Mediocrity versus Excellence: What’s the Difference?


By Alisa Simeral 

Teach, Reflect, Learn...and Repeat! Reflective Strategies to Improve Instruction Average is easy. Excellence is hard. But what determines the difference?

Take a moment to think about the best classroom teacher you’ve ever seen in action—someone who you’d classify as an “excellent” teacher. What sets that person apart from his or her peers? The adjectives come easy—passionate, engaging, prepared, adaptable, creative, dedicated, to name a few.

But where do those characteristics originate? According to the lifelong work of John Dewey, also known as the “Father of Education,” the answer lies in how we think. “We do not learn from experience . . . we learn from reflecting on experience,” Dewey states (1916, p. 139). Our ability to reflect frequently, accurately, and deeply about our actions is what sets apart the excellent from the mediocre.

Simply put, excellent teachers think differently than their peers. They have a deep awareness of students, content, and pedagogy. Every decision and action connects back to a greater purpose and is woven together with intentionality. They’re continually seeking to understand the effectiveness of their decisions and mentally assessing the effects of their actions. Furthermore, excellent teachers act responsively. They have the ability to make snap decisions and adjust their actions on the fly. Excellent teachers have strongly developed habits of thought and reflect frequently, accurately, and deeply throughout the day.

If how we think drives what we do, then developing and refining strong habits of thought is at the heart of all capacity-building work, and, ultimately, both teacher and student success.

Want to learn more? Attend the ASCD Conference on Teaching Excellence in New Orleans, La., this July to hear Pete Hall and me go into greater depth about reflective thinking in our Pre-Conference Institute Teach, Reflect, Learn . . . and Repeat! Strategies to Improve Instruction.

Learn more about the conference and get registration information here. And don’t forget to connect with fellow attendees and presenters by using #ASCDCTE16 on Twitter!



Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: Macmillan.


Alisa Simeral is a school turnaround specialist and author. She coauthored The Principal Influence: A Framework for Developing Leadership Capacity in PrincipalsTeach, Reflect, Learn: Building Your Capacity for Success in the Classroom, and Building Teachers’ Capacity for Success: A Collaborative Approach for Coaches and School Leaders.