“When wisdom meets imagination, great vision is born.” – The Stony Brook School
For decades, the Highlands Ability Battery (HAB) has been used by countless students to help prepare them for decisions about college (where to attend and what to major in) as well as make career-related decisions. The Stony Brook School, a near century-old college preparatory school serving both day and boarding students from 20 countries and 12 states, is pioneering a new approach with the HAB.
The Stony Brook story illustrates the capacity of the HAB to go to new depths towards helping students solidify their identity and cultivate mental and emotional wellness. While a unique environment, the approach used to serve Stony Brook could be easily altered to suit the needs of any high school.
Two Highlands Consultants are responsible for the integration of the HAB into the school’s mission to help each student develop to his or her greatest potential: Amy Tietjen and Susan Seel (see the end of the article for bios). Thanks to their hard work and persistence, and thanks to the cooperation and support from school administration, this past year the entire sophomore class, along with members of the faculty and administration, gained insight into their natural abilities by completing the HAB and reviewing their individual results in a feedback consultation with Amy and Sue.
The following article by Amy Tietjen describes the integration of the HAB into the culture at Stony Brook with a focus on four areas: college counseling, student life, learning support, and counseling and wellness.
After two decades of serving as a counselor, coach, and mentor, I feel compelled to share an essential truth regarding human health and flourishing: people need to be fully known and fully loved. For the past four years I have had the privilege to live and work at The Stony Brook School, an institution that is striving to provide its students with multiple people who know and love each one of them. Under the vision and guidance of seasoned Highlands Consultant Sue Seel, the Highlands Ability Battery (HAB) has recently become a central component of this initiative at Stony Brook.
The combination of knowing and loving is tricky. It’s easier to show fondness for others if we only see their good sides, their Instagram selves, but that reduces the likelihood that we actually know them. The inverse is also true: when we are deeply familiar with a person — warts and all — it may be challenging to love them. Counselors might refer to this balancing act as “unconditional positive regard.” However, it is one thing to pull this off within the context of therapy and another thing altogether to achieve it in our everyday relationships at home, work, or in this case, school.
To be fully or truly known usually starts with us. We must be willing to examine ourselves and our origins, our strengths and our proclivities, and this starts by our being honest and vulnerable not only with ourselves but also with others who have earned our trust. One could count herself blessed to have a single individual who understands and advocates for her, who values her not only for what she produces, but for who she is inherently. At Stony Brook, we are using the HAB to gently usher our students into this process.
In an effort to recognize the various personal styles, leadership styles, and learning styles of each individual on campus, Stony Brook has invited me to administer the HAB to every student beginning their sophomore year, and to the faculty and administration as well. Because there are no “bad” scores on the HAB, all participants are given the opportunity to share their results with select people in the community in an effort to meet one another where they are and establish greater understanding.
At a boarding school, students and teachers “do life” together — not only in the classroom but on the athletic fields, in the dining hall, and in the dormitories. Integrating the HAB into this particular culture has been multifaceted and valuable on several levels, and I will discuss the four main areas of our focus.
Focus Area #1: College Counseling
Stony Brook’s motto is “Character Before Career.” Consequently, it places great weight on investing in the students as people, global citizens, and contributing leaders both present and future. Because there are a myriad of choices to be made regarding college, students need to spend time exploring questions as fundamental and foundational as Who am I? What brings me joy? What does the world need that I have to offer? and Where do I best fit?
One of my tasks as a Highlands consultant has been to partner with the college counselors at Stony Brook to examine each student profile and begin to explore the answers to these questions alongside the student and his or her parents. We strive to minimize anxiety surrounding the process and to facilitate a sharpened focus for future direction. We want to empower students to make educated decisions and to grow in confidence as they anticipate the road ahead.
“College counseling can all too often be about the end result, but at The Stony Brook School we believe that the process of applying to college is as important as the result itself. Our college program is built on the foundation of three I’s: insight, information and initiative. When students have insight into who they are, the college application process transforms into a journey, not a competition. The Highlands Ability Battery provides both insight and information about our students: how they learn, what their drivers are, and their potential paths of learning and careers. All of this allows us to guide students to colleges that are a good fit for them, places where they will continue to thrive, grow and be challenged.” – Christine Loo, LMSW, Director of College Counseling
Focus Area #2: Student Life
Another commonly used phrase at Stony Brook is in loco parentis, “in the place of parents.” Such a reality may seem unique to boarding schools, as there are often thousands of miles between boarders and parents, but this philosophy can extend to both boarding and day students.
The degree of care and concern for students is evident in Stony Brook’s advisory program, its athletic program, and in its classrooms and residence halls. Considering the various settings a student finds himself, the practical application of the HAB is to allow the adults in those settings (i.e teachers/coaches/advisors/dorm parents) to be able to examine a student’s profile (with the help of a Highlands Consultant) in order to set him up for success.
One example would be facilitating a conversation about Introverts vs. Extroverts or Generalists vs. Specialists in order for students to understand what his or her classmate (or roommate, or teammate) might need, and also to acknowledge his own needs. From here, topics such as boundary-setting and self-advocacy come into focus and invite students to examine their relationships. The goals are to recognize the needs of each student and to set them up for success, be it what position they play on the field, or what role they play in their peer group.
This past year I not only met with each of the 95 sophomores for individual consultations, but also met with their advisory groups for follow-up group feedback. The group settings were invaluable as the students were able to view bar graphs and learn some of the implications of how their similarities and differences might play out. Implementing the HAB in these ways fit amazingly well into the student life theme of the year, which encouraged students to develop a “posture of understanding.” The students came away with an appreciation for themselves and others, acknowledging an area of diversity that might otherwise have gone unseen, and this helped Stony Brook to build its community upon the foundation of mutual respect and understanding.
“Stony Brook is a place—especially with the advisory program—that loves our students well and makes efforts towards setting up systems so that no student falls through the cracks. The Highlands provides us with empirical data to help us know and love our students better as individuals.” – Dustin Mones, Director of Student Life
Focus Area #3: Learning Support
Autistic savant and popular author Daniel Tammet writes, “You don’t have to be disabled to be different because everybody’s different.” Recognizing that everyone learns differently is an important jumping off point for helping students and their teachers develop effective methods of learning.
One of the most practical applications of the HAB at Stony Brook has been to meet with students to discuss their learning styles early on in their high school careers. The Highlands Company has provided individual Learning Strategies Reports for Stony Brook, compiling data from the various HAB reports in an effort to help students work smarter, not harder. Located on the school’s password-protected student portal, LSRs are easy to locate for students, parents, teachers, and the Learning Support Office.
While the goal of implementing customized study habits is valuable for all students, a secondary goal of helping to identify those who may need additional assistance is also of the utmost importance. In collaborating with the Learning Support Office, one of my tasks has been to co-advocate for those students who have struggled in school and, in some cases, refer them to learning specialists to seek additional services. If done early on, this can significantly reduce frustration and increase success for students who might otherwise have continued to flounder.
“Stony Brook utilizes the Highlands Ability Battery to identify the strengths and potential challenges our students might have as individual learners, and we then offer several options conveniently located on campus in our Learning Support Center.” – Jennie Donovan, Director of Learning Support
Focus Area #4: Counseling and Wellness
It’s challenging to be a teenager in the modern world — even at a college preparatory school. On the surface, it may seem that many of these students live charmed lives with every possible advantage, including opportunity, education, and technology. However, with these gifts often comes the burden of not knowing how to navigate their lives, and without strong guidance and discipline they can become overbooked and overwhelmed. The pressures of social media and competition can leach into these impressionable minds, and at times the need to perform and succeed clouds their experience to the detriment of their mental and physical health.
I think if we are honest, most adults can relate to being slaves to our own impossible standards at one time or another. The bravest of us acknowledge that fact and enlist mentors, counselors, or coaches to help establish wellness and balance. The Stony Brook School is doing what it can to take the stigma out of self-care, and this coming year I will partner with the counseling office to offer support groups on topics including stress management, “poisonous perfectionism,” and re-writing our own narratives. The HAB offers a tremendous benefit by highlighting the native strengths of individuals and allows us to consider the ways we think of ourselves and whether our opinions are based on fact or fiction.
The raw data provided by the HAB has transformed the lives of several of my clients, and watching people grant themselves permission to step into areas of strength that they had previously told themselves were “off limits” has been one of the most satisfying experiences I have had as a Highlands consultant. But it takes courage, gentleness, and patience to embrace oneself while also striving to become the best version of ourselves. To quote Zenkei Shibayama, “A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.”
“How do we bring joy back to life and learning? By tackling the beast of self-imposed perfectionism and beginning to appreciate who we are, how we learn, and what we bring to the table. Highlands can begin this conversation.” – Chad Hardison LMFT, Director of Counseling Services
This fall we will enter into year two of our program, expanding and adjusting it to fit the needs of the school. Anticipating and embracing change may be one of the few aspects that stays the same year after year, but so will our original focus: to better know, love, and nurture each member of the Stony Brook community.
Amy Tietjen, M.S. Ed. is a certified life coach, author, mother, wife, teacher, musician, public speaker, and instructor of yoga and Pilates. For the past 20 years, Amy has served in various helping professions and wellness settings in New Jersey, Texas, Georgia, and New York. She is the founder of Metamorphosis, a Coaching and Consultation company that specializes in helping people determine and reach their goals physically, personally, and professionally. Contact Amy by email at email@example.com.
Susan Seel, M.S. has been a full-time, certified life coach for 22 years. Working with people of all ages and professions who desire to make changes in their lives, Sue seeks to enhance the quality of their professional and personal lives. In her company, Personal & Professional Potential, Inc., she helps clients through the following issues: transition and life planning, career choice, leadership and developing a team, fitness and wellness coaching. A former educator for 25 years, Sue is a graduate of Coach University, certified Master Coach by the International Coach Federation, certified Highlands Consultant, and affiliated with www.lifecoach.com. She is married to Spencer and has two grown sons and one granddaughter. She and her husband own Made to Move wellness in Setauket, NY. When not coaching, Sue is walking, swimming, practicing yoga, reading, crocheting and embracing life! Contact Sue by email at Coachnow@aol.com.