As someone who oversees a school of more than 400 children from 18 months through eighth grade, I know that each day I’m looking into the faces of young people with the potential to become an important part of Wisconsin’s workforce and the leaders of our communities.
These girls and boys understand the importance of education and will enter a working world that expects more from them than ever before. Technology and innovation are a roaring river filled with increasing expectations and demanding achievement at every turn.
These young people need to be high-performing, possessing those explicit skills that will be rewarded in the 21st century, if they expect to navigate safely into good jobs.
Being ready, these days, means being able to problem solve. Employers do not provide answers, they demand solutions. Practical problem solvers who can put employers on a path to a successful outcome are in high demand.
I’m talking about individuals who can think on their feet and know how to find the very best way from point A to point B.
Woven in among a curriculum of math, science, music, art, public speaking, history and more, there should also be the essence of what will make any employee truly great. I’m referring to helping students cultivate their ingenuity, creativity, and tolerance for ambiguity. We know that a student’s ability to handle constructive feedback leads to the development of resilience, internal strength, honesty, as well as personal self-governance and control.
These are the things that will be handsomely respected and rewarded in the future.
We are teaching our students to become masters of technology with an ability to adapt to ever-changing conditions.
By fourth grade, we have moved to near-paperless classrooms, and working on digital tablet PC’s is as easy for our students as breathing. Students use every tool they have within their grasp to search out and craft informed solutions to real world dilemmas. They work in virtual teams with students in other countries on projects that require variety paths to arrive at the best answer. Employers want thinkers, but they also want doers. It is another important lesson for young people as they grow to understand the value of a strong work ethic. This means that they must see failure as information and realize that successful outcomes require that they stay the course and learn from their setbacks as well as successes.
Ultimately, the ability to acquire valuable knowledge, approach the unknown with a creative and analytical mind, work well with others both personally and virtually, while displaying moral clarity will make one valuable to his or her employer.
So often in the past, there has been a great deal of weight placed on academics, and while that is important, so too is the well-rounded overall development of a student. Our school has been blessed with 85 percent of our students testing into honors-level courses upon leaving and another 75 percent making it onto high school honor rolls.
Many have gone on to become the leaders and successful business people we knew they could be. As educators, no matter the schools we teach in, we all work hard to ready our kids for the challenges they will face in the adult workforce. In the end, we wish them luck and watch them head out our doors for the last time with the knowledge and tools we’ve been able to provide as they move one step closer to becoming influential decision makers in the workforce of tomorrow.
Monica Van Aken, Ed. D, is the headmistress of Milwaukee Montessori School located at 345 N. 95th St.