Character Skills in the Middle School
Character Skills in the Middle School

At the beginning of the school year, Head of Middle School Renée Price shared that the Middle School would be participating in a year-long character skill development program focusing on some of the Mission Skills developed by the Enrollment Management Association. These mission skills are: resilience, ethics, teamwork, creativity, curiosity, and time management.

The Mission Skills Assessment (MSA) was created by the Enrollment Management Association, and "born of a desire for schools to quantify their success in building character in their classes," according to their website. Since a school's mission statement is the foundation of the educational experience, it is important to focus on these character skills in addition to the rigorous academic program. Princeton Day School's mission is to nurture the mind, the body, and the character of each student, and integrity, respect, and compassion are essential to the school's mission.

In September, the Middle School focused on the mission skill of resilience. Mrs. Price asked students to reflect on a number of questions, including: do you use positive self talk? do you see setbacks as temporary? do you have healthy ways to cope when things don't go well? do you adapt to change well? do you finish what you start? She encouraged students to post experiences on the topic of resiliency on Schoology, the school's learning management system.

In October and November, Mrs. Price talked about the mission skill of ethics. She challenged the full Middle School community to grapple with ethics as a skill and a practice. As she noted in her Focus Notes newsletter, "For the purpose of our conversations, we are focusing on ethics as honesty, altruism, kindness, integrity, leadership (even in the face of peer pressure)." She again asked the students to reflect on questions such as: do you tell the truth to people in your life? do you turn in your own work at school? do you care about how others feel? do you do good things for others for no selfish reasons? do you do the right thing even when it is hard? Conversations about peer pressure were prominent, with Mrs. Price reminding students that the desire to "just fit in" can be an obstacle to practicing ethical behavior.

This month, Mrs. Price announced a new mission skill topic: teamwork. At the Focus Assembly on January 19, she asked the students to think about what an effective team looks like, and what challenges may impact teams from being as effective as they might be. Before sharing a video about teamwork, she asked questions such as: what does a great team behave like? what does it take to build a high performance team? where is our team modeling effective teamwork? This work will continue through the month.

About the focus on character skills in the Middle School, Mrs. Price remarked, "Academic success may indicate that one is prepared for a certain range of challenges and opportunities ahead. But academic performance alone does not indicate that one will be successful in life."

By focusing on the Mission Skills initiative Mrs. Price explained that we increase our expectations for our children, and even our adult selves, by purposefully teaching and learning these skills. "The evidence shows that in today's global society, the skills of resilience, ethics, teamwork, creativity, curiosity, and time management are critical for success. These skills help our children prepare for a lives of great purpose," she said.

Mrs. Price added, "We can help our students succeed by discussing the character skills, modeling the behaviors ourselves, and even admitting when we struggle so they can learn from our own practice. Children receive our praise best when we commend them promptly and specifically as they demonstrate the skills."