Keep Calm and Shoot Straight

A Blog for Teachers
by Mary Jean Powers

A Book Review: An Ethic of Excellence – Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students by Ron Berger

Feb 7, 2022

“A craftsman connotes someone who has integrity and knowledge, who is dedicated to his work and who is proud of what he does and who he is. Someone who thinks carefully and does things well. I want a classroom full of craftsmen.”

Ron Berger

A significant portion of my personal library is devoted to books about teaching, books by teachers, curricula for teaching teachers how to teach, and true-story movies about excellent teachers. And yes, I’ve read/watched 95% of them! I most always have a book about teaching on my stack of daily reads.

Last year I posted a blog about one of my all-time favorite books on teaching: Teaching to Change Lives by Dr. Howard Hendricks. In my opinion, An Ethic of Excellence is equally as powerful as Hendricks’ book! I’ve just finished my third time through it in a year, and each time I am more inspired, more motivated, more convicted, and more determined to tackle the challenge of changing the culture of my classroom to excellence and craftsmanship. I know it will take more effort for all concerned. I know it will stretch me in ways yet unknown. I know I will agonize over it. I know I’ll fail at some point and must get up and try again with renewed fervor. And I know it will be worth it.

According to Berger, there are several contributing factors which are necessary to create a culture of excellent scholarship and craftsmanship, including (but not limited to):

• administrative and parental support
• a reasonable budget
• team effort among colleagues
• a strategy for accomplishing the “same ol’ goals”, yet in ways that maximize student engagement, creativity, teamwork, communication, and buy-in.

One of the chapters I found most helpful defines and describes a critique. A beneficial critique, Berger argues, has three components: be kind, be helpful, and be specific. I have begun to incorporate the tool of classmate critique and have taught my students how to both offer and receive critique well. Their consistent feedback has revealed that learning to critique has been one of the most effective and valuable tools they’ve learned. One college student said, “When my classmates were critiquing my artwork, I felt like they honestly wanted me to improve, to succeed! That made me want to continue perfecting my piece until I did my very best work!”

An Ethic of Excellence is not an in-depth how-to book on changing the quality of student work from the inside out. Rather, it is an inspirational guide which positively challenges teachers to turn the culture of their classroom until excellence and craftsmanship become the norm. Berger challenges teachers to raise the bar, both for themselves and for their students, and then he outlines the basics of how to do so with motivating stories and specific examples. It’s a short book and will be a quick read because it’s so energizing. It will ignite a new fire within you to enthusiastically facilitate an atmosphere of learning in which the students will surprise themselves by how capable they are of doing superior work! You’ll be so thrilled about the change in your students that you’ll never again default to mundane lesson plans, the lecturing model, survival mentality, or the “just get through the material” attitude. You’ll become a craftsman who is proud of what you’re producing!

About Keep Calm and Shoot Straight

I am a teacher. You, too? I hope you love the profession as much as I do! I was 16 when I got my first teaching gigs – I had 20 private piano students and a Sunday School class of 4 and 5-year olds! At that point in my “career,” my definition of teacher was very limited. But now – after 45+ years of experience – I have come to realize that teacher can mean many different things. I’d like to share some of those insights with you! My posts will range from quotes to prayers, from cartoons to words of wisdom. Much of my teaching experience has been international, so you'll get to watch some video stories from around the globe. Jesus is the best Teacher I know, so I will be including Him in this blog, as well. I hope my thoughts and my story will encourage, provoke, and inspire you to become the teacher you’ve been created to be!

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Mary Jean Powers

Mary Jean Powers

B.A. in Christian Education
M.A. in Biblical Studies
Music teacher (band and choir director, private instruction) for 35 years
International Bible teacher for 17+ years
Certified Walk Thru the Bible instructor
Certified TESL International Instructor
CEU Provider for ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International)
Certified Life Coach and Chaplain

Who am I? A teacher coming alongside teachers!