Teaching Today

Skills to Work at Google

By Tara Fletcher, History Department Chair

Each year as our seniors begin to finalize their college decisions and look to their next chapter, the inevitable question arises: What do you want to do with your life? Societal pressures can rear their ugly heads in presuming that certain majors won’t translate to getting a job and being workforce ready. However, according to Cathy N. Davidson, founding director of the Futures Initiative and author of The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux, it is time to rethink these norms, especially if you want to work at Google.

According to Davidson, when Sergey Brin and Larry Page founded Google in 1998, they looked specifically for STEM majors because “only technologists can understand technology.” However, in 2013, Google decided to analyze its hiring practices and compile the data on the employees that had been the most successful in the company in order to determine the most important skills of their employees; to their surprise STEM expertise came in last. In fact, the top seven skills that Google now looks for 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.” It looks like Google is looking for Tower Hill graduates!

The history and social studies curriculum throughout the three divisions is a place where these soft skills are honed. A particularly powerful unit in the third grade is one on poverty. In reading Barbara O’Connor’s How to Steal a Dog, students learn to be empathetic toward the family’s destitute situation. To complement the text, these students move out of the classroom in delivering bean soup to Lutheran Community Services for their food bank. According to third grade teacher Paula Hall, “It is an eye-opening unit for some of our students, and it also teaches so many lessons about how hunger, homelessness and poverty are within our community and how we can show our integrity.”

Learning outside of the classroom continues in the Middle School with the seventh grade spending time in Washington, D.C. Tours of the Capitol and the Library of Congress, as well as the popular night walk on the National Mall, coincide with the study of United States history, which is a class that marks a leap forward in the development of critical thinking skills. The writing of the Rowland Historic Preservation paper helps to bring a challenging year of making connections, thinking deeply and fastidiously working on analytical skills to a close.

Furthermore, in the last few years we have remodeled the Upper School history curriculum to make space for an elective system, where teachers design their own courses based on their academic passions, modeling the discussion-based seminars that students will experience in college. The variety of courses offered even sprinkle in a bit of some other social sciences such as psychology, economics, political science and public health. These classes focus on analytical, communication, writing and problem-solving skills. Classes such as Women’s History and Modern Black America highlight continued issues facing the world today, and students in Epidemics in Society look at civil liberties in the face of a public health crisis. Students are asked to evaluate and speak up, offering their insights, knowing that they might make mistakes. They unpack tough questions and are consistently asked to support their ideas, consider others and work together to draw conclusions.

When our seniors walk across the stage at graduation, they are equipped with the skills that can bring them success both in college and beyond. Whatever their courses of study, whatever career they choose, they are truly great thinkers! As Davidson asserts, “We desperately need the expertise of those who are educated to the human, cultural, and social as well as the computational.” Multa Bene Facta rings true at Tower Hill with the support of the humanities as well as STEM, and our students leave us prepared for success with the soft skills needed in college and the workforce.

Tara Fletcher
History Department Chair