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Meaningful Work, in the classroom and beyond

Meaningful work is an idea valuable to the classroom as well as to business. It’s getting more attention in the business world as Millennials enter the work force demanding jobs they want to do even at entry level, and as more mature workers realize the paycheck isn’t the bottom line value if the work itself is dull and uninspiring.

In the classroom, teachers are often working under tightly prescribed guidelines for outcomes and goals. Finding a way to make the classroom tasks meaningful in some situations can be a challenge.

For years I taught Latin to middle and high schoolers who were less than thrilled about the course. (Often it was required.) I could stand on my head or do a song-n-dance everyday to make it “fun,” but really, the hard work of learning a language (especially one with as many technical details to master as Latin) requires —you guessed it— hard work.

This good post at Buffer offers a few ways that individuals can take charge of whether their own work is meaningful. Teachers can adapt these strategies for the classroom and also call learners to mindfulness about their work. We can teach kids how to find meaning in the mundane — because even the best, most meaningful careers include quite a bit of the mundane.

Meaningful work for everyone: the 3 conditions that lead to your best work (Buffer)

Teachers (and parents) affect students’ perceptions of content

File this under “not rocket science” but it’s nice to see some data back up what I’d call a reasonable hunch.

Some new research out of the University of Chicago, summarized here, suggests that teachers and parents who are averse to math (for example, since math seems to be the whipping boy of the subject disciplines for most students) pass on that negativity to their students.

For example:

Previous studies have looked at how parents’ stereotypes (“boys are better at math, and girls are better at reading”) and expectations (for example, holding sons’ academic performance to a higher standard than daughters’) affect their children’s orientation toward learning. Gunderson takes a different tack, suggesting that parents may influence their offspring’s attitudes in two more subtle ways: through their own anxiety, and through their own belief that abilities are fixed and can’t be improved (expressed in commonly-heard comments like “I’ve never been good at science,” and “I can’t do math to save my life”).

Research shows that school-aged children are especially apt to emulate the attitudes and behaviors of the same-sex parent—a source of concern if we want to improve girls’ still-lagging performance in traditionally male-dominated fields like science and mathematics. If mom hates math, a young girl may reason, it’s O.K. for me to dislike it too.

This same effect applied to teachers and at least some data suggests that elementary teachers are some of the most mathephobic (totally just made that word up).
Teachers and parents have profound effects on the children under their care.  To really tackle some of the deficiencies we see in educational systems, we need first to tackle our own.