As my family and I get ready for the beginning of the new school year, I find myself thinking a lot about my own days in school. Over and over again, through my work with the foundation, I’ve seen that school today is much more creative and supportive than it was when I was a kid. Here are some of the eye-opening lessons I’ve learned from students and teachers at some of the schools I’ve visited over the last few years.
Teachers are focusing on a lot more than reading, writing, and arithmetic
When I talked to Sumi and Zanaasha at Seattle Girls’ School, I was impressed by how much they said they had learned from their teachers, not just academically but also personally. Here and in many other schools I visit, I see teachers helping kids learn how to set priorities, advocate for themselves, and figure out what their values are. If we encourage our kids to see teachers as sources of knowledge and as role models, they’ll have even more positive influences in their lives.
Emotional intelligence is as important as other kinds of intelligence
Students are a lot more in tune with their feelings than I remember being. The University of Washington students from TUNE House, a housing and scholarship program for women pursuing computer science, engineering, and information technology degrees, told me that they gather weekly to write their highs and lows on Post-its, whether they’re significant or silly, and stick them on the wall in their living room. I make a habit of sharing “roses and thorns” with my kids, but whatever we call them, it’s important for our kids to know that it’s okay to have both ups and downs.
Perfection shouldn’t be an aspiration
Fear of failure is so common, and so destructive. That’s why I was blown away at Summit Sierra Public School to see student after student talking about not just what they were good at but also what they were having trouble with — and what they were doing to get better. If an adult had visited my school, I would have found all the tests I got an A on and put them right on top. But if we let our kids risk imperfection, they’ll be a lot more resilient when they head into the world.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable
Ricky Thacker, who teaches Algebra at Betsy Layne High School in Kentucky, noticed that his classroom looked a lot like classrooms from a hundred years ago, so he got rid of all his desks, taped X and Y axes to the floor of his classroom, and, with his wife’s help, repainted the room — they chose orange and yellow. If we support innovative, fresh approaches — even ones that scare us a little bit — our kids will benefit.
Kids are dreaming big
One thing that’s stayed the same since I was young is that kids have big dreams about the world and their place in it. Take Briana Palacios, a recent graduate of the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in Texas. She was studying AP Computer Science, AP Calculus, and AP Digital Electronics, and as you can see in the video below, she, like so many of the kids I’ve met over the last few years, was thinking a lot further ahead than her exams — when she starts college this month, the first in her family to do so, she’ll be studying mechanical engineering. I get more inspired every time I visit a school and meet the young people who will shape our world and build a better future.