Excellence Defined

Last spring, a group of faculty members from each division were selected to develop USM’s new Characteristics of Professional Excellence statement—a list of attributes that comprise our definition of faculty distinction. Here, Shannon Peters describes how the team developed the attributes.

Looking around the table, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride at having been chosen to participate on this particular committee as a faculty member at University School of Milwaukee. Our small group was charged with the task of putting into words what the “Characteristics of Professional Excellence” were in our community. It wasn’t made completely clear to us yet how the finished product would be used, but we did know that it would become an important document put into practice in a meaningful way by the faculty evaluation committee—assuredly not filed away and forgotten.

I was concerned that, having joined the USM community only four years prior, I might not have the deep history to aid in this endeavor. Many at the table had 20 or 30 years at USM under their belts. Luckily, the viewpoints and perspective that I brought from the three independent schools at which I’d been teaching for 14 years proved as valuable as the intimate knowledge of USM that came from these seasoned advisors, mentors, coaches, and experts in so many fields of study.

As we began our conversation, it didn’t take me long to recognize that for every single teacher, no matter what division or tenure, the hesitancy was most likely the same. Each one of us expressed a love of what we do, and simultaneously voiced a drive to be better. We wanted to be better exemplars in how to find balance while also striving to be great. Our evolvement as “experts” in our fields was really just the result of a deep need to best serve our diverse student population that rapidly changes with each new generation. We not only represented the faculty voice in this process, but several of us were also able to speak to personal desires for our own children, as parents of USM students. How fortunate to be in a unique environment where, as faculty, we create meaningful learning experiences, shape ethical decision makers, model joy and balance in life, and know that our own children are having a similar experience at USM.

In the end, we feel we crafted the characteristics of the exceptional faculty that we are, not of which we aspire to be. Our hope is that this simple list is something in which we take honor and that highlights the essence that sets USM apart from other institutions. Whether it’s in how we interact with students of all ages or in encouraging students to engage globally, we put into words what we try to model and teach daily. We know we are not pumping out a product or just teaching a process. We are a school with a faculty that can be all things for all students—and in that, we are great.

Characteristics of Professional Excellence
In support of their students, University School of Milwaukee faculty:
· challenge each individual to pursue personal excellence.
· inspire a love of inquiry, exploration, and action.
· encourage independent, creative, and critical thinking.
· shape active citizenship and ethical decision making.

As they continually refine their craft, University School of Milwaukee faculty:
· commit to the ongoing development of professional mastery.
· create meaningful and memorable learning experiences.
· collaborate with colleagues throughout the entire school.
· exemplify integrity through kind and respectful treatment of others.

Through their commitment to the school community, University School of Milwaukee faculty:
· ensure a student-centered environment that is inclusive and safe.
· cultivate and engage in local and global partnerships.
· embrace the tenets of the Common Trust.
· model joy and balance in life.

Shannon Peters is a Middle School and Upper School Spanish teacher, and served as a member of the Characteristics of Professional Excellence committee.

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