by Paul Romani (M.Ed.)

How We Achieve ‘Academic Excellence’

by Paul Romani (M.Ed.)

One question that parents – both prospective and existing – ask us, is how we achieve ‘academic excellence’

To answer this question, we first have to unpack what parents mean when they use the term ‘academic excellence’.

Depending who you are, the term will mean different things to you compared to another person.

As a progressive school with progressive educators, our understanding of academic excellence is likely different from many prospective parents.

Before discussing how we achieve academic excellence at Pear Tree School, please check out the following video that we created to explain the differences between our understanding and that of more traditional parents/teachers.

YouTube player

How Do WE Achieve Academic Excellence?

Now that you’ve hopefully watched the above video, you’ll understand that our view of academic excellence is about a truly deep level understanding of a theme. Students should be able to demonstrate the breadth and depth of their learning in a variety of ways.

However, the next question is how WE achieve this.

Please note that I use the capitalised WE for a reason. Education isn’t just about our teachers. It’s about all educational stakeholders:

Educational stakeholders

Studying in a progressive educational environment like Pear Tree School is challenging! There are so many facets to learning on academic, socio-emotional and physical levels.

On an academic level, students are expected to continually develop their skills in all subject areas. Such skills, once introduced at lower grade levels, are pretty much continually practiced every term, every year thereafter.

These skills are applied in countless themes so that the skills are practised in a wide variety of real-life contexts. This makes learning fun, but also all the more challenging!

If a student can only demonstrate these skills, e.g. a math skill, in isolation, this does not demonstrate higher-level thinking to us. Academic excellence at Pear Tree requires students to demonstrate their ability to apply that math skill in any real-life context.

academic excellence

The Teacher’s Role

At Pear Tree School, we consider the teacher’s role to facilitate learning, in other words, to create learning opportunities.

This is achieved through the use of our themes and planning the following:

  • What is the Big Picture goal? (i.e. What do we ultimately want students to know by the end of the theme?)
  • What subject matter and skills can be incorporated in meaningful ways?
  • What activities, field trips and projects can be done?

The next role for the teacher is to continually create and monitor each student’s goals. Every student at Pear Tree has academic, socio-emotional and physical goals, both short-term and long-term.

Through a combination of creating and leading amazing educational opportunities and pushing students appropriately in their goal areas, students at Pear Tree continually progress towards achieving academic excellence.

The Student’s Role

Students have to work hard to do well at Pear Tree School. We want every student to become their ‘best self’. This is only possible if the student is motivated to achieve this. Students have goals that they are expected to try to achieve, activities that they are expected to participate fully in.

Remember that every student is working on academic, socio-emotional and physical goals. These goals are intended to be challenging, but realistically achievable with effort, support and strategies to make progress.

Students at Pear Tree are also expected to bring out the best in each other! Having a close-knit cohort is one of the amazing things about being in a school like Pear Tree.

The Role of Parents

Parents often forget their role in their child’s education and academic excellence.

Some may think that their role is significant only before their child enters school. However, this simply isn’t the case.

Just as with our teachers and other students, parents are role models for their children.

We often say that we will never be like our parents, but that is only somewhat achievable. The lasting impact that our parents had on us must be evident to you – both the good things and the bad ones. Children, therefore, are impacted positively and negatively by their parents.

Here are some positive qualities we notice in adults, including parents:

Positive Qualities 

  • Strong work ethic
  • Very open / comfortable to try new things
  • Pursuit of personal excellence
  • Passionate about living life to the max
  • Interest in lifelong learning
  • Good critical thinker
  • Interest in reading
  • Interest in eating diverse cuisines
  • Sociable + has healthy, long-term relationships (friendships / marriages, etc.)
  • Outgoing / Well travelled
  • Use of personal goalsetting
  • Punctuality
  • Politeness
  • Kindness
  • Empathy
  • Physically active
  • Interest in dressing well, especially for appropriate occasions
  • Demonstrates self-confidence
  • Demonstrates perseverance / grit / determination
  • Demonstrates the ability to complete projects/goals

Negative Qualities 

  • Insecurity
  • Very shy
  • Fear of change
  • Laziness (in work and/or physically)
  • Tardiness
  • Carelessness
  • Fear (of anything / everything)
  • Anti-social
  • Weak social networks, including unhealthy, long-term relationships / marriages
  • Little to no interest in learning
  • Poor critical thinker
  • No interest in reading
  • Picky eater
  • Fear of foreign-language destinations
  • Rude / Intolerant to others
  • Judgmental
  • Entitled
  • Very casual attire basically on any/every occasion
  • Non-Starter
  • Quitter

This is really just a sample list. All of the positive qualities above are what we seek to instil in and model to our students.

Parents, however, can unknowingly undermine this through their own attitude to themselves and/or their expectations of their child and/or their treatment of their child’s school/teacher.

If a parent endeavours to understand and support our school’s approaches, expectations, goals, etc., they reinforce to their child that all of these things are natural and normal. In turn, the child will (continue to) try their hardest. If the child sees the parents undermine the school or teacher, the child may feel that they should do so, too. Or, if they see the hypocrisy of their teacher and parent asking something of them, but not demonstrating those qualities themselves, the child will wonder why they should have to. It’s like a parent who’s a smoker telling their child not to start smoking.

unintentional hypocritical behaviour

There is a caveat to all of this, though.

None of us was educated in an environment like Pear Tree with a plethora of skills developed. All of us have glaring gaps in our skills and abilities. However highly I think of myself (haha), there are several negative qualities in the above list that I can identify with.

The important things to do, though, are:

  1. Be open and honest about your current weaknesses / limitations
  2. Demonstrate a constant effort to be a better person

This is what we do as educators. We demonstrate excellence in our own ways, yet we are also humble about our weaknesses. This, in many ways, is what makes us amazing educators! Arrogant teachers are the worst because it’s a smokescreen for their insecurities.

You can’t be a great teacher if you can’t act like a great student.

Ultimately, education is a team effort between all educational stakeholders.