Problem-Solving Our Way Into The Future

What does a plumbing problem have to do with readying our students for the future?  Head of School Jessica Donovan explains.

My garbage disposal broke a few days before Winter Break. If this has ever happened to you, you know it can only happen when the sink is filled with dishes and you’ve just shoved all of the leftover dinner down the drain. I flipped the switch and just heard a hum. I pressed the reset button. Nothing. Immediately, my mind went to the hundreds of dollars I’d have to pay to have it fixed over the weekend. You see, I never learned how to fix anything as a kid. Girls didn’t do that. Nevertheless, as I looked under the sink I thought maybe I could try. It didn’t look that complicated. I figured, “This is in my challenge zone, not my panic zone.”

Preparing for future lives, not future work

I say all the time to prospective parents that our children are inheriting a world that is a mystery to us. We don’t know what jobs will be invented and which ones will no longer exist. We can’t prepare them for their future work; we have to prepare them for their future lives. This means they will need to see themselves as problem solvers, risk takers, flexible thinkers, compassionate friends, and global citizens. They will need to look at their own versions of a garbage disposal and think, “Maybe I can…” They’ll need to persevere and learn from their mistakes.

At Sheridan, this is what we endeavor to teach your children. When they are little, we guide them to recognize their mistakes as proof of hard work, and when they are older we help them analyze their mistakes for future progress. When they are frustrated, we encourage them to persevere and to work through the frustration. When they think they can’t do something, we give them the steps to see that they can.

Taking risks and gaining confidence

The day before the Winter Concert, one Sheridan mom told me she thought her daughter wouldn’t perform at the concert. Her daughter was shy and scared and didn’t think she could do it. After the concert, that mom came to me in tears. She couldn’t believe her daughter sang and danced and played her instrument! That little girl will always know that there is more in her than she thought. That she can perform on stage in front of hundreds of people. I’m certain she’ll grow up to be on our 8th grade panel one day, telling prospective parents all about how she learned to take risks and gain confidence at Sheridan.

Value in Making

While risk-taking is important, we also know that understanding how and why something works is a key to problem solving. These last two years, we have worked to include more Making into the Sheridan curriculum. Kindergarten created their own engineering cart, a generous donor helped us acquire a Makers’ cart, and, thanks to last year’s auction, we have been building a Makerspace in our library. On any given day, you can see students taking apart computers to see what makes them work, using the 3D printer to create games inspired by the literature they have read, sewing, programming or inventing. This tinkering is what will develop their young minds. Gary Stager puts it best in his Scholastic Administrator article, “Making is predicated on the desire that we all have to exert agency over our lives, to solve our own problems. It recognizes that knowledge is a consequence of experience, and it seeks to democratize access to a vast range of experience and expertise so that each child can engage in authentic problem solving.” It is this knowledge of themselves as problem solvers that will prepare them for their unknown future.

It took me longer to see myself as a problem solver. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a Sheridan education. Nevertheless, I think I’m getting there. Long story short: I fixed the garbage disposal. Five trips to the hardware store (where the workers condescendingly observed, “so, it’s still not fixed yet,”) and one gigantic flood of disgusting water covering everything in sight, including me, and it was done, And *I* had done it! I rewired, replumbed, and installed. When I flipped the switch and heard the hum of the new disposal, my sons and I screamed and danced around the house.

It’s a good thing I love my job at Sheridan, or I might want to think about a career in plumbing. Who knows what interesting problems await us? What I do know, is that our students are up to the challenge.