Many of us remember the feeling of the summer holidays slipping away as kids, or excitement building as it came up to mid-term break and a well-earned rest. Or the collective sigh of relief when Friday comes around and you can go home and spread out on the couch or play outside to your heart’s content.
(Of course not everyone had that experience, and there’s a certain amount of privilege attached to having a home you can look forward to returning to. But that’s another topic!)
Last week, the students came back from their mid-term break, and I wanted to capture their very different reaction to time away from school. Since our school opened, I’m always amazed and a bit giddy to hear people complaining about an upcoming break or being super excited to come to school. Even the people with long commutes, who definitely benefit from a rest from their usual grueling routine of two hours to the school and back, still love returning after the time off.
I like to think that the students feel so at home in the school because of the strong sense of community that our school has fostered. Students get to spend so much time socialising, playing and doing whatever they like together, which inevitably leads to people getting to know each other much better than if they were stuck in a class all day apart from hour-long breaks, only allowed to talk about the subject at hand. When people have the freedom to ramble, conversations can break out in any direction. They have ample time to work on shared projects together and chat as they do it. Students discuss their families, histories and feelings, and deep friendships develop.
While having meaningful human relationships and the communication skills that go with them are obviously good for well being, it’s interesting that in a time where there is an obsession with pushing STEM subjects in order to produce graduates that will satisfy the needs of big multinationals like Google, those multi-nationals are themselves learning that soft skills are more important than technical skills.
In 2013, Google themselves, analysed all the data they had accumulated about hiring, firing and promotion since the company’s incorporation in 1998 and published powerful findings, which show that, of the most significant attributes that go into being a top employee at Google, the least important was, in fact, STEM expertise.
The seven attributes that ranked above STEM expertise are all soft skills – being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others; having empathy and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.
These are the skills I see being developed every day here in Kilpedder.
This is something the former abbot of Glenstal Abbey, Mark Patrick Hederman, touched on in his book The Boy In The Bubble: Education as a Personal Relationship. Meaningful learning very rarely happens outside the context of meaningful relationships. The fact that students in Wicklow Sudbury can shape their own day and feel completely comfortable in an environment they own allows them to develop the social and emotional skills most critical to a truly successful life. This is much harder to achieve in an environment defined by strict rules and hierarchies outside their control, where academic learning is clearly prioritized over ‘human’ learning, to the detriment of both types of knowledge.
But hopefully you had a look at the video and heard it from the students themselves.
We’d love if anyone who brushed their teeth this morning would share this post and if you’ve blinked in the last ten minutes please leave a comment with your own experiences.