Match Outcome & Mission
Your school’s mission is its operating principle, its rallying cry, and the reason parents entrust their children to your care every day. However, besides the grades your students earn, the academic accolades they receive, and the schools to which they are admitted, how do you know that the character skills you espouse are being embraced and embodied by your students? The MSA was born of a desire for schools to quantify their success in building character in their classes. It brings to bear the value promise of your school and provides your office with substantial data to demonstrate that your school is keeping that promise to families.
Greenwich Country Day School
Rick Columbo, Head of Middle School, Greenwich Country Day School (CT)
Why does your school use the Mission Skills Assessment (MSA)?
Seven or eight years ago, two conversations were happening simultaneously at our school: at a faculty professional development session, our guest presenter Tony Wagner, an expert on innovation in schools, spoke about how schools are failing children by not teaching them the skills they need to be successful in life, skills like collaboration and problem solving. At the same time, our head of school was participating in early conversations with the INDEX group about the concept of measuring non-cognitive skills. We realized we were on the cusp of a transformation in how we wanted to teach our students at Greenwich Country Day. We wanted a way to validate this movement and the direction we were going in, and the Mission Skills Assessment (MSA) provided us that. We were part of the first group (in 2012) to participate in the MSA.
What is the greatest benefit your school has found from using the MSA?
The MSA has helped us communicate to parents why it is important to teach kids more than the quadratic equation or state capitals, and how the skills that the MSA measures correlate to success and life satisfaction. We use data from the MSA to help us respond to parent questions about why the way we teach looks different from the way they were taught. Fifty percent of the information on our student report cards now relates to the mission skills, or what we call “power-house skills.” (We felt this term had more credibility and traction with parents.) We use grade meetings and parent conferences to educate parents. And students now regularly refer to these skills; in class, they may talk about how a character in a book demonstrated creativity or resilience, for example.
What positive results have come from the MSA's use with your faculty or in the classroom?
It has changed the way we teach. It’s no longer just about memorizing. Following the pedagogical approach of SOLE (Self Organized Learning Environments), our students choose a topic they want to study and explore it in a way they find interesting. They work in groups for three days and come back to the classroom to report on what they have found. Teachers find that the children explore the topics more deeply and comprehensively than they would have in a traditional lesson. In sixth grade and ninth grade, our students complete a Capstone project – for five weeks, eight hours a week, we stop “teaching” and kids gather in common interest groups to take on an independent project of their choosing. In the recent past, Capstone projects have included the development of a parking app for the local Greenwich area and another app that matched donations with organizations in need of those donations, a research project on the best turf to use for the school fields, and the production of healthy dog snacks. In all of these examples, the kids have had to use curiosity, teamwork, time-management skills, and resiliency (for example, they often face obstacles in trying to find information or connect with people in the community). For the Capstone projects, there are no grades and the teachers transition to the role of “advisors.” Initially this change in the teacher role was the biggest challenge to implementing this program, as it took some teachers out of their comfort zone – but it was the MSA that helped them understand the importance of the skills that these projects teach. Now teachers are on board and continue to enhance the program each year.
Does the MSA make your school feel confident in its delivery of mission? In what ways?
Our mission, in a nutshell, is to help develop the finest in children, to help them become people of the utmost character. So, yes, our overall focus on the “powerhouse skills” – not just the assessment of them, but our commitment to integrating them into the classroom -- lines up well with our mission. These are the skills we envision a graduate would have.
What advice would you give other schools about the MSA?
First of all, give it time to work for your school. Don’t underestimate the need to educate parents. Also, use the data to make changes; if the data show that you are lagging behind in teaching one skill, brainstorm what you are going to do to enhance the way you guide students in that area. One other benefit for me is the chance to get together and interact with other MSA schools. I would advise schools that use the MSA to make the most of the opportunities to network and share best practices.