(This post is cross-posted on the Notes from the Leadership Team Blog on Trinity School’s Website.)
If you haven’t seen Steve Jobs’ 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford University, it’s worth watching. I find it interesting that Jobs, arguably one of the greatest innovators throughout history, spends very little time in his address talking about the products that made him famous. Instead, he reflects on process…specifically how personalized learning, failure, and perseverance were integral to his career and ultimately to the success of his company. In my mind, the legacy that Steve Jobs leaves for all of us is powerful: we must value and celebrate the process. We must try to relinquish our focus on product.
So what does this look like in education? In parenting? What might we all learn from Steve Jobs?
1. We can learn that personalizing learning matters.
“The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting…I loved it. And what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.”
Jobs dropped out of Reed College after only six months and did so to pursue a personalized path to learning. Although he “dropped-out” of college, he spent his time “dropping-in” to classes like calligraphy. These classes, more aligned to his passions and strengths, allowed him to build a foundation for his future and even shaped the distinct typography that personal computers have today. What if Jobs didn’t possess the self-knowledge and confidence to chart his own path?
2. We can learn that failure shouldn’t be feared.
“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me…It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”
Even though Jobs was fired from Apple, the company he started in his parents’ garage, he wasn’t deterred by failure. Instead, he saw failure as opportunity. He was able to reflect, connect-the-dots, and grow from what was a personally and professionally difficult time in his life. What if Jobs hadn’t possessed the ability to reflect and grow from seemingly insurmountable obstacles?
3. We can learn that perseverance is priceless.
“I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love.”
Regardless of whether you are 5, 15, or 55, “sometimes life hits you on the head with a brick.” Jobs reminds us that it is our reaction to those setbacks which often determines our future. Jobs kept going, in part because he loved what he was doing, and also because he was used to overcoming setbacks. He learned perseverance by persevering and found many opportunities to practice. What if Jobs adopted a spirit of bitterness and resentment instead of a spirit of perseverance and optimism?
It’s tempting for all of us, as educators and as parents, to have a heightened focus on product. The B+ on the science test, the acceptances to secondary schools, the stickers on the behavior chart. However, at Trinity, our Mission Statement states that we aim “to create a community of learners in which each child can acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to achieve his or her unique potential.” That knowledge, the skills, and those attitudes are sometimes hard to quantify.
It’s certainly easier to display a math test with a 100% score on the refrigerator or reward children for finishing a certain number of chapter books, but how can we, just as Jobs reminded us in his Commencement Address, honor and celebrate our children’s processes of learning, of growing, and of becoming young people who will – at some point in the future – do great things? If we are always focused on the product or the “end-thing” (whatever that thing may be), we may overlook those very valuable moments of growth and development happening right before our eyes. These moments, all part of the learning process, often matter more than the end product. They are they moments which Jobs alluded to that shape character and more substantially impact a child’s life and journey toward realizing their unique potential.