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Notable Exceptions: Making a Surprising Difference

Have you noticed that Exceptional is one of those words that doesn't do well solo? It's a word that obviously needs a qualifier to more clearly communicate the intended meaning.

Some people are exceptional for positive reasons, and some are exceptional for negative factors. What qualifiers do other people use to describe what makes each of us exceptional?  

Without exception, our reputational trademark or brand always has consequences for others. Our choices matter as we seek to provide exceptional conditions for people to thrive, so we deliver on our promises in a manner that exceptionally exceeds expectations and makes a surprising difference! 



There are no exceptions to the rule 
that everybody likes to be 
an exception to the rule.
— Charles Osgood

What if someone said that you are exceptional? Would they mean it as a compliment or as criticism? The answer depends on how exceptional is qualified by the tone of voice or additional words to give context. 

Exceptional can mean rare, phenomenal, abnormal, strange, weird, freaky, divergent, unusual, surprising, one-of-a-kind, incomparable, outlier, unique, unexpected, peculiar, atypical, outside the norm, or noteworthy. And that's an abbreviated list of adjectives. 

Exceptional credentials and experience ironically give some people a big advantage among school decision-makers. Degrees from certain universities or tenure in certain organizations, for example, are quite often deemed to automatically increase one’s likelihood of being hired or promoted.

Yet we all know from the research and from our own life experience, that exceptionally poor educators can meet this criteria. The credentials of an educator are necessary in most situations, but they aren’t sufficient.

Consistency of performance is essential.
You don't have to be exceptional every week

but as a minimum, you need to be at a level that 

even on a bad day, you get points on the board.
— Sean Dyche

The parameters for exceptionality vary from person to person, and from school to school. 
Some are exceptional because their influence and impact are comparably outstanding. While others are exceptional because, for one reason or another, they are given a status that allows them to do or say things that are unacceptable for everyone else.

Essentially, they get a “hall pass” that allows them to get away with “it.” They get to reject the rules, violate the values, or defy the directions.

Tenure, connections, or even bullying may be part of the motivation for such indifference from leadership, but the consequences are still significant. Such variations in expectations and accountability produce an exceptionally divisive culture that impairs trust and enables dysfunctional behaviors to be unexceptional. 

Every day we need to get points on the board. Make progress. Deliver as a professional even when we don’t feel like it.

Show yourself in all respects to be 
a model of good works, and in your teaching
show integrity, dignity, and sound speech.
— Titus 2:7-8a

To be exceptional, we sometimes have to go it alone, because other people will want to pull us back and be average.
That’s true among students.
That’s true among educators.
Courage is required to be positively exceptional.

One thing an exceptional educator never says is, 'That's not my job.' Exceptional people contribute outside the boundaries of job descriptions and the status quo.

An interesting way to assess our own exceptional qualifier is to find out what song or musical style others might use to describe us. Our genuine brand isn't based on our self-perception but rather on their impression of us. Perhaps they would pick a song like:
"Wrecking Ball"
 "I Knew You Were Trouble"
"You Light Up My Life"
"Amazing Grace"
"A Change Is Gonna Come"

Be a notable exception that inspires others, my friend, elevating the performance and spirit of your colleagues and students.

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