Friday, April 20, 2018

Millennials in the Workplace

Before I jump into this comeback blog post, I have to give a shoutout to my long-time friend, Connor, who inspired me to bring back F&F after quite the hiatus. The other day I checked my phone during lunch and I had to smile when I had received a text from him asking me some blogging and website questions “because fitness and froyo is so awesome”. If you’re an Instagram user, go give @shake_and_stehr (a double win in my book because his username is a pun using his last name) a follow. He’s gained quite the following in the home bartender world, and I have no doubt that the website he eventually starts will absolutely thrive. And when he’s famous, I’ll be able to say that Team Practice Safe Sets won a sand volleyball championship. And that he was my first kiss. The more you know.

Anyway, his random text inspired me to get back on my blogging game. I’ve actually got quite a few blog ideas saved on my phone, as I’m convinced that running inspires my writing. So, it’s a shame that I can’t write while running, because I do quite a bit of that running thing. Last night’s tempo run had both my legs and mind churning after what has been a pretty great week at work, so today I made myself sit down and hash out my thoughts.

I watched this video when it first went viral on social media (I’ll get to the irony of this statement in a minute), and it really resonated with me at the time. The term ‘millennial’ has developed such a negative connotation over the years, and while I certainly don’t think I embody all of the millennial traits, I definitely possess some of them. After all, I do love avocado toast. Though apparently, it’s the reason I can’t afford to buy a house.

The video is 15 minutes long, but it’s really worth a watch. Millennial or not. I watched it four times in one school day, and even though I could pretty much recite it by the fourth time through, I never tired of it. And I really wanted to be offended the very first time I watched the video, especially after the opening generalizations about millennials being lazy and entitled and unfocused, but the longer I watched, the more of myself I saw reflected in much of what Simon Sinek was saying.

So why did I show this video to my students, who technically don’t fall under the millennial umbrella? A couple of reasons. One, we just finished reading Jeannette’s Walls’ The Glass Castle in one of my classes, and we are in the middle of reading it in the other. If you haven’t read it, I highly encourage you to add it to your list. You may have seen the movie, but I promise you the book is better. Her story is pretty unbelievable, but there is such a hopeful message to always go after your dreams and to not let your past define you. Anyway, one of the things that Jeannette has to deal with growing up is a father with an alcohol addiction. Of course, that is something that I have no doubt many of my students can relate to in some way, shape, or form. Though it’s not an immediate family member, and not something I was constantly exposed to in the same way Jeannette was, I was not immune to the effects an alcohol addiction had on my family. So, while it’s true that many of my students may know the effects of this kind of addiction, I felt very confident that they would be able to relate to another kind of addiction: one that fits in the palms of their hands.

No, not a calculator
The cell phone situation has been a problem since the first day I stepped into the classroom. It was a problem when I was student teaching. And as one of my students pointed out to me today, “it’s only going to get worse – not better.” This year has been a unique one for many reasons, but my students’ addiction to their cell phones has gotten out of hand. Before class, during class, after class, it doesn’t matter. It’s like they’re glued to their palms. I’ve had many discussions about it within my PLC, and in a recent PLC meeting as we were again discussing our frustrations, this video was brought up. With the theme of addiction present in The Glass Castle, it seemed like a perfect way to sneak in this important video about what our technology addiction is really doing to our society. I was admittedly a little nervous about showing my students a 15-minute video, for fear of losing their attention, but I was amazed at the engagement I saw in looking around the room. I was also a little nervous about how they would respond to the content presented in the video, but I was absolutely blown away by both their written and spoken responses. It was some of the most productive conversation we’ve ever had.

I felt pretty good about showing them this video – it didn’t feel preachy because when all is said and done, it’s a video aimed at my generation. Millennials in the Workplace. I told them to think about Gen Z in the School System. I also told them that they don’t have to agree with everything Sinek was telling them. It’s okay if something fired them up for one reason or another – either because they agree with what he’s saying, or because they wholeheartedly disagree. And it was nice to be able to share with them my own struggles – I, too, sleep with my phone right next to my bed, and the first thing I do most mornings is check social media. When I’m out to dinner with a friend and he or she goes to the bathroom, my first instinct is to pull out my phone and see what I’ve missed while I was catching up with a friend. I realize the absolute ridiculousness of that statement. I feel as though I do a pretty good job when it comes to relating to my students, but I figured this approach might lead to more thoughtful processing than just hearing yet another teacher give you a look and tell you to put away your phone.

I’m not going to summarize the video for you – I’m hoping if you've made it this far through my post, you’ll take the 15 minutes to watch and really listen to what Sinek is saying – but I do want to talk about how my students reacted.

My desks are currently arranged in groups of four, as my students are working on group projects. Immediately after the video ended, I had them log onto Google Classroom where they would find a few questions to think through and respond to. No right or wrong answers here, but I did ask that they back up their opinions with some sort of evidence. As I was walking around the room, a little part of me expected them to talk about how much they hated it. To my surprise, most all of them were in total agreement with all the information presented. One even went so far as to say that Simon Sinek is her spirit animal. It’s okay, I feel the same way about BrenĂ© Brown.

But many of them told me about how they go to camp and they’re not allowed to have their phones. And it’s admittedly tough at first, but then they’re so grateful to not have that distraction. Or how they went on a cruise and had no service for the week. And enjoyed their time spent with those around them. Or maybe how their phone broke, but now they’re learning just how much they can get done in a day when they’re not scrolling through Instagram every free second.

And some of their comments broke me. They admitted to having low self-esteem and little patience as a result of their constant attention to their devices and growing up in a world of instant gratification. They admit to having superficial relationships, and that their phones may provide temporary fulfillment, but overall they feel as though something is missing.

After reading some of their responses, I wanted to give each one of them a hug and assure them that it was not my intent for them to criticize who they are as people. As Sinek kept saying, they’re a wonderful, talented, and intelligent group of kids, who were just dealt a bad hand. But were they?

I’m on the fence. And maybe that’s because I’m one of these millennials. But the message Sinek was sending wasn’t about how awful technology is. I think technology is great. In both my personal and my professional life. We have so much information literally at our fingertips, it’s an incredible learning tool, it’s an easy way to stay connected to others as well as meet new people, and it’s enjoyable. It is. What I want my students to understand is that our addiction to these devices is preventing us from forming these deep and meaningful relationships. And I don’t want them to miss out on that. I may have x amount of Facebook friends (and I realize Facebook is archaic), but how many of them would I call in the midst of trouble? I’m extremely grateful for the true relationships I’ve formed — starting in elementary school all the way to the working world — and I want my students to experience that, too.

I want them to know what kind of message a cell phone — face-up or face-down — sitting on a desk sends to teachers. It’s the same message we as adults send to one another in a meeting. Maybe I’m not looking at it, but the temptation is still there. I want them to be all in. To be present in the moment. To notice and appreciate the little things that we don’t necessarily notice and appreciate when we’re distracted by a phone. I want them to know how to have a conversation with a peer or an adult. To make eye contact and really listen and to be grateful for their everyday — both the exciting and the mundane — and to not be envious of someone else’s highlight reel.

I told them that this change wasn’t going to happen overnight. I watched the video four times in one day, and I still went home and charged my phone right next to my bed, glancing at it when my dog woke me up in the middle of the night. I can’t give you data on how much of an impact this conversation will have, but in their words, not mine, they all assured me that Sinek’s 15-minute speech really opened their eyes and caused some serious self-reflection.

I’ve known this all year, but my students are bright. They’re probably brighter than I give them credit for, and they totally get it. Their analysis of this video and the connections they made absolutely blew me away. I think we’re all so quick to make assumptions regarding this digital generation, when they’re just trying to navigate the high school years with the tools they’ve been given. And I think, as educators, we’d be throwing away a wonderful opportunity to play to their strengths and interests in the classroom by banning devices and not having these conversations.

I know devices are a hot topic in the education world these days. And sometimes I want to gather up these dang smart phones and throw them out my third-floor window. And then hand each student a pencil. I don’t know what the answer is, and I don’t know how many of them I really got through to. I’m sure that, come Monday, I’ll be starting all over again. We may not fully know the effects of these devices, but I’m fully confident in saying that my students have brains full of deep and meaningful thoughts.

Here’s to hoping this blog post ends the drought, and inspires me to push out the rest of the content I have running (pun intended) through my mind. I hope you all enjoy a wonderful weekend!


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