Some say it's difficult to motivate the Millennial Generation, but is it really? We like to complain about them and make comments like, "They're trophy kids" "They think they're entitled" "They're lazy" or " How can I teach them if they won't do the work?" But I've been wondering, are these assumptions about teens really true? Are they really lazy or just misunderstood? While pondering this I watch a TED-Ed video called "From Worst to First" given by John Bacon a University of Michigan professor, author and award winning speaker. He describes his interactions with Millennials through his work as a high school hockey coach. I was challenged by his speech and was left wondering about several statements he made. As a result, I've compiled a few of his quotes about motivation and have written down some of my own reflections. My hope is that these quotes provoke more conversation and contemplation around motivating Millennials.
Make it special and make it hard, harder than you think they can handle. We ask too little of them and ourselves. Millennials want to be challenged. " John Bacon
We've reflected on this phenomenon at our own school. We're a new early college with an emphasis on career and technical education. We opened our school with only grades 10th-12th. This meant that students already established in high schools had to apply and transfer here. Once the word got out about our early college technical programs, students from all over our county wanted to attend. Students left their high schools, their friends, their connections to come to our school because they knew we could offer them something that no one else could.
John Bacon's uses the analogy the U.S Army Special Forces. Why do so many people want to be in Special Force Units? It's not because they make a lot of money or receive fame. It's because it's elite, it's challenging (I am sure that's an understatement), and you belong to something special.
I can't help but to think of one more example and one that I hear about almost on a daily basis. That's the University of Michigan football team. If you're a college football fan you know there's a lot of talk about the new University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh. He has been in the press for months, but in the last two weeks the press has been reporting on his four hour practices. If you've played sports you know that a FOUR HOUR practice is hard core. The toughness doesn't stop there either. After four hours of intensive workouts players who have won in practice competitions don't get to sit on the sidelines and watch the losers run laps. No, "winners run extra sprints at the end of Harbaugh's practices, because in his words, "people who win have earned the right to improve themselves -- and those who lost have earned the right to sit and watch everyone around them get better." (MLive, Baumgardner) Dang, that's amazing! Here is a great example of how positive peer pressure can have the potential to improve success. This Big Ten team is filled with players fighting everyday to reach their fullest potential and it's not easy. I'd bet that for most it's the hardest damn thing they've ever done.
"You work hard for me, I work hard for you. Don't ask Millennials to do something that you aren't willing to do yourself." John Bacon
Whether in the classroom or on the field supporting teens we need to lead by example. Again, let's look at U of M. The Detroit News has captured players responses to Jim Harbaugh's hands on approach to coaching. I think it's obvious that there's a level of respect and awe that their coach is willing to teach a snap or catch a ball. How about us as teachers? Are we willing to lead by example and do what we ask of our students? It could be something as simple as making a video with them or learning a new technology before they hit the pitfalls. Whatever the task, we need to show students we're willing to do it too.
"Set goals, they like to be challenged." John Bacon
As teachers we're accustomed to setting goals. We use S.M.A.R.T goals for school improvement plans, yearly professional development goals, and goals centered on our PLT time. But what about student created goals? If we want students to achieve measured success we need to guide them in making personal goals that are measurable and public. Maurice Alias in his blog called "Helping Students Set Goals and Find Success" gives a step-by-step process for setting small goals that lead to success.
"They want discipline, they want to be challenged, and they want direction. They want to belong to something bigger than themselves. If you give them your best, they will give you everything." John Bacon
I don't think it's too much to ask of ourselves to challenge students with something they believe in and making the learning experience worth it. Whether it's challenging them with clear outcomes, leading by example, or guiding them in personal goal setting. I think all of these things are reasonable and worthy of exploring because again, are we making assumptions about this generation or does the problem really reflect back to us?
Teacher, leader, curious observer, explorer of the world and everything in it, passionate about new experiences, and making connections with people.