A Conversation of Values

Today in my human resources class we were talking about the different ways people view work and the importance of  “good work” and a “good workplace.” The idea of “good work” entails 6 key components:

  • intrinsically interesting
  • varying/challenging tasks
  • opportunities for personal achievement and fulfillment
  • teamwork with autonomy
  • pay and job security
  • investment in human capital

These factors are important because “good work” leads to higher levels of job satisfaction, commitment, and motivation which leads to better job performance and overall a more productive business, so it’s mutually beneficial to employees and employers to make a good workplace.

Naturally, me being me, I saw these 6 components and wondered, is school a good workplace? For all stakeholders (admin, staff, teachers, students, parents)?

I mean if we know incorporating these elements leads to better performance based on this business research, to me it seems like a no brainer that we’d also want these opportunities at school.

I’d argue that I see evidence of these components in school, but I think what’s more important is the question of if they are valued. Ie, do we value students being intrinsically motivated at school? Do we value creating a variety of challenging tasks? Do we value-creating opportunities for personal achievement and fulfillment? Etc.

And when I say value, I don’t just mean we appreciate when these things coincidentally happen, I mean do we have goals and action items put in place to ensure they actually happen?

Some may say yes, some may say no, either way I think this framework is an interesting way to think about the kind of environment we’d like to see in school workplaces.

And I know it’s hard to brainstorm goals and action items around concepts like “intrinsic motivation” – it’s something that’s been personally stumping me for years, to the point where I think I’d actually really enjoy partaking in research study around student motivation one day. But maybe sometimes we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves to try and figure it all out, I think what’s important first is to just know what you value and why and claim those values so others know what you value and why. Then we can start worrying about how to make it happen. But a conversation around values is something I think every school needs to have, and more frequently than just when there’s a change of leadership.

A Stormy Day

I only took one semester off from classes, and yet somehow I managed to forget just how awful midterms are. There is a reason GT students call it “hell week.”

Eating dinner at 11pm because you lost track of time working on a report all day. Getting way less sleep than you should because you wake up early in order to start working and then can’t go to bed with all the thought of what you still have to prepare for tomorrow. Making one-page study versions of your notes with writing so small that your hand cramps for hours. Watching Crash Course while making dinner and cleaning dishes because you realize how little your professor actually taught you. And the stress! The overhanging cloud of darkness containing all lists to be completed, deadlines to meet, and tests with timers in the corner of your screen counting down the seconds till mass destruction. And knowing that due to the pandemic and the syllabus changes, pretty much every midterm, be it a test or essay, is worth between 35-50% of my overall grade so that’s a bit daunting in it of itself.

It’s a rough time, to say the least… In high school, we would refer to these kinds of moments as “the dark night of the soul.”

Then to make things harder, there was an earthquake this morning that caused the power to go out on different parts of campus, and thus the wifi shut down for almost 4 hours in the middle of the day. But school is all online…

Literally, if it wasn’t for Google Drive having an “offline” function, there would have been nothing I could get done this afternoon. I missed my lecture on Zoom, my textbooks are all e-books, my assignments are all either test on our school website or typed assignments that require research which most of us get from the web.

I was honestly baffled by the lack I could get done. I had accepted school being online, but somehow I don’t think I realized how dependent this made me to the internet. Especially since I don’t have cell reception in New Zealand either (I could get a sim card, but I’ve been surviving this long with just wifi that it seems silly to complicate things with figuring out that whole situation) so I also couldn’t communicate with anyone or even see the announcement about why the internet went down which also included the estimated time it would be back. I debated leaving the building to try and find a cafe with wifi, but it was also raining today and I had no way to search what was open or where has wifi and the other times the wifi has gone down it usually came back pretty quickly so I didn’t want to leave in the rain if it was just going to be for a little. Especially since I was able to be a little productive at least with Google Docs offline.

And I did end up most completing the draft of my giant report for marketing since I had already done the majority of my research and outlined on paper/whiteboards, but I had to leave holes throughout the draft of research, citations, and visuals I couldn’t add without the internet. Also this made my weekly plans all sorts of turned around.

Then I made pasta for dinner and accidentally poured boiling water all over my hand while trying to drain the noodles. Now my hand is burnt and I’ve had an ice bag nearby, stopping throughout writing this post to rest my hand. A weirdly appropriate end to this stormy day.

And that’s what it’s like to be a student during midterms. I remember now.

 

Oh the Place’s You’ll Go

My rabbit hole moment of the day was when I found myself reading through lots of Dr. Seuss quotes. I went out into the “real world” today, and though I’ve already been to the university since moving out of lockdown, the school building is just up the mountain literally through the woods so I hadn’t seen stores and busy streets again until today. I realized I had actually gotten used to all the quiet streets with closed stores so today it seemed so weird to see so much life happening. When I got back I found myself thinking about this experience and an earlier conversation I had with a friend where she was saying she was excited I’ll get to go exploring again, and somehow that made me think of “Oh the Place’s You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss, and thus, here I am now with just a bunch of Dr. Seuss quotes to share that resonated with me in light of the pandemic.

Student’s Thoughts on Online Learning

As I explored ideas posted on the OpenIDEO platform about re-imagining learning during COVID-19, I noticed that there was a lack of student voice in the conversation, and yet students are the primary users of our education system. As a student myself, I’m very aware that at this time of year, when everyone is finishing up final exams and getting ready for relaxing in summer, most students aren’t keen to go on a site like OpenIDEO to continue discussing school right after they finished the year.

So I thought I would lower the entry barrier into this conversation by texting a bunch of my friends (7th graders-college juniors) 3 simple questions to get an idea about their opinions of online learning. I also set up a Zoom chat for those that wanted to go more in-depth on the conversation where we did a more personalized interview and also a brainstorming session in response to OpenIDEO’s three areas of remote learning, equity, and community. Then I analyzed all the responses, found some themes, and now wanted to share on the behalf of those 23 students who contributed.

 

Research Questions

The three questions I asked these learners to respond to are as followed:

1. What’s your biggest frustration/what’s driving you crazy about online learning? 

2. What’s your favorite part?

3. It would be better if…

 

Trends

The three greatest trends were students being:

1. Frustrated by their own lack of work ethic/motivation/focus

2. Enjoying the flexibility in terms of space and time offered by online education.

3 Wishing assignments and syllabi, in general, were more greatly altered to better match an online learning environment.

 

Analysis

As we analyze these trends a bit more carefully, it makes me think of these “How might we” statements for looking towards the future of education:

HMW internally motivate students to show up and participate in school? Teachers currently have less power dominance over students when not physically interacting; typical modes of enforcing attendance and participation such as threats of detention, silent lunch, suspension, etc aren’t feasible in an online environment. Now that these threats don’t exist, students are finding themselves less motivated which leads me to believe that the school work itself and the prospect of learning alone are not intrinsically motivating students. Wouldn’t it be great if students actually wanted to come to school and enjoyed participating in school work? The way to encourage life-long learning is to foster intrinsic motivation to learn – that would be a pretty novel purpose for school if you ask me.

HMW provide flexible learning opportunities post-pandemic? The mid-semester shift to a different learning environment on top of all of the other social-emotional priorities that have arisen due to the pandemic has been predominately challenging; however, the unquestionable best part has been the flexibility it has allowed students with regards to their education. Students have loved being able to wake up late and feel fully rested, knock out classwork while cozy in their beds, and then “get on with the rest of my day doing all the other things I want to do.” The ability to plan personalized schedules and work in a setting of choice has been amazing for so many learners, so now that we’ve seen how much students love this flexibility, how might we continue to provide it upon returning to our schools?

HMW effectively use technology in the classroom? The design for assignments to be better adjusted to an online structure was noted as a frustration, a positive element, and a wishful opportunity. So students loved the teachers that were adaptable and used going online as a way to incorporate new elements to their class in meaningful ways, and they were bored and/or frustrated with those who did not. The difficulties some teachers have had with adjusting to a new technological mode of communication raises an important question about how we can more effectively incorporate technology into our schooling even post-pandemic. What students warn us of though, is that technology can’t just be incorporated just for the sake of saying “I used technology!” It must be incorporated intentionally and meaningfully – there must be a true purpose for why the technology is further enhancing the learning experience.

Beyond the Main Trends

In addition to the primary trends, I found three key sub-trends that emerge when looking at how some of the trends interact with each other.

1. Re-thinking assessment (Responses on test cheating, not wanting tests, wanting more collaboration, and more project work.)

2. Maintain a sense of community (Want more socialization, interaction, and meaningful conversations with peers and teachers.)

3. Use a whole-child approach to education (Frustration with expectations not changing, eyes hurting from so much screen time, new challenges such as moving and schooling with family.)

 

Read More

If you want to read student’s full responses as well as my more in-depth analysis of the sub-trends, I have added two additional documents as attachments on my OpenIDEO post.

Physical Development in Education

One of my classes this semester is Human Development Through the Lifespan. Our textbook is broken down into chapters that represent each stage of development as seen with the lifespan theory (so pre-natal, infant, toddler, early childhood, middle childhood…) Within each chapter there are three sections to breakdown the three major types of development: cognitive, social-emotional, and physical.

Currently we are studying middle childhood which is highly associated with the beginning of formal education. Something that stuck with me after reading the chapter today is that I feel like school disproportionately focuses on these three types of development. Cognitive development being the most emphasized, then sometimes social-emotional development, and really physical development seems to be more of a side thing.

Sure we may have “Physical Education”(PE) time, but often this is a short amount of time, sometimes it’s only for a few days a week, sometimes it’s on rotation with other classes so kids only take PE maybe for a semester or a quarter, and as kids get older recess time becomes smaller and smaller and PE often becomes a choice class that kids can elect to take or not. Granted, as you get to high levels of education most schools will still have some sort of physical requirement like playing a sport if you choose not to take PE, but learning about development is making me wonder, is this enough? At the same time though, as a student, I’m personally very grateful I didn’t have to take PE in high school. PE was kind of seen as a class you tried to avoid because it “wasted time” in your schedule and wasn’t fun… But what does this say about the societal views on physical education?

Research says kids should be getting at least one hour of physical exercise a day for healthy physical development. Furthermore, physical ability is correlated with increased cognitive ability (which school definitely stresses). And there is also a trend in decreased physical activity and increased child obesity levels over recent years.

Physical Development So why is it that physical development in school is often treated as just a box that has to get checked off and then ignored?  Why don’t we spend more time not only talking about it’s importance, but making it fun so kids actually want to spend an hour a day exercising rather than sitting on their computer?

Getting Students to the Table

One of my primary goals for the future of education has always been to include more students, as well as other not as represented stakeholder groups, in the school decision making process. And I’ve found that a lot of educators share this sentament, and furthermore, there are a lot of educators who actively try to engage students in these conversations. And yet, we still don’t notice all that much student voice in education, and if it is present, it’s often the same few voices. Why is that?

Well this isn’t the full answer to this question, but something I’ve observed is that most students don’t respond to mass open invitations. Doesn’t matter if you blast it in a school email or try to “be with the times” and use social media platforms students frequent on, if it’s a general invitation, most students don’t respond. This isn’t something I can explicitly point at research to support (maybe it exists but I’ve not looked for it or seen it accidentally), but it’s something I’ve noticed from experience when trying to create opportunities for student voice.

I’ve experienced this when trying to get writers for Trailblazers, when hosting events, and when just trying to get people together for a causal but focused discussion. Every time I try a mass marketing method to try and get students involved with education initiatives, I end up with little to no responses. And yet, as a student myself, when I’m just going through life I will frequently hear other students say, “Oh ya, I have a lot to say about XYZ.”

So how do we capture those thoughts? How do we get students to show up to the table? Because it’s not a question of if they have opinions to share, it’s a question of how we hear them.

I didn’t realize that this was a unique insight until working on this project with OpenIDEO where I was involved in a conversation around trying to brainstorm social media marketing geared towards getting students to contribute to the design challenge. The brainstorming was discussing things like word choice, length, what slogans are cool now, what platforms to use, what if we could get students to respond on the platform then challenge their friends to do it and like all of those other challenges happening in quarantine, etc.

But I realized the conversation was likely pointless… I told them how I don’t consider myself to be gifted with social media or marketing but in my experience most students don’t respond to those kinds of campaigns for education stuff. And the other student on the team (who I had no relation to before joining this project), confirmed my opinions with a bit more socially minded perspective suggesting that kids use social media mostly for fun and entertainment and those challenges that get passed along are because they’re easy and goofy; an education challenge would require actual thought work and time, so student’s probably won’t engage with it.

I actually don’t know what kind of marketing they ended up going with because I didn’t really look out for it. Though considering I find myself more frequently viewing education social media than the normal student and I didn’t see it, I’m guessing not many other students did either if there was a specific marketing campaign geared towards students.

Yet, for some silly reason, even after this conversation, I still choose the same strategy for trying to get people to join my discussion/brainstorm session held earlier today about learning during COVID-19…

I posted on every social media platform I have including some group chats with students who have previously demonstrated interest in education transformation focused events, and even got some likes and retweets, yet, as I expected only 1 person actually showed up to the Zoom call today. And that was my best friend who I explicitly asked before setting up anything, “Hey does this time work for you, because then at least worst case scenario, no one else shows up and I can at least pivot the discussion to an interview with you.” My little sister did also show up about half way through, and the three of us did have a good conversation from a variety of perspectives about the challenges and opportunities with online learning. So I don’t think the event was a total bust, though it was pretty much exactly as I had cautioned the rest of the IDEO team.

So what to do about this?

Well, what I have noticed is that students are very likely to respond if they’re specifically reached out to. For example with Trailblazers, which I consider a long term individual comittment since the writing/editing process takes place over a number of weeks mostly independently, this means we try to contact teachers we know from different schools and get them to identify specific students we can ask to write. While in school, it looks like seeing students in person and 1:1 asking them to join a meeting then following up with the calendar invite. Even when trying to get teacher participation to join a student-teacher card game tournament, we were much more successful when we individually delievered each teacher a typed and stamped invite in person. And for short term projects, such as this design challenge it means I try texting individually all the other students I have info for.

Now I knew this information before sending out my mass media open invitation, so you may wonder, why did I still choose the mass media route anyway? Well, it’s a lot easier to send mass invitations, esspcially in regards to time which is something I have not had much of this past week with midterms being upon me. So trust me, I know it doesn’t seem like the most efficient method to individually send out requests/invites for students to share their thoughts/opinions/stories, but in my experience it has always proven to have a greater response rate.

It was the exact same message I shared on social media, yet when texted individually I got 12 responses with-in 30 minutes even when sent at 10:30pm/later at night and had at least 3 others specifically say they’d get back to me tomorrow. Versus my media posts had been out for a week and I had 0 people respond to my questions in the comments and 0 people show up due to those posts. (My best friend and sister only showed up to the Zoom because I specifically asked/bugged them about it and they confirmed as much.) That’s an over 1200% better response rate with the same message… And for some responses I was given paragraph long answers per question. That means students had a lot to say and were willing to take the time to say it, they just had to be prompted to thinking their opinions in particular mattered.

There’s a lot that can be claimed about what this says about my generation that we don’t respond to mass messages but will give lengthy responses to personalized messages. (Really not even personalized, just individually sent because I sent pretty much identical messages to everyone, just sometimes slightly changing the initial greeting sentence if I was texting a parent to get their child’s response vs a peer.) And again, perhaps I’m making this sound too generalized, but I feel like I’ve had this happen on a lot of occasions at this point (I can think of at least 5 examples off the top of my head). However, I don’t share this information to make claims about my generation, I’m just sharing an observation/theory that has proven to be true on numerous occasions:

If you want a greater variety of student voices involved in the conversation, try asking indidviduals directly rather than just, “Hey anyone who’s interested I would love your response to…”

The Little Bugs

Throughout k-12 we learn about 5-paragraph essays. I understand why this format is used: it’s a simple way to be introduced to academic writing and when frequently writing timed essays throughout high school, there isn’t really enough time to adequately develop ideas past 5-paragraphs.

However, then you get to college and all of a sudden essays go from 600 words to 1500 words to 3500 words, and the 5-paragraph essay format just really doesn’t make sense to use at that point. But when are we expected to learn how to transition away from the 5-paragraph format? As a student it feels like this transition is just kind of thrown on you without much official guidance. It’s not even that you’re told not to use a 5-paragraph format, it’s just that it’s obvious that it doesn’t feel right when using that many words in an essay. So then everything you’ve learned about essay structure becomes warped. With a 5-paragraph essays we’re taught to introduce three main ideas in our introduction and those three ideas become the focus of each paragraph. Well, just because you’re writing more doesn’t it mean it makes sense to all of a sudden have 6 or 7 main points – then it becomes unclear what you’re saying. So how do you transition to writing multiple paragraphs about one key idea? It’s not really discussed, we’re just expected to start doing it based on gut feeling I guess…

Not to mention there is a whole other kind of academic writing that honestly hardly gets touched on at all in high school: reports. We talk about research reports and maybe look at one or two, we maybe even try to write one, but I remember even with the one time I was assigned to write a report in high school for AP Chem, the teacher’s instruction was, “look up examples online and base it on that.” So my peers and I kind of just winged it and I don’t remember getting much feedback on the matter. Yet we when we then were in college chemistry our first semester of freshman year, we’re all of a sudden assigned a research report every week after lab.

To be honest this isn’t a huge issue in the grand scheme of things that need to change with our education system, but sometimes it’s the little things that just really bother me. The little things show just how disconnected our k-12 and high ed programs are from each other. There are things like long essay and report writing that seem to never really get taught, and yet there are things like general US history that seem to be required every two years starting in 2nd grade and all the way into college… (I legitemently have a “US Consistitution requirement” in my online degree portal, and I took this course online and it was one of the easiest classes I’ve ever taken because I learned nothing new.) The little things on their own may seem insignificant, but they can be really bothersome for students especially when those little things start to add up.

Kylie’s Graduating?!?!

It’s honestly so hard for me to fathom that my sister, Kylie, is done with high school and heading off to college at the University of Pennsylvania so soon!!! Sometimes it feels like only yesterday that I graduated. Especially on days like today where soon after I wake up I find myself talking for an hour with friends from high school.

I feel so sorry for Kylie and all the graduating seniors this year that have to miss out on so many special moments associated with ending k-12. It’s hard to imagine high school without those last moments, but I know they have created their own very memorable moments during this time. I’ve loved seeing online all the carpool parades, surprise house visits thanking college counselors, and the artwork done by lower schoolers in celebration of the seniors and their college choices. It shows how strong and powerful a true community is when distance isn’t a barrier for sharing moments together. And that community lasts long after graduation day.

So to Kylie and all the other graduates of the class of 2020, congrats!!! You’ve worked hard and faced some crazy odds these past few months, and now it’s time to celebrate just how far you’ve come and how exciting your journey will be next!

Global Leadership

The other night I wrote a pre-flection for a seminar on global leadership, so, now that I’ve attended the seminar, I thought I should write my reflection.

Upon the start of the seminar, it was clear to me that our pre-flection assignment was intentionally focused on leadership as a whole so that the point could be made during the seminar about what makes “global leadership” distinguished from other forms of leadership. However, personally I found myself leaving the event thinking “Is there actually a difference between ‘global leadership’ and just ‘leadership’?”

We discussed the significance of global leaders needing to have cultural intelligence – the understanding that different cultures have different values, norms, beliefs, and often priorities, and the ability to adapt and respond to these differences in an appropriate manner. And apart from the nature of interacting with people from different cultures, we said some other key challenges to global leadership include communication barriers (which is somewhat included with cultural differences but emphasised since not everyone from a different culture also has a different primary language), the potential for false assumptions and their implications, and in many cases global leadership also includes a global team and then there can be additional difficulties with managing travel, timezones, and high amounts of virtual communication.

While I can see how these challenges may play a larger role in a global context, the reason I left the seminar feeling like there isn’t a difference is because I believe a lot of these challenges can also be found with domestic leadership, and cultural intelligence is important for everyone in my mind. It’s very possible to live next door to someone that identifies with a totally different culture from you, but if you work on a team with them I wouldn’t consider that a “global team”, yet the need for cultural intelligence and the challenges presented above would still apply. Furthermore, the skills/actions/behaviors we discussed to combat these challenges are also very important to domestic leadership: don’t be afraid to ask questions, approach decisions diplomatically, know your teammates, acknowledge leadership in others, be a life-long learner willing to unlearn, relearn, and learn new things every day.

It feels cliche to say, but the world is a lot more globalized then it use to be, and perhaps in this globalized world we can no longer distinguish between “global leadership” and just “leadership” anymore. Even when thinking about the degree of awareness needed in regards to global events, often times trends in one country affect another soon after, so even if your work isn’t directly related to global events, it’s important to be aware of what’s happening globally.

So perhaps needless to say, but I wasn’t blown away or particularly inspired by this seminar. I think I expected my thoughts to be a bit more challenged or reframed, but instead everyone in the seminar just kind of agreed with each other about everything discussed. I am also currently taking an entire class on international business, so maybe these kinds of conversations have just become somewhat of a daily habit and thus I’ve decensatized myself from the novelty of the conversation. It was interesting for me though to consider how perhaps the term “global leadership” has lost some meaning as everything becomes naturally more globally minded, so I’m glad I had that to take away.

Empathy Seeking

Online learning has been a wild ride… Personally, I’ve had moments where I’ve been frustrated, bored, and even, occasionally, pleasantly surprised by elements that come with school online. Because of this, I’ve partnered with OpenIDEO as a community coach on their current design challenge around reimagining learning during COVID-19. If you have any ideas (tested or half-baked), are looking for new ideas, or just want to express some problem points around our current learning situation I’d encourage taking a look at/contributing to the OpenIDEO site.
I’m trying to do a little of my own empathy seeking because I noticed an (unsurprising) lack of student voices shared on the platform, and yet student stories are some of the most insightful voices we need right now. So I’ve come up with these three quick questions that I’d love people (young learners especially, though I also welcome teachers, parents, parents on behalf of kids, etc) to respond to in the comment section. I’m hoping to take away some trends to be able to share with the rest of the OpenIDEO community to make sure we’re actually ideating for user needs:
  1. What’s your biggest frustration/what’s driving you crazy about online learning? 

  2. What’s your favorite part?

  3. It would be better if…

Furthermore, if you are a student and interested in joining a virtual collaborative discussion/brainstorm session to dive deeper into this topic, I’m hosting a student gathering this Sunday night, May 17th from 7-8pm EST. Use this form to sign up so I can send out the Zoom link.