Work hard. Get smart. Be nice.

academic courage2

This is the motto of the Springfield Renaissance School, Massachusetts, USA – one of Ron Berger’s Expeditionary Learning SchoolsDan Brinton posted a video about the school on Twitter last night and it was very impressive – resonating with much of what many of us are trying to do here in terms of growth mindset and an ethic of excellence.

Ron Berger summed up the approach of the school:

“There’s a belief in the capacity of students to do more than they expect of themselves”

“A willingness to push kids deeper and let them struggle to do more”

Through this approach the school encourages ‘deep learning’ with the students, by developing the following competencies:

deeper learning competencies

A few of the bits of the video that stood out follow.

Academic Courage

A great phrase for a simple but important principle.  Students were encouraged to support each other to take risks and have high expectations of themselves.

academic courageAshley, a 10th grade student in the video, summed up her own experience of academic encourage, following an English lesson:

“I didn’t understand Shakespeare the 1st time, so had to keep re-reading it again and again – until I could finally understand it.”

She didn’t stop when she got stuck.  She kept going until she got it.  This is a trait that I think needs a great deal of development in many of our students.  Many of them have got into the habit of either giving up, or expecting us to ‘unstick’ them when they are struggling.

Facilitated discussions

In one clip, the students are responsible for facilitating a discussion about Macbeth during a lesson. They are quite happy to ‘step up and share a different idea, and so disagreeing and challenging others’ when appropriate to do so.

The role of the teacher was to keep the discussion focused.  So when it drifts off a bit the teacher very skilfully praises the discussion, but pushes them to refocus on the key question.

Productive Struggle

Another great phrase.  Students are encouraged to struggle with complex problems and challenging texts, before they get bailed out by the teacher, to push their thinking deeper. This also encourages them to be ‘comfortable with ambiguity and messiness – both of which are pre-requisites for deeper learning’.

Evidence Based

When students are making a statement or responding to a question, they are expected to back it up with an example or evidence – not just give a weak response with little substance.  This encourages a far more academic dialogue between students.


When a 6th grade student was completely stuck on a maths problem (and happy to admit to being so) his peers were happy to help and offer a ‘lifeline’ by demonstrating how to solve the problem.  The student who had been stuck, was then asked for the key word that had helped his classmate solve the problem -so he could demonstrate that he had learnt from the ‘lifeline’


This was like a small form group (10-15 students) that helped and supported each other.  Following their reports they each set themselves three goals:

  1. An academic goal
  2. A habit of work goal
  3. A personal goal

The ‘habit of work’ goal was particularly interesting.  One student shared her ‘habit of work goal’ which was very specific – “Complete my daily homework, revise more and participate in group activities well“.  All students were expected to share their goals.  I suspect that by making them public, they feel more of an obligation to work towards them.

And finally….

We met Edward Brown.  Ron Bereger described Edward as ‘a living example of perseverance‘. Edward talked about the ‘incredible expectations I have of myself’.

A great example of a school with a growth mindset and an ethic of excellence running through everything it does.

The video can be watched here.

hard smart nice



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4 Responses to Work hard. Get smart. Be nice.

  1. eednet says:

    Reblogged this on eedNET Resource Bank and commented:
    Work hard. Get smart. Be nice

  2. Isn’t this what we should aspire to and won’t this remove spoon fed citizens who will think for themselves? Greag piece especially as goes past primary based example I have watched of elementary schools. Thanks for the share, now I need to watch the video.

  3. Reblogged this on Mishmashlearning goes blogging and commented:
    This resonates for me – what about you?

  4. DanielJAyres says:

    Reblogged this on Educational Gems.

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