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  • Writer's picturegaurav muradia

Awakening 'Arete'

As we trace the origins of the idea of ‘Arete’, we see that Aristotle’s was one of the first minds to contemplate how all endeavour seemed to be oriented towards a deeper ‘telos’ or end purpose. He termed the fulfillment of this ultimate function or purpose, Arete’. His predecessor, Plato, had similar ideas, even positing that each thing- living or non-living-had its unique ‘arete’. This Platonic twist to ‘Arete’ continued for centuries thereafter- such that arete has connotations that are generally understood as being relevant for individuals, in a deeply personal and sacred manner. Over time, arete has come to be loosely understood as excellence- but it is undoubtedly a concept that holds more profound possibilities and interpretations.

It is interesting to imagine how ‘Arete’ might look like in a school setting today and re-contextualize it, many moons after Plato’s Academy closed its doors. What could be called the arete of a school? What could be called the arete of a school leader? What could be the arete of a school teacher? Would it be possible for these individual ‘ultimate’ functions and purposes to align in some way in an educational setting?

A Graphical Representation of 'Arete'- Excellence in Action

One possible perspective lies in the synergy and alignment of the elements in the pyramid above.

Built on a foundation of ‘right people’, who come together to design a robust and comprehensive organizational plan for the school and who are armed with a collective will to excel, the model echoes the role of individuals who are attuned to their purpose- individual and yet also simultaneously shared, as understood within the context of the organization.

Guided by this deep purpose and vision, as well as the planning derived from it, the model notes that these ‘right people’ gradually establish and evolve high performance systems and processes within the school. The systems sustain themselves through continuous collaboration for reflection and improvement that do not allow any complacency or stagnation, in the pursuit of arete.

As reflected in the previous post, arete therefore is not just the achievement of excellence. It is a continuous state of the pursuit of excellence and the collective revisiting and redefinition of excellence, benchmark by benchmark. Here, there is a deep intuitive alignment of the ‘ultimate purpose’ of each individual with the ‘end function’ of the school, and ultimately education itself. This in turn, is manifested in each decision and each action taken by the individual each day, in every endeavour. The arete of the school in itself, therefore, becomes the enabling of the arete of its learners, its facilitators and even its leaders.

In other words, schools can achieve continuous excellence when they awaken to their role in awakening the arete of the school community- helping each individual, irrespective of age, widely explore, deeply discover and truly develop their true purpose and calling. This could look like creating platforms, providing opportunities, providing support, mentorship and recognizing progress, in a hundred little ways. In doing so, schools can become home to the most transformative and intrinsically fulfilling learning experiences possible.

One of the many ways in which this can be achieved is through continuous whole-school reflection, for both feedback and feed-‘forward’, i.e. to guide future planning, decision-making and implementation. Training that is informed and guided by these reflections, help make the impact of these organizational insights be felt more pervasively.

Programme evaluations, quality audits, accreditations and assurance processes have the power to open up these possibilities for schools. The CIS accreditation process, for instance, is immensely valuable in terms of the insight and opportunities for reflection it provides to schools in terms of making ethos and philosophy actionable- even if say, the school in question does not actually aspire for accreditation per se. The mere process of collectively evaluating a school against a set of standards and practices itself is quite empowering, and revelatory for all involved. School leaders, departments and staff members alike often report that these evaluation processes are instrumental in their learning curves as educators, and tend to describe how such experiences accelerate schools’ advancement towards goals charted. In doing so, schools also gradually become empowered to develop their own internal quality standards and processes over time.

Such is the beauty of aligning and awakening arete’- nothing can compare to the joy of a shared ‘end purpose’, the sense of having and striving toward a collective direction, as well as the feeling of safety and belonging that comes with working with a school that challenges you and celebrates your progress towards your own ultimate purpose.

Dr Gaurav Muradia is a progressive educationist and director of leading K-12 international schools. He is also an Advisor to several schools with whom he works with to establish and sustain innovative systems and practices.


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