Learning for Life

Our goals as educators have to include preparing students to be high capacity learners after they leave us. The challenges they will face throughout their lives, whether those challenges are professional or personal, will require these future adults to be adaptable, collaborative, and culturally perceptive. We want to teach our students to be thinkers who are critical and flexible, creators who are bold and empathetic, and problem solvers who are emotionally strong enough to seek peaceful, equitable, and lasting resolutions to life’s conflicts.

Our challenge as educators – teachers, school leaders, and parents alike – is to train our students in ways that perhaps we did not pay as much attention to in the past. We ask our schools to teach skills that are we once thought to be innate characteristics: creativity, curiosity, perseverance, empathy and teamwork. We know now that these mental attributes are ones that students can acquire though concentration and practice. They are also skills that students can lose, only to be replaced with fixed mindsets.

To borrow from Jim Collins, my 20-mile march over the past six years has been approaching these “soft skills” with the same seriousness and intent with which we teach the “hard skills” of reading, writing, and mathematics. Since our own understanding of these mental mindsets is still growing, we must place ourselves in the role of action researchers or design thinkers, who are adapting to what we are learning and seeing each year. We continually ask: what are the techniques, resources, and metrics that will allow us to teach these skills better? Here are a few that I have found to be useful.

Mission Skills Assessment (MSA)

msa captureThis annual assessment from the INDEX membership group is a benchmarked, research-based testing package for independent schools, but it looks quite different from other standardized testing currently used in schools. The MSA delivers feedback to middle schools, grades 6-8, about how their student body – not individuals – perform on six mission-critical mental attributes: curiosity, teamwork, creativity, ethics, resilience, and time management. Importantly, the MSA is also a network of similar-minded schools who are seeking to improve their practices every year in teaching students these skills. The MSA group, while only a few years old, works as a data collaborative and is growing their professional development capacities, which include face to face conferences and workshops as well as digital networking and sharing.

MSA Resources:

The main site for the MSA at Index has links to wonderful resources. Below are two examples of our implementation at Sewickley Academy and a slide show which Index produced.

Blog Post About How We Use the MSA: – 

ATC Blog re MSA

Unpacking the Indicators with SA Faculty:


Developmental Designs (DD)


More Social-Emotional Learning Resources:




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