The true meaning of excellence.


A chap I work with was talking about the the meaning of Excellence, and not in a generically superlative way, where it is just a word that means better than average, or even better than the best. He told me that he believes in excellence as it is defined in terms of the Greek ideal, or arete.

It’s been a while since I did Classics (10 years?) and my memory had failed me somewhat, so I turned to Wikipedia to help me out.

“Arete (/ˈærətiː/; Ancient Greek: ἀρετή), in its basic sense, means excellence of any kind.[1] In its earliest appearance in Greek, this notion of excellence was ultimately bound up with the notion of the fulfillment of purpose or function: the act of living up to one’s full potential.
Sometimes translated as “virtue”, the word actually means something closer to “being the best you can be”, or “reaching your highest human potential”.”

I thought this sounded fairly close to Maslow, Goldstein and Rogers in their phrasing of self-actualisation, especially in Maslow’s case where creativity and making full use of one’s potential are key to becoming self-actualised. So here the questions started flying around my head, “do I encourage my students to strive for this?”, “do I support other staff to strive for this?” and “do I strive for this myself?”. I’d like to answer YES to all three of those but I think I’d be pretty far off the mark.

I think I do a pretty good job of supporting and encouraging my students and engage with them in a way that allows them to explore their wider existence rather than *just* teach Functional Skills. I create opportunities, I praise creativity and I have high expectations for all of my students…my thoughts on differentiation confirm that (I teach everyone to top level but differentiate by support). But, I am sure I could do more, however the students I teach are at a difficult time in their lives, a time of change and shifts in their own perception of where they fit into the world, so the best I can do is support, guide and encourage them to make the best of everything and drive themselves forward into that big scary world.

In terms of my support of other staff, I could do more…so much more. I share as much as I can in terms of resources and ideas, but in reality my frustrations get the better of me and at times I can be quick to judge others against my own standards and expectations. I need to learn to appreciate the talents of those around me, and in particular the talents that don’t reflect my own but instead complement them. I enjoy collaborative working but my downfall is that I get too caught up in what isn’t going so well rather than focussing on what is going well. Interestingly, my approach to students is completely different and I am always able to see and focus on the positive aspects to their personalities and have massive amounts of patience…not so with my peers. And this needs to change.

In terms of myself, I do a grand job of creating a front and allowing people to see my preferred portrayal of me. I am passionate about what I do, everything that I do and put my all into it, my heart and soul. I manage to meet some of Robin Sharma’s “Rules for Being Amazing” but I still have a way to go.


There are a mix of qualities in there, some I would consider to be drivers and others are more reflective. I consider myself to be well under way with the drivers…Be Strong. Show Courage. Exude Passion. Innovate. Shatter Your Limits. Act Now.
But to be amazing, to achieve arête, excellence, to be truly outstanding, it ‘s not just the big bold stuff we need to be masters of, but the small, quiet, reflections that create balance and self awareness.
Breathe. Stay Humble. Be Kinder than Expected. Cry. Simplify.


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