Good Work: Quality Products

Paul Hill

If it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing well.
A group of 40 students ranging from six to eight years old asked me to visit their classroom for a presentation on quality.  One after another, teams of students described quality teachers, quality schools, and quality students.  Using Venn diagrams and web charts the students gave impressive presentations.  Quick to point out how their behavior affected others, the students reflected their teacher’s focus on personal responsibility.  The students had a clear picture of a quality environment and the behaviors and skills that produce quality.  But when pressed the children had difficulty describing quality outcomes.  I asked them “what does quality reading sound like?” and “What does quality writing look like?”  These were obviously a difficult question for young children, but like most adults their answers focused on activities rather than results.
By third grade, students begin to make more sophisticated comparisons of their work to examples of quality products (i.e., benchmarking).  My daughter’s third grade teacher required a quality work product.   She showed them examples of quality work in class and we tried to reinforce the idea at home.  “A quality work product, you know that’s what I expect,” she said to her third grade class.  The concepts became downright unpopular after the third draft of a report.
Most of us have someone that helped to create our first picture of quality.  Last Wednesday, at a dinner celebrating Paul Hill’s contributions to the sector and the Center for Reinventing Public Education, every one of the people that worked for Paul commented on his direct feedback, high expectations, and insistence that they only publish important field-shaping work.  Many of the speakers acknowledged that it was often not easy to hear at the time but, to a person, they appreciated the life lessons gather from working with Paul and the aggregate contribution they made because of his high standards.
You may have had the good fortune to have an encouraging teacher or a demanding boss that helped to create an indelible life-long image of quality results.  Like the children I visited with, most adults are preoccupied with effort and activity rather than results.  When that image is internalized, you begin holding yourself to a high standard of performance even when it seems that others do what they can get by with.
The Common Core requires that students read complex texts with understanding, write with clarity, and demonstrate problem solving skills. The standards are high and clear–they require quality work product of students.  The next two years are an opportunity to get better at making expectations visible and providing candid standards-based feedback.
It’s just about meeting someone else’s standard.  Quality work, and the quality effort that goes into it, is its own reward.  It is the feeling you get after you score a goal, play a beautiful piece of music, publish a great report, or make a compelling presentation.  Striving for excellence and producing quality is its own reward.
Good Work is a Sunday series about finding and doing mission-driven work.  

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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