4 Activities to Raise Student (& Employee) Self-Perceptions ... and Work Ethic!
The news stories continue to tell us that American college students are adrift with inadequate skills for the dynamically changing and high-tech 21st century work place.We are told that American college students have poor work ethics, weak time management skills, and that they demonstrate a low tolerance in being able to adapt and be flexible when the demands of the job require this.
Many students have a higher G.P.A. in their major classes than in their other courses. Students report that they try harder in classes that they are interested in. Let's ignore for now the fact that college students in other countries are more well trained in their fields because most of the coursework is related to their future jobs. Employers are increasingly valuing this sort of education instead of the American model with robust general education courses across the curriculum.
What are American students to do? Well, for one, they do need to learn to step up regardless of the class, for in the workplace, what one does is not always work that is the most interesting. There is always the work that feels like drudgery, but that still needs to be done. So let's look at a few activities that can help students (and current employees) raise their self-perceptions, their motivation, and, thereby, their work-ethic!
- Self Assessment: Rarely are students asked to take stock of what they do know, what they have done, what they have experienced, what skills they have already developed, what places they have visited and where they have lived. It is important for students and employees to understand that learning comes from all facets of life. By simply having students and employees take stock of what they already bring to the table, their understanding and appreciation of what they do in life begins to mature. In this way, they also begin to appreciate the value of new learning opportunities in school, at work, in their community, online, even at home. For sample worksheets, see the student success text on the books tab.
- The Marshmallow Challenge: This widely used activity is valuable for college students and employees for it helps all participants learn ways in which they and their team's work contributed to success or failure. This is a fun activity that is unconnected to each person's career track. This is important because this means that it carries virtually no risk to any participant's self-esteem regardless of the team's final product. Whether a team produces the tallest tower made of raw spaghetti or whether the planning forgets to take into account the weight of the marshmallow atop and has a tower that will not stand without assistance, each team and its members have a safe experience from which to analyze their teamwork skills, their communication strategies, and how their team could have improved their performance. With an added personal reflection at the end, each participant can explore his or her own communication and collaboration skills to consider areas for improvement in the future.
- Speed Networking: One of the crucial areas for adaptability and growth is collaboration. Students and employees need to learn the skills of collaboration, teamwork, interpersonal communication. It is through interpersonal and intergroup collaboration that information, knowledge, and perceptions are shared. So, a simple activity based upon the "speed dating" model provides the opportunity for students and employees to practice introducing themselves to others and presenting their key professional needs, interests, and expertise. In this way, they can begin to practice reaching out to others in classes, in the workplace, in internships and on project teams, in the community, to grow and develop their professional and social networks.
- Community Networking: Most people have little experience with networking outside of their professional fields. While it is important to deliberatively network at professional conferences, it is equally, if not more, important to network in one's own everyday communities--at school, at work, at the gym or health club, at cafes, at cultural and other community events. Students (and even groups of employees) can be assigned the task to attend a specific event with the goals of high-level attendance (arriving on time, being especially attentive and appreciative, and also meeting 2-3 new people with the aim of potentially finding one or more people to add to one's growing professional network). This is an especially valuable exercise today because it reminds people of the value of respective and attentive attendance. If a person attends an event with a poor attitude, paying little attention, arriving late, not participating, then that is someone others would be less likely to seek out to meet and get to know. When students attend an event with a conscious goal of being "an event networking commando," their behavior at the event becomes accordingly more conscious, more attentive, with the added benefits of heightened learning. We now know the importance of having diverse and growing networks for success. By selecting an event for actual practice and having the students or employee group report back afterwards, group sharing, reflection, and learning provides the feedback loop for future practice and success.
These are four sample activities that students find very valuable. Their self-perceptions mature as they begin to perceive themselves as increasingly self-motivated and self-directed learners, networkers, team members, and leaders. Future blogs will build upon these activities and share added tips for student and employee growth. The complete text Make College Work for You includes an instructor's manual with a full set of hands-on activities to support student development, growth, maturation, and communication skills.