"We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."
-- Aristotle
Imagine that, from a group of 185,000 nominees, you are 1 of 32 selected for recognition in your field.  Beating pretty incredible odds, huh?  That's what Mr. Dano Beal, my son's 2nd grade teacher, accomplished when he received the Disney Award for Excellence in Teaching.  Most of you reading this are not elementary school teachers, but we can all learn a great deal from someone that is extraordinary at their job.  Here are some things that I have learned from observing Mr. Beal: 

1. Create an environment that supports what you want to achieve.
Mr. Beal has built a beautiful papier-mache tree in the middle of his room.  Absolutely every nook and cranny of the room has either beautiful artwork, interesting quotes, science experiments, or images of nature.  He completes the environment with bird sounds and classical music.  He has created an environment that is both stimulating and peaceful and is very conducive to learning.

What does your working environment encourage?  Do you need to clear clutter?  Do you need to add more of your personality? Have you created an environment that makes you want to be there?  Have you created an environment that makes others want to be there?  Recognize that you have control in creating your environment.

2. Use creativity to motivate and engage others.
Mr. Beal has an acting background and often puts on hats to become characters such as "Professor Smarty Pants" (he's not too bright) or "Rock 'n Roll" (a musician that doesn't make much money).  This definitely keeps things interesting and the kids love it!

Stretch yourself to look for new, fresh ways to approach your work.  If your work is getting stale, it's up to you to make it fresh.  No one else will do that for you. 

3. Create a sense of community.
When Mr. Beal gathers the students together, he lovingly refers to them as his "smelly little trolls."  I've seen how much the  students like being a member of Mr. Beal's class.  It's very rare that he has any discipline problems with his students. 

I'm not suggesting that you call your employees or clients smelly little trolls -- that might get you into trouble!  But there may be things that you can do to make people feel more a part of a community. Are you holding annual retreats?  Are there opportunities for people to gather outside of work?  Are people acknowledged?  If you are self-employed, do you regularly send thank you notes?  A strong sense of teamwork and connection helps everyone.

4. Be honest.
On the first day of school, Mr. Beal asked the kids if they were excited.  Many raised their hands.  Then he asked if anyone was a little scared.  A few kids timidly raised their hands.  He said, "It's O.K. to be scared.  Most of us are scared when we do something new.  In fact, I'm a little nervous right now, too.  It's O.K." You could feel the whole room breathe a sigh relief.

Do you acknowledge the feelings that are present, or do you pretend that everything is O.K. (but simmer underneath)?  When you become comfortable expressing your vulnerability, you also become stronger.

5. Set clear expectations, have high standards, and give consequences. 

As friendly and jovial as Mr. Beal is, he is no pushover.  He has very high expectations of his students.  One day when my son forgot to bring his homework to school, he had to stay in at recess to do it again.  My son was not in the least bit upset because he knew that it was Mr. Beal's rule.  He made a mistake, and had to pay the consequences.

Bad attitudes and resentments are often the result of unclear expectations.  Sometimes because of our discomfort with certain issues (money for one) we do not communicate clearly.  Take a deep breath, and know that if you address the issue early on, it  will save you from a lot of problems in the future.

Everyday I say a little prayer of thanks that my son has such an extraordinary teacher.  Everyday I also look for ways to improve my own work, so that I will always be at my best.  With focus and with a desire for excellence, we can all become extraordinary. 

Jean Hamilton, Speaking Results, www.speakingresults.com
It's always helpful to have role models in your life.  These are people we can learn from and choose to adopt some of what we see to our own way of being.

1.     Who is your "Mr. Beal?" 

2.     What attributes will you model that will have you
        reach excellence?

3.     How will you show these attributes? 

4.     Call or send a note to your "Mr. Beal" to say thank
        you and to continue to build your community.

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February 28, 2003
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