An Acton learner driven community has a three ingredient formula to use on the quest for excellence.
The first ingredient is subtle but solid: desire.
You may have heard the old story of the three bricklayers. When asked what they were doing, the least productive one said, “laying bricks.” Another said, “building a wall.” But there was a third one, singing while he worked, and getting more done in a day than the others combined. When asked what he was doing, he said: “I’m building a cathedral.”
One had a job. One had a career. One had a calling.
The Acton journey is the first calling of many in these young lives. They chose to say yes and they know their learning journey has a high purpose. As with any calling, excellence is the aim and the ultimate desire.
The second ingredient is a simple tool to use each day. When work is completed, the learners ask each other one of these questions:
Is this the best you can do?
Is this better than last time?
How does it compare to this world-class example?
Have you won a contest or been approved for a public exhibition?
Note: The last two questions are used in our upper levels through high school as the learners reach higher and higher levels of achievement.
The mental discipline to ask these questions reveals not just the process for achieving excellence but our definition of it. Excellence is a continuous path of incremental improvement. Tip for parents: When your child finishes a job at home ask, “Is this the best you can do?” and see where the discussion goes. Holding high standards for small things serves the bigger things. Being trusted to be excellent feels good – even if you hit some grumbling and resistance at first.
Finally, the third ingredient: an Acton learner driven environment is filled with world-class examples of excellence. Our guides lead Socratic discussions to analyze and discuss the commonalities in these examples. They often share hero stories that reveal the time, grit and determination required to achieve excellence.
There is a surprising outcome of these ingredients that goes far beyond excellent work. A natural joy that abounds in such an environment. As someone said to me recently, “giving one’s best effort is a high.” When this little high happens, the motivation to feel that way again kicks in. This is basic neuroscience. The brain is wired to thrive on progress. We like it. It feels good. We want it again.
So the cycle of excellence continues.