Measuring what matters
Character. We all know it when we see it, admire those who have it, and strive to achieve it. At a recent conference I attended, character was mentioned as one of the non-cognitive skills that are in vogue and considered by secondary schools and college institutions to be as important as grades or scores from standardized testing.
We all know that character is a trait that is mentioned as something that matters to educators and to educational institutions. As educators we want to provide the knowledge that will make our students successful, but we also want to provide the tools and mentoring that will create character. Independent schools in particular address the importance of values that strengthen a community and help foster character in their young men and women.
In recent times think tanks have been focusing on the need and the desire to measure what matters, and together with grades and intellectual ability institutions want to quantity non-cognitive skills, traits that actually make a difference in a community.
How then can we measure character as well as other non-cognitive skills such as kindness, humility, and gratefulness? When we think about assessments that seek to quantify non-cognitive skills I start to wonder about how parents and educators will help students achieve success. How can one tutor to be able to score highly on these skills? What will tutoring look like?
The immediate answer is that this will create a shift in the conversations we have and bring awareness to things that matter such as kindness, humility, and gratefulness. In short, character. One can say that all these traits are found in Fenn’s core values and that we are certainly ahead of the curve. Teaching character is part of what we do each day and we see our boys live and take pride in being good citizens and helping others.
What does character look like at Fenn? I am sure that every one of us has examples and anecdotes of small things and not so small things. Throughout the years I have been in awe of how much our boys distinguish themselves outside of Fenn because of their character, and one moment that stays in my mind is what happens on Thursday mornings at Fenn. The Big Brother program comes to life when eighth and ninth graders spend time before classes in the morning with fourth and fifth graders, playing sports and board games, or just talking, spending time, and modeling kindness.
If non-cognitive skills topics are what the new conversations will cover rather than similes, analogies, and metaphors as we prepare for standardized assessment, I think that we will be making tremendous progress in building character and will bring awareness to what really matters.
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