Defining Excellence

Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives - choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” As Aristotle explains, “excellence” isn’t a matter of chance, requiring, instead, a high level of thought, directionality, and intentional choice and movement in that direction.

But in order to intentionally move in a direction, that direction must be clearly defined with a clearly articulated path and a way to know when you have arrived. What might this look like if the direction is “excellence”? What is excellence in education? What does that look like? How do you get there? How do you know when you have created a place that is truly excellent?

In 2008, the Colorado Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative (the “Initiative”) was created to build Jewish identity, ensure quality early learning experiences at Jewish ECE Centers, and provide access to education for all families. The Initiative focuses on improving quality in Jewish ECE (Early Childhood Education) and ensuring that ECE centers reflect current progressive pedagogical approaches.

As part of its work, the Initiative considered the same questions we’ve been examining related to defining and achieving excellence and how it specifically applies to excellence in early childhood. In 2017, they published the “Standards of Excellence.” As the introduction explains, “The Standards of Excellence are the result of 10 years of work and millions of dollars invested to enhance and improve Jewish early childhood education (ECE) and family engagement in Denver and Boulder synagogues and Jewish community centers (JCCs).”

These standards are both impressive and overwhelming as they systematically address 15 different standards, thoughtfully addressing what excellence looks like in each of these areas. What’s more, though, is that the Initiative didn’t just explore what excellence looks like and then assume school and teachers could get there. The Initiative, now with the Standards to use as a resource, “Provide[s] professional development opportunities that serve to increase educators’ skills, attitudes, and knowledge of educationally sound practices in ECE, Jewish ECE, and family engagement as well as increase leadership capacity of directors, educators and leadership teams.” They continually work, with high intention, effort, and execution, to achieve excellence.

Through a result of this work and the ongoing support of the Initiative, Jewish ECE has been completely transformed in Denver, raising the level of professionalism, education, family engagement, and general excellence, benefitting all students and families involved.

Inspired by the work of the Initiative and the results it has achieved, including allowing families to expect excellence from their ECE experience, we have worked to better define and articulate what excellence looks like in our context.

Through many months and hundreds of conversations, a consensus about about “excellence” in a school like ours would look like began to emerge. We have spoken with literally hundreds of people, including parents of students of all ages (ranging for just-born babies to kids in their 30s), educational policy makers, academic researchers, funders, teachers, and business heads. We have asked about what has worked and what hasn’t worked. We have asked about what they would like their kids to come home talking about at the end of the day or what skills and dispositions they want their future employees to have. We have asked what the purpose of education is and what is most important for today’s kids to learn from school.

Einstein Academy, with a tagline of “learning for life,” recognizes that in order to be the excellent educational institution we imagine, we need “high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution” in four key areas: for kids, for families, for community, for today and the future. Over the next several weeks, we will be breaking down what that looks like for us in each of these areas, exploring the questions of what is excellence in education? What does that look like? How do you get there? How do you know when you have created a place that is truly excellent?

Join us as we continue to explore the possibilities of educational excellence through Einstein Academy.

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