A Checklist for Life

Biologist in residence helps girls develop good habits in the classroom and out
What does it truly mean to be a good student? 

Any school leader will say that grades are only part of the equation. Assessment tools measure student performance, but often they are limited in their scope of why a student performs the way she does and what she needs to do to improve. And they may cast a shadow over other important skills and abilities that need fostering.

Sarah Hanna, the Montrose biologist in residence, has created a tool to connect the dots between student performance and the habits they embrace. It’s the first step in developing a clearer picture of students’ performance and how they can grow - from helping a struggling student find solutions to challenging areas to illuminating areas in which “A” students can grow. 

Ms. Hanna uses the Montrose School’s unique LifeCompass Program for Character & LeadershipTM to offer her students a means for self-reflection: the Habits of Mind, Heart, & Character Checklist. She offers students a chance to scale themselves in each habit. With the Habits Checklist, girls learn that there are many factors that contribute to school success. 

“Because we are a school, it’s easy to focus on the habits of mind. The checklist reminds students that we care about habits of heart and character as much as mind and that we see them as whole people,” explained Ms. Hanna. 

After students use the Habit Checklist for self-evaluation, Ms. Hanna compares each girl’s response to her own observations. “This is where the results become very interesting!” she says. For example, a quiet, motivated student with excellent grades and her materials in impeccable order may rate herself low on a habit of mind, like organization, when she really needs to focus more attention on a habit of character, such as courage. Similarly, a student encountering a challenging unit with resilience in her teacher’s eyes may rate herself as low in tenacity -- since she is trying so hard to keep on top of her work but not quite reaching her goal. Her teacher will be surprised at this self-evaluation. Reflecting on habits of heart, mind and character reminds a student who soars through work to have compassion for a peer meeting a challenge; it reminds a student who is extending beyond her comfort zone and trying something new (but perhaps not meeting the standards she has set for herself) that her fortitude in embracing a hard task means a lot. 

“In order to help you get there, I need to see how you see yourself,” Ms. Hanna tells the science students at Montrose.

The Habits Checklist encourages students to grow in self-awareness and be realistic about what they truly need to focus on for achieving academic success. It also serves as a communication tool for students and teachers. Teachers can grow in understanding of their students’ needs and self-perception -- invaluable information that can help teachers tailor their teaching and support to each individual student. Using the reflection tool is one important step in self-agency for students on the way to becoming their very best. 

“With the Habits Checklist, I can support girls as they grow in good habits and in their own self-awareness,” concluded Ms. Hanna.