LifeReady - Academics - McDonogh School


What We Teach—The Liberal Arts and Sciences

Since its founding, McDonogh School has had an unwavering commitment to providing students with a comprehensive, well-rounded liberal arts education. Our PK-12 curriculum ensures that students acquire a broad conceptual understanding as well as more specialized knowledge in core disciplines. We believe deep learning occurs when students think critically, apply knowledge and skill, and have opportunities to transfer understanding to novel situations. 

How We Teach—The LifeReady Pedagogy

McDonogh’s faculty works to develop self-reliant, critical thinkers prepared to do good in a diverse and ever-changing world. LifeReady makes such transformational learning possible. Teaching students how to think—not what to think—ensures their intellectual growth and is foundational to a healthy democracy.

Under the guidance of master teachers, students learn to make sense of new material for themselves. To this end, classes at McDonogh are cognitively demanding, active learning environments. While our teachers provide critical guidance as students develop mastery in and across disciplines, students are expected to think deeply, explore a range of perspectives, collaborate, and communicate effectively.

From prekindergarten to 12th grade, students engage with academic content through methods, routines, and practices that help them learn subject matter while simultaneously developing skills in six domains: Creative and Critical Thinking; Self-Knowing; Communicating; Perspective Taking; Collaborating; and Connecting. The very methods that develop these competencies are also powerful tools for thinking deeply.

As a result, McDonogh graduates students who are truly life ready. They learn to manage rapid change, in global environments, with diverse communities, and are prepared to face unexpected challenges. They engage in purposeful work and use their knowledge and skills to create, often forging meaningful connections between disciplines—the way most learning happens in life.

The “magic” of LifeReady is that by creating spaces of critical thinking, where students are responsible for lifting heavy cognitive loads, we also create the conditions to help them develop “survival skills” for life in the 21st century.

Kevin J. Costa, Ph.D., Director of LifeReady

LifeReady Competencies—A Deeper Look

The LifeReady competencies represent capabilities students will need in life as well as fields of research, study, and practice relevant to our world.

With each competency, we have developed “I can” statements—descriptors that indicate the knowledge and skill that students will develop when learning through a variety of methods. The statements represent a core group of broad skills that tend to cut across many disciplines. For example, the Creative and Critical Thinking statement, “I can reason with evidence,” is just as much at home in mathematics as it is in history, English, or visual art. As teachers design lessons, units, and whole courses, they often add more “I can” statements assuring that they incorporate life-ready abilities McDonogh develops in each student.

"I Can" Statements

Creative & Critical Thinking

Creative Thinking

  • I can imagine more than one way to solve a problem.
  • I can experiment with different approaches to solving a problem.
  • I can leverage a variety of perspectives when constructing a solution to a problem.
  • I can evaluate the benefits and risks of certain approaches to solving a problem in a certain way.
  • I can communicate my ideas in a variety of ways.

Critical Thinking

  • I can analyze texts/data/phenomena by observing patterns and details and other observable phenomena.
  • I can generalize ideas and hypotheses about observable data.
  • I can design models to test hypotheses and concepts.
  • I can reason with evidence.
  • I can evaluate a range of viewpoints and perspectives when reasoning.
  • I can build explanations with evidence and reasoning.


  • I can accurately recognize my own emotions, thoughts, and values.
  • I can regulate my emotions and behaviors in situations.
  • I can take responsibility for my actions.
  • I can make constructive decisions about personal behavior and social interactions.


  • I can convey information with a clear sense of purpose and audience.
  • I can assess an audience’s needs in order to adjust voice, style, and content appropriately.
  • I can utilize a variety of strategies to connect with a variety of audiences.
  • I can produce a variety of models to communicate my ideas.
  • I can use a variety of methods to communicate with others.
  • I can communicate civilly with others.
  • I can draw on my understanding of other cultures, language registers, and contexts to support productive intercultural communication.

Perspective Taking

  • I can seek a range of perspectives on an issue.
  • I can listen to understand. 
  • I can assess the value of different perspectives when forming my own ideas.
  • I can engage in discourse with perspectives that may differ from my own.
  • I can analyze others’ perspectives in order to better understand their points of view.
  • I can reflect on my own biases.


  • I can genuinely seek perspectives from others I’m working with.
  • I can listen to understand another perspective on a problem or idea.
  • I can identify my strengths when contributing to a project or when solving a problem.
  • I can identify others’ strengths and talents when helping to form a complementary approach to a project or problem.


  • I can engage in mutually respectful relationships.
  • I can ensure equitable partnerships by drawing on complementary strengths in a group.
  • I can use my knowledge of diverse cultural norms to inform how I engage with people whose lived experiences are different from my own.
  • I can educate about, advocate for, and take action on challenges that affect communities around the world.
  • I can understand and take different perspectives in order to empathize with others.

The LifeReady Team—Comprehensive Expertise

McDonogh’s LifeReady Team is a strategic research and design group. Each member of the team represents one of the following key research areas that are the intellectual and practical foundation for the LifeReady competencies:

  • Pedagogy: teaching and learning, the science of learning, instructional and curricular design
  • Equity and Inclusion
  • Wellness/Social and Emotional Learning 
  • Global Engagement
  • Educational Technology and Digital Citizenship
  • Social Innovation and Engagement

Learn More About our curriculum

The academic program at McDonogh School is founded on the belief that all children want to learn. Our program seeks to develop each child's potential through authentic experiences that engage their sense of intellectual and emotional ownership and inspire joy in learning. We empower students to be self-reliant, critical thinkers who can form, test, and revise their ideas—for themselves, and in the service of others. Discover more below!