excellenceThere is a difference between “excellent” and “excellence.”  One is an outcome; one is a process.  One is an adjective; one is a noun.  One is static; one is continuous.

Excellence is not necessarily being “the best,” since even the definition of “best” can change when something better than “the best” comes along.  In fact, bearing the label of “better” can have a more positive connotation, in that one is always looking to “better” one’s self, or, in the case of schools, the educational experience.  “Best” creates a ceiling, so to speak, which is held as “the standard”…until something breaks through that ceiling with a “more excellent way.”

Perhaps that’s where we get stuck today in education.  We hear the battle rage on about the pros and cons of “Standardized Testing.”  Truthfully, the battle is about its components – the rubrics of the assessment, teachers being held “accountable” for student progress when they don’t have the student in any of their classes or the learning isn’t reinforced at home, and funding that’s tied to performance on the assessment rather than in learning demonstrated in other ways.  It’s “standardized” because a computer can score it, creating a “standard” input format.

Some may say that the issue is that the “standard” is being set by an entity other than the local educational community.  Unfortunately, in a global economy, where collaboration across states and nations is now an expectation, it behooves the student to be prepared to enter the workplace of the 21st Century.  Since that’s the reality, then the standard that must be set is quite high.  Some would call that standard, “Excellence.”

I wonder what would happen if it was called an “Examination of Excellence.”

Jeffrey Gitomer, a leader in the field of sales consulting and training, speaks about excellence in his book, “The 21.5 Unbreakable Laws of Selling.”  While most of the book is targeted toward sales professionals, it helps to remember that as a school which enrolls students, your school is also engaged in sales.  Parents must be “sold” on the action of enrolling and re-enrolling their students every year, prospective donors must be “sold” on the fact that your school is worthy of financial support, and current donors must be “sold” on continuing to support your school.  Realizing this, chapters 10 and 11 (pages 95-102) are of great importance to your school regarding excellence.

The bottom line: It’s not “you” who determines what excellence is.  As Mr. Gitomer states:

There is a reality to excellence. If you believe you are excellent, and your customers or coworkers or boss do not believe you’re excellent, then buddy, you ain’t excellent. Excellence is not what you believe; rather, it is what you strive for. Excellence is what others perceive, how they act upon it, and how they talk about it.

The same holds true with a school attempting to establish or re-invent its brand.  While in the past, advertising agencies crafted branding messages and campaigns to promote the “brand,” branding is now determined by one group – your customers, and how they share their experience of your school with their social networks and neighborhoods – since today’s neighborhood isn’t necessarily defined as the people who live around you on your street.  Brand experience has an impact on perceived excellence.

Aristotle said, “Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”  It’s not a goal, but it’s the mindset that impacts how we reach our goals.