An Ethic of Excellence

An Ethic of Excellence
by Ron Berger
Heinemann Press


If you are a classroom teacher and you have not read this, you have to! Ron Berger was a classroom teacher in a public school in a small northeastern town. He uses examples of his own teaching in his extraordinary school, as well as his experience working with schools and teachers in other places to describe what excellent schooling can and should look like.

In this relatively short book of only about 150 pages he takes us through is “toolbox” (Ron was also a carpenter). His teaching revolves around project-based learning. And many of his projects are authentic in the full sense of the word—they actually have an impact on real people in the larger community, such as studying water quality in local wells.

In his first chapter one of the things he talks about the importance of evidence. Over his many years teaching  collected many many samples of the quality work his students did. I have had the honor to see some of this work, and it quite awe inspiring.

His first Toolbox is A School Culture of Excellence. He describes how they create a culture in his school where excellence is expected. Peer pressure becomes a positive force. He describes the slow process of a new angry boy who over time comes to care about his work.

The second toolbox is Work of Excellence. In this he starts off my making the point that self esteem is gained from accomplishments, not compliments. By providing opportunities to do projects that have a real purpose, and plenty of time and support, students take pride in their work as they see it matters to do well, and they can keep redoing it until it is of high quality.

The third toolbox is Teaching of Excellence. In this chapter he goes though how teachers too need to be supported in order to learn how to teach this way. How teachers need both the autonomy, and the support of peers—just as their students do.

This is one of the most inspiring books on teaching I have read. It is full of both practical ideas, as well as real examples that ring true.

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