Monday, June 27, 2016

Redefining Excellence

The pursuit of excellence has long been a defining pillar of the mission of MFIS. Member schools value the pursuit of high moral and academic standards for the students we serve. Our schools strive to encourage all aspects of our students’ intellectual and personal capabilities by providing challenging learning environments where students strive to reach their full potential as individuals and as contributing members of society.

Traditionally, much of the focus of our academic programs has been on the three Rs - “reading ‘riting and ‘rithmetic,” appropriately enriched with ample opportunities to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. Our students have been well served by such a model, but as we contemplate the sort of education required for the 21st century - in post-secondary studies and beyond - is this enough?

Robert J. Sternberg, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University, has proposed that the criteria for excellence needs to be expanded to include not only the traditional three Rs, but also to include “the other three Rs:” reasoning, resilience, and responsibility” (2008. “Excellence for All,” Educational Leadership, Vol. 66, No. 2, 14-19)

Reasoning refers to the “set of thinking skills that a person needs to be an engaged, active citizen of the world (Sternberg, P. 17).” Not only does this include the critical and analytical thinking long valued by our schools, but it also places renewed importance on creative thinking that helps to generate new ideas; practical thinking for implementing ideas in real world situations; and wise thinking that focuses on caring about the common good and the impact of one’s actions on others.

Resilience refers to instilling in our students the attributes needed to develop “persistence in achieving goals despite the obstacles life places in our way (Sternberg, p. 18).” Resilience is a necessary component of academic excellence because it braces children for the challenges they will face in school and in life. Resilient children develop a belief in their own self-efficacy to achieve goals, are willing to think independently, and pursue their goals with passion. We know that true learning often emerges from taking risks and learning from both successes and failures. This ability to pick oneself up, dust off, adapt and get back at it is more important than ever in a rapidly changing world

Responsibility refers to the ethical and moral development of our students. Our faith-based schools have done a terrific job of paying attention to this critical element of the development of the well-rounded person. This brings to mind the famous excerpt from the original Deed of Gift of New Hampshire’s Philips Exeter Academy written over 200 years ago:

[I]t is expected that the attention of instructors to the disposition of the minds and morals of the youth under their charge will exceed every other care; well considering that though goodness without knowledge is weak and feeble, yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous, and that both united form the noblest character, and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to mankind. (

This central dimension of schooling reminds us that private education has a public purpose to instil in our students a caring attitude that balances one’s own interests with those of others and the ability to clearly distinguish right from wrong - and to act accordingly. In today’s rapidly changing society with its complex challenges it is more important than ever to provide our students with a solid ethical and moral footing to help guide them throughout their lives.

An expanded view of academic excellence in our schools will see our students well prepared for the very different future that awaits them. A successful program of academic excellence will contribute to the common good by graduating those who will know how to make the world a better place.

Bruce Neal
Executive Director

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