We Understand Students

The Abilities Model®

We Understand Students

The Abilities Model®

Success at McLean is rooted in the understanding that the very qualities of mind that render traditional teaching approaches unsuitable for some students — qualities that other schools only seek to mitigate — are actually the flip side of tremendous strengths.  They can be sources of creativity and insight if only we begin with “can” rather than “cannot”. Our Abilities Model® starts with gifts and helps all students — conventional learners as well as those with differences such as dyslexia, anxiety and ADHD, or organizational challenges. By recognizing each child for their strengths, providing support in areas of need, and fostering resilience, we are transforming how our students view themselves and their futures. McLean teaches the way students learn, rather than shutting them down with labels for what they cannot do.

In a recent survey, 91 percent of parents reported that their child’s self-esteem increased when they joined the school. And more than half of our seniors are accepted to “more or most selective” colleges as ranked by U.S. News & World Report (and our record suggests that nearly 100 percent of those students will graduate!). Not all of our extraordinary outcomes are quantifiable in this way, but we know them when we see them — and so will you.

Q and AThe Abilities Model®

What is the Abilities Model®?
The Abilities Model is a more complete way to understand how student minds work.  McLean recognizes that all children are natural learners, but that they learn in different ways. Those very differences that can make learning tough in traditional school settings are often sources of tremendous creativity and insight. This is why we focus on what a child can do, not what they can’t – and all within a college preparatory program that incorporates challenging academics, championship sports teams, theater and visual arts, robotics, service learning, and more.
How does the Abilities Model® differentiate McLean from other schools?
Education at McLean begins with the understanding that students should learn in their own ways, and that it is the school’s job to teach the way they learn, without pull-outs, without stigma, and without sacrifices in program scope. This is unlike LD schools that focus on learning disabilities (“what students can’t do”), and lack a full-scope college preparatory program. It is also unlike traditional college prep schools with full scope programs, and neither the expertise nor the class sizes to serve well diverse learners. Paradoxically, these traditional college prep schools are also on the disabilities model (“what students can’t do”) with a “pull-out” approach to learning differences.
What does the Abilities Model® look like in practice?
Our teachers differentiate instruction – teaching the way kids learn, rather than expecting students to learn the way teachers teach. McLean’s specific strategies vary by division, the material being taught, and the needs of the students in each classroom. We always use research-based methods and tailor the instruction as needed. As students grow, we encourage and emphasize responsibility, independence, and learning how to ask for help. Our research with alumni and teachers consistently highlights the importance of motivation, persistence, and self-awareness to our students’ success.
Expert teaching is critical to McLean’s success. What are some differentiating characteristics of McLean teachers?
In the over 65 years we’ve taught diverse learners, McLean has created a culture of understanding and supporting each and every student. Our teachers come to McLean and stay – averaging 17 years of tenure, a true testament to their dedication and expertise. And, while most teachers arrive with a high level of expertise, they gain more with in-house professional development and mentorship once they are here.  Our Lower School teachers have a special education background and are trained in Orton-Gillingham multisensory teaching approaches, while our Middle and Upper School teachers bring deep subject area expertise as well as specialized training in methods like Wilson Reading System®. 100 percent of our faculty and staff are trained in mindfulness to reduce stress and increase focus in learning and in life.
How well does it work?
Our outcomes are strong, starting with the impact on a student’s sense of self – 91 percent of parents across all divisions report that their child’s self esteem increased after coming to McLean. On average, over half of our graduates attend colleges deemed “more selective” or “most selective” by US News & World Report. Moreover, essentially 100 percent of those students complete their four-year college education. Less quantifiable are the smiles on our students’ faces, the spring in their steps, the courage to try new things, and the empathy, grit, and determination we see in action every single day.

Success StoriesFrom Our Students