January 11, 2018

Surprises from Google and River at the Bee!

1st grader River competing at the Spelling Bee
Happy New Year and welcome back to school!

My first blog of the new year is inspired by a touching story from our school Spelling Bee this week and by a Washington Post article that was sent to me over the break by a couple of parents in our school:

With Google growing as a presence in our town, and with several Google employees now sending their children to Friends School, there is a message that is particularly relevant to our community. One parent wrote to me that the message in this article “so validates what you all do every day” at Friends.

So what is the big surprise? 

Through a couple of in-depth studies, Google has learned “that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees….the top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills:

  • being a good coach;
  • communicating and listening well;
  • possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view);
  • having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues;
  • being a good critical thinker and problem solver;
  • and being able to make connections across complex ideas.”

For a highly successful high-tech company, which intentionally employs tens of thousands of people trained in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), Google has learned that it is not just the STEM skills that count.

A more recent study that Google conducted and released just in 2017 “further supports the importance of soft skills even in high-tech environments….Project Aristotle shows that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills:

equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying.

To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.”

Every day, any one of our teachers could and do share with me examples of how our kids are learning these skills.

deana harragarra waters celebrating with our
new Spelling Bee champion, 4th grader Francesca
Just this week, our elementary school held its 11th Annual Spelling Bee.  20 students took a leap, a risk that they might succeed or fail in front of the whole elementary school and an audience of parents and staff.  They were nervous, yet they persisted.  They congratulated each other when they got a word correct, and they encouraged and supported each other when they got a word wrong.  They showed resilience and courage and smarts.

I extend my congratulations to the winner, Francesca, who will go on to represent Friends School at the Regional Spelling Bee and who got to sign her name in our library’s big Websters dictionary, along with past 10 Spelling Bee winners.

However, my favorite storyline at the Bee was that of River, a first grader.  

We have always limited participation to the Spelling Bee to students in grades 3-5. Our thinking has been that the Bee is too challenging and too much pressure for younger students. Yet River, at the age of 6, felt confident in his spelling and he wanted to test his skills against those who are much older than himself. 

He talked to his teacher, who suggested he speak with the Spelling Bee’s organizers deana harragarra waters and Leigh Houser.  River stated his case, fearlessly advocating for himself.  The teachers tested him on several words and deemed that he was indeed Bee-worthy!  In the contest, River performed admirably and confidently, spelling words such as “newlyweds” and “improvise” and making it into the final eight spellers.

While the audience was asked to remain as quiet as can be and hold their applause until the end of each round, onlookers couldn’t help but cheer wildly for River after he aced each of his words. Staff and parents caught the eyes of his parents in the room, imploring how on earth this little guy who we all know to be a happy, playful, curious little boy, was also an amazing speller.

With outside-the-box thinking, grit, self-advocacy, strong communication, connection-making, determination, and lots of practice, River created change in his world and in ours.

These are the skills that Google has learned will carry him successfully into the future.  River will be a force not only at our school Spelling Bee for years to come, but at whatever he chooses to pursue.

If you have spent time around Friends School graduates none of this will come as much of a surprise.  Our kids are confident, creative problem-solvers who are changing the world.  They are not only unafraid to stand up and take a risk at the Spelling Bee, they show us year after year that they also bring these skills to high school, college, and their careers.

These are the skills our world needs. Google knows this. We know this.  River knows this. 

No comments: