If you follow along on my blog or know me, you are likely not at all surprised to see that title of this blog post. After all, learning is at the core of my identity as a person and a professional and any opportunity for development is worthwhile. Over the past couple of years, I have been exploring a doctorate degree in education, but the more that I speak with colleagues in the field with one or pursuing one, the more I am told not to do it. At first I was a little taken aback, especially from the people who had already completed one. I thought perhaps they had a poor experience or they didn't feel like the time commitment was worthwhile, but it is actually for a completely other reason ... they tell me to focus on something outside of education. Hmm... so I have been consulting with a lot of my friends in the field and the messaging continues to sound the same: don't do a general doctorate degree in education because you won't bring anything unique or different to the table, especially if you pursue an administrative position in the future. The more I thought about it, the more that made sense to me. What good is it if every administrator, director and manager has a doctorate in education? Where is the critical thinking? Innovative approach? Contrasting idea? Business acumen? Organization change perspective? So with that, I have decided to pause for a year or two so I can continue researching programs that really fit with the direction that I am hoping to go, which I think is more along the policy development lines. I want to help my institution create and implement policy that embraces student learning and assessment across all areas of campus to show the qualities, competencies, and capacity of our students when they graduate. Right now, I don't think a generalized doctorate of education will really help me with that.
So, what next? Well, as my consulting gig takes off, I have been thinking for quite some time about ways to be more formally engaged as a teacher and trainer. Although I completed concurrent education while doing my undergrad, I never formally graduated with a teaching degree because I opted to pursue a full time position instead of complete the last component of the program - the teaching placements. Despite having seven years of experience as a trainer, I was looking for an opportunity to enhance my in-person and online teaching ability, so I'm excited to be going back to school to complete a Certificate of Teaching and Training. I really think this will help me reframe teaching and training, offer some new nuggets of information, and hopefully give me some more information on best practices in the field. Because it's through a college, I know that it will be directly linked to employability standards within teaching and learning, and will be very applicable to what I do within my specific job and outside of it as well. So wish me luck as I jump back into student life and continue to be a better educator to students and peers!
This morning I read an article that had been posted on LinkedIn by a former colleague: Why Millennials Keep Dumping You: An Open Letter to Management. I found the short post to be very fascinating and resonated a lot with me as someone who would consider themself to be a high achiever and do my best to disassociate myself with the Millennial generation whenever possible. However, if this article is any true indication of that generation, then I have to admit that I am certainly 100% 'Millennial'.
In my graduate work, I wrote a final paper on Millennials and how our current hiring practices do not actually meet the needs of this group. Particularly regarding the emphasis on purposeful opportunities, much of that academic work focused on teasing out this notion that many of our HR practices have been around for years and cater to an older way of thinking. The "tell me about a time when..." worked when we were interviewing folks with years of experience, but based on my research for the paper, this group is not as interested in what has been done; rather, they are more focused on what can be achieved and how it can be done at a higher level. Furthermore, one of the things I found most fascinating while doing my literature review was that although it is often suggested this generation is very selfish, many people don't realize that it can be taken out of context because one of the things Millennials want most is a opportunity to be purposeful. So while it could be said that they are solely focused on themselves, they often do it with the intention to want to make change and make a difference.
When I read this article, all of the work I had done in this area was not only validated, but it was a good reminder that the way in which we hire and train our staff only goes so far. Workplace culture is ultimately one of the most significant reasons that folks stay or go. Hiring doesn't seem hard, but retaining high quality employees does, and as someone who has very high expectations of myself, my peers and my organization, this article really resonates with my ideals as well as my challenges. This connects very well to the first point that it hits home: Tolerating low-performers, which the article points out is "downright debilitating to a high achiever". Check.
The second point of the article highlights that ROI is not enough, because "I need something to care about today". Check as well. Although I can only speak for myself, a bottom line is not enough to keep me motivated to continue to not only work at a high level but be invested in an organization. It is important to me that I know the work I am doing is making a difference in the lives of others, and not just written in a year end report to demonstrate that I achieved some metrics or met some KPIs (which, don't even get me started on my thoughts about KPIs because I think we overuse them and/or don't use them correctly). In my own context, that is what I love most about the work I do; as an educator, my work has meaning and purpose, but as soon as I start to feel as though it is far more transactional than transformational, I find myself craving a new opportunity to challenge myself. So, in the context of this article, I can see why many Millennials move on.
The third concept is around this notion of workplace culture being about free lunches. As the author mentions, "I'm not inspired to be more innovative over a Bacon Turkey Bravo ... I need to be surrounded by people who are on fire for what we're doing". Amen, sister. Don't get me wrong, everyone loves a free lunch now and again, but I would trade it 2000 times over to work with a group of highly motivated, fun and passionate colleagues where purpose and expertise is cultivated. While food may be the way to some people's heart, I can appreciate from my own experience that there are a lot of Millennials that struggle working in an environment where they are rewarded with meals as opposed to with high quality colleagues who push boundaries and think differently. After all, free lunch doesn't challenge you to learn something new, set the bar higher or grow. It merely makes people think they are rewarded for doing their every day job, and at times, that can be really difficult.
Finally, the last point included in the article is about getting personal with colleagues. I have to admit that I don't entirely agree with this one, although I can appreciate that many Millennials "dump" their employers because they feel like a number and not a name. Speaking from experience in recruitment, I also wonder if we create this expectation because it is not uncommon to sell students on our respective campus experiences by constantly telling them they will be a name and not a number. But I think there is a fine line between getting to know someone as a person, and then being too personal. Do I want my colleagues to know that I am a learner, a homeowner, a cat lover, a nerd, and a partner? Sure. Do I want those people to know my life story, my struggles, my personal challenges, and my background? Absolutely not. So while I can appreciate the article suggests that if Millennials do not have personal relationships with management they will walk out in 8 months, I also think that we could all do a bit more work to draw some lines in the sand to identify what getting personal in a professional environment looks like. I do think establishing some boundaries is important, especially between workplace friends and workplace peers.
At the end of the article, the author emphasizes that Millennials want employers "to show me that the work we do here matters, even just a little bit ... But I'm not doing it to help you get a new Mercedes." This is really interesting to me because it suggests there is a difference for Millennials between doing work that they find to be meaningful, high achieving and personal vs. working in a culture that ultimately allows management to make their way onto a sunshine list and drive nice cars. If someone is looking to work in a place that emphasizes change and intentionality over wages, I can see how this would be a point of contention and contemplation.
The reason that I am so drawn to articles like this is because they really challenge me to check myself and my assumptions, and ponder what does work really mean to me. I think that we can all do a better job at times of asking ourselves if we are happy in our role, but also, if we are managing an organization in a way that encourages strong employees to stay. I often think about myself leading a department in the future, and I believe articles like this are important reminders that how we lead and the culture that we create results in the type of employees we hire and those that stay. I also think that we can often forget the importance of establishing a strong culture because we get so busy, but it is important when you consider that we spend far more time at work than we do at home and with our families. If we are sacrificing the chance to see our grandparents, go to our child's softball game, enjoy a beautiful day with our spouse, or get ourself a massage, it is important to care about our role and the workplace that we devote so much of our life to. When life is this short, it makes sense that Millennials are happier to "dump" an employer to seek a workplace that demonstrates they "make a difference to something bigger than your bottom line". I really can't say I blame them, but then I wonder what each of us as managers can be doing to help change that and enhance our ability to retain top notch people.
If you're following along with my blog, you're probably familiar with my post from Friday, where I talked a lot about my renewed enthusiasm for professional development and personal fulfillment. I have spent a lot of time over the past few months trying to decide what I need to be a better professional and to develop my identity as a person first. I decided at the end of last week to undertake in developing a professional development curriculum for myself to help guide my goals over the next 12-18 months. The reflective practice has been really rewarding, and in true curriculum fashion, I started with an Archaeological Dig using a variety of resources to help me identify professional competencies, personal values, strengths and problem solving skills, and theories that guide my work as an educator. One of the theories that I have been placing a lot of emphasis on recently since finding it a few months ago is Integrated Life Planning (ILP). Although it is actually used more as a career development theory, the connection that I have drawn directly to being an educator is really inspiring. Hansen argues that, "Through ILP, I suggest that we are all quilters ... We try to help [others] make sense of where they have been, where they are, and where they are going. We as counselors are also quilters in the lives of our clients and employees, and in our institutions, as we try to make them more humane and meaningful places to study or work" (2011). Furthermore, it encourages inquiry into, what I would suggest should become a self-reflective question: "How can I continuously use internal and external critical life tasks to develop a meaningful holistic career pattern, including both self-fulfillment and betterment of society?" (2001). But seriously... does it get any more motivating than that?
As I have mentioned before, the reason I love education is because it provides an opportunity to work with students and colleagues and help them find meaning and purpose in their life. Whether it is in an academic program, a co-curricular learning experience, community engagement opportunity, or a fulfilling career path, I love that the work I do is directly related to helping others find their purpose in life. In fact, I was once asked in an interview "If you were given a million dollars to help others, how would you use it?" My answer was that I would use that money to help homeless people or those feeling unfilled in their lives find opportunities that are purposeful, because I truly believe that the best gift we can give another person is supporting them in their journey to self-actualization and purposeful living. As I'm sure you can tell, I am really drawn to this idea that we as educators are quilters, trying to weave together knowledge, skills, experience, academic pursuits, and purpose into a quilt of success for ourselves and those we support. With this in the forefront of my mind recently, I decided to use it as the basis of my educational priority: Professional development will enrich my knowledge and skills as a purposeful educational "quilter". I can't even begin to tell you how excited and inspiring this statement is to me in this moment.
From there, I began to list out several learning goals that I felt directly connected to the priority. My initial brainstorm list included 7: lifelong learning; personal values; mentoring relationships; holistic educator; professional skills; academic commitment; and career exploration. As I started to think of what defined each of these goals for me, I started to see a lot of overlap. Academic commitment and career exploration were very much integrated into what I believe my own lifelong learning looks like, so I combined the three of those. I also thought that having expertise in professional skills for my role was an important part of being a holistic educator, but so too was personal values, which I later changed to fulfillment. Initially, I had also connected personal values and mentoring relationships because I firmly believe that much of my own personal and professional success is in thanks to mentors I have had throughout my life and career, but each time I thought more about it, I really felt as though it deserved to be its own goal. The more I started to define what mentorship meant to me, I also really interconnected it with helping others develop in the same way my mentors had done for me. After about an hour of sorting, sifting, combining, defining and organizing, I finally had three goals:
As I'm sure you can imagine, there is a lot going through my head right now. I have all of these ideas about ways I can achieve my outcomes and some opportunities for self-assessment as well. The next step in this curriculum journey will be to decide what my educational strategies will be, and who the "experts" in helping me facilitate this learning experience are. I think I will likely need to brain dump into a concept map in order to make sense of all of my ideas. I'll be sure to post it when I'm done! :)
A creative educator striving to enhance the holistic student experience and committed to exploring personal strengths and fulfillment.