After her experience as a journalism teacher at San Carlos High School, Esther Wojcicki joined the staff at Palo Alto High and created its media arts program.
An innovative initiative that began with 19 students today boasts nearly 700, making it the largest scholastic media program in the nation.
The internationally recognized teacher shared some of her teaching tips with members of the Rotary Club of Los Altos July 11.
Her 2019 best-seller, “How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results,” describes her revolutionary system, known as “The Woj Way.” Already translated into numerous languages, the book details her system, which primarily encourages creativity and self-confidence.
A visit to Paly by 30 inquisitive school superintendents from China motivated Wojcicki to write the book, she said. She emphasized that she values creative thinking that does not follow the rules – like the French painters who flouted the established Parisian Salon art exhibition rules, leading to a wildly successful and popular new vision of art, Impressionism. She also quoted Albert Einstein: “We cannot solve problems with the same thinking used when we created them.”
Ken Robinson – considered one of the most successful TED speakers – backs up Wojcicki’s encouragement of creative thinking.
What makes a successful person?
Not the current school system in which students are taught to follow the rules and are penalized for their mistakes, according to Wojcicki. “How to Raise Successful People” seeks to change the system so that students will feel empowered to follow their dreams, believe in themselves, gain a sense of purpose in life and develop social relationships. Her No. 1 goal, she said, is for youth to develop trust and belief in themselves.
Teachers and parents can collaborate toward this end, Wojcicki said, by banning electronic devices from children ages 5 and under. The purpose of kindergarten should be to build social-emotional skills, not competition. Children need encouragement in developing confidence to be themselves.
Wojcicki calls her system the “TRICK” approach, representing the development of Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration and Kindness.
Helicopter parents and tiger moms have no place in this more relaxed environment. Her system is not based on grades in classes, but rather on mastery of the subject, possibly gained through reanalysis, revision and rewriting until the student has conquered each assignment.
Wojcicki has received three honorary doctorates and numerous other awards for her work.
The most obvious demonstration of The Woj Way’s effectiveness lies in her three daughters’ successes: Susan Wojcicki is CEO of YouTube, Anne Wojcicki is CEO of 23andMe and Janet Wojcicki is a professor of pediatrics at UC San Francisco Medical School.
Marlene Cowan is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos. For more information, visit losaltosrotary.org.