11 Characteristics of Meaningful Work

Note from the Editor: While this piece by Shawn Murphy is related to business practices and targeted to managers and business leaders, the parallels to education and student learning are striking. Teachers, curricula developers, and education leaders can find plenty herein to ponder, reflect on, and apply in practice.  It was originally posted at Switch and Shift and is reposted here with the permission of the author.

Meaning_People_700x300Managers cannot make work meaningful for employees. Managers, however, can shape the workplace environment to let meaningful work become possible for employees. With a context set to let meaning be experienced, employees can leverage the environment to derive meaning from their work.

Meaningful work is vague. What exactly is it? Assuredly it begins quite selfishly. But this is out of necessity. For work to be meaningful, it is the employee who must label it so. This requires a belief that meaningful work is a desired outcome from managements’ actions. And employees believe managements’ intentions and see actions aimed to let meaning emerge.

To explain what meaningful work is, let’s look at its characteristics. In short, however, meaningful work is employees’ perceived positive value of what they are doing. It’s a source of joy in their overall life. In the words of Max Depree, “[it’s] maturing, enriching, and fulfilling, healing, and joyful.”

Basic needs are met

Think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Employees physiological and safety needs must be met. It’s a base requirement for meaningful work to emerge.

Strengths are leveraged

Don’t confuse strengths with competency. Strengths are what energize you. Employees must experience work that energizes them. Otherwise all work is draining and meaning is absent.

Pull personal satisfaction from work

Employees’ perceive their work to be fulfilling.

Being in on things

Employees believe they are trusted with important, inside knowledge. This includes knowing that there is important information but it must be kept confidential from employees for the benefit of the organization.

Treated with respect by peers and managers

This doesn’t say liked, but respected. There is a difference. At its core is employees’ believe they can speak their ideas and be in action to achieve the best possible outcomes.

See how one’s work fits into the bigger picture

Really, what hasn’t been said or written about this. Enough said.

Personal sense of independence and interdependence

Autonomy in completing one’s work has always been important. Collaboration is vital in the 21st century given the internet and globalization. These raise the importance of interdependence in today’s workplaces.

Employees believe they are valued by the organization, by management

To be viewed as a replaceable cog in the proverbial wheel is antiquated management. Organizations thrive or die based on human actions. To that end, meaningful work is marked by the belief that employees are the means to a profitable end.

Opportunities to know self

Let’s look back to Max Depree’s words. For work to be meaningful, there must be a maturing nature of work. Such an evolving awareness of the nature of work is best met by an evolving, deepening awareness of one’s self. Coaching, feedback and awareness of one’s place in the universe are vital to make sense of meaningful work. Such opportunities are humbling.

Promotion of other’s satisfaction

Immanuel Kant, philosopher, placed our ability to be concerned for other’s wellbeing and humanity as important to meaningful work. Such a belief places an emphasis on a strong, united team supporting others’ ability to flourish.

Recognized, give recognition for good work

For meaningful work to emerge, employees’ efforts are recognized in manners important to the person. Furthermore, giving recognition is believed to matter, creating a cycle of reciprocity that is genuine.

In today’s workplace, meaningful work is radical. For some managers, to influence a meaningful workplace environment is heretical. This is precisely what our workplaces need.

Image: Shawn Murphy

The Importance of Student Voice

The following is a guest post by Mark R. Boyer, Assistant Superintendent for Learning, Singapore American School

Student Voice

I was recently approached by a high school student who asked, “In order for student voices to be heard, should student evaluations of teachers be mandatory and used in the teacher’s performance review? Furthermore, is there a way to make sure that student feedback is fair and valid?”

If we truly believe in the value of students to be co-designers in learning and empowered in their learning, shouldn’t we also value their important feedback? If we do value student feedback, then how can we make this meaningful and constructive?

Many schools in the U.S. and internationally are addressing this “controversial issue” with no consensus on a particular approach to pursue. Some schools advocate for student feedback as a “weighted component” on teacher evaluation with other components, some schools provide opportunity for student feedback that is exclusively reviewed by the teacher, and some schools provide opportunity for the teacher to verbally reflect on “themes” within student feedback with one’s supervisor. Many schools simply ignore student feedback as too complicated and untrustworthy.

The most significant recent research on teacher evaluation was initiated in 2009 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and resulted in a 2011 report known as Measures of Effective Teaching (MET). One of the five variables valued by the MET report was “student perceptions of the classroom instructional environment” in which a field-tested instrument (i.e., Tripod Survey) was used.  A finding of the MET report was that there is a significant interdependent relationship among student achievement, classroom observations and feedback by supervisors, and student feedback.

The challenge in all of this, however, is to be clear about the purpose of teacher evaluation so as to guide appropriate selection of tools and processes, and to also understand that contextual needs in one system may be very different for another system. Finally, quality implementation of the right tools and processes is everything. Anything less than quality implementation can have confusing and damaging results.

The downside of ineffective implementation of student feedback can lead to the following:

* students may not appreciate demanding teachers until years later, and may provide premature responses

* students may not be “trained” in how to provide constructive feedback, whereupon responses can be personally and professionally hurtful

* teachers may feel that popularity is most important, and consequently adjust teaching to “win” students

* students may use their own grades to determine how they view their teachers, and perhaps not always take personal responsibility

* a culture of evaluation and judgment may become more prevalent than a culture of mutual respect, trust, and support

Having said this, the quality of the student-teacher relationship is essential to quality teaching and learning. I believe quality feedback is key to growth and improved performance, whether the feedback is as a student, teacher, or administrator. Rather than a “weighted” component on teacher evaluation, I would suggest the following approach for student feedback:

Allow all students throughout the school to provide anonymous survey responses using a few standard questions for their teachers (with appropriate accommodations for elementary students) and perhaps a few questions of particular interest to the teacher, which then becomes a conversation between the teacher and supervisor. This conversation would not be about specific comments, but rather about any predominant themes:

    • What pleased you most from your students’ responses?
    • What surprised you?
    • Are there any changes or adjustments you intend to make as a result of this feedback?

The supervisor’s evaluation of this component is then based on the teacher’s reflective ability to respond to “themes” within student feedback, and the supervisor can also serve as a prompt for any areas deserving further consideration. When effectively implemented, this approach would ensure that student feedback is purposefully heard and valued and that the professional relationship of the teacher and supervisor has further information for reflection and consideration.

In line with the MET report, I think some kind of triangulation of qualitative and quantitative data that utilizes student feedback (with teacher reflection), teacher and/or Professional Learning Community evidence of student learning and growth (with teacher reflection), and supervisor feedback from classroom observations (with teacher reflection) would help to provide a balanced and multi-dimensional approach for more intentionally and comprehensively understanding teaching and learning. There’s certainly considerable development needed in each of these areas, but can be worthy if the focus is on creating a learning-focused school in a trusting and mutually supportive environment where everyone is vested in each other’s growth and success.

Education is a lifelong calling, and it is value-added when there are meaningful processes to help all of us as educators to grow, to build on our relationships, and to continuously reflect and act on ways to improve the quality of learning and opportunities for all students.

Image: Dell’s Official Photo Page CC

The Student Quest: Choose 2 Matter

margaret mead quoteIf you ever have a chance to meet Angela Maier, you’ll know who she is immediately.While probably not the tallest person in the room, in a hall of 5,000 she may well be the most energetic. A former teacher turned consultant, author of two books, including “Classroom Habitudes” and now Chief Instigator, Angela has amassed a global, passionate network at the intersection of her enthusiasm, belief in each and every person, and unsinkable optimism.

Beginning with a TEDx Des Moines Talk, she launched her #YouMatter campaign, an effort to instill in others the simple idea that, well, they matter. Through her partnership with the International Dot Day, which ended up bringing together over 800,000 students from around the world, she recognized the demand for providing young people a way to turn their ideas for making the world a better place into a reality.

The Choose 2 Matter movement is an answer to that demand. As described on the Choose2Matter website . . .

CHOOSE2MATTER – a crowd sourced, social good community where world changers can create their own “Dream Team” to pursue solutions to global problems.

With her signature enthusiasm and network-ability, Angela has brought together a team of partners and visionaries to launch the “Quest 2 Matter,” which the Choose 2 Matter website describes as . . .

The Quest2Matter is a catalyst that challenges students:

To accept that they matter;

To tell others that they also matter;

To take action to change our world.

Students are encouraged to submit their quests — either ones they are currently embarking on or have previously engaged in — that seek to change something that “breaks their hearts.” The submission process is simple (and more thoroughly stated here):

  1. Students choose a quest that matters to them. 
  2. They register at one of Choose 2 Matters’ partners’ sites. 
  3. Students tell their story in a media of their choosing. 
  4. Students upload their story.
  5. Or, students can share their story via email or via another other social media site. 

Students have until May 31, 2013 to submit their quest if they want a chance to be recognized / highlighted at the 2013 Bammy Awards. However, Quests are on-going and the team is already hard at work to find new ways of honoring future submissions.

This is an important effort that seeks to simultaneously raise the volume on student voice, student impact, and how people view the current and future capacity of all students. Additionally, it communicates to students that not only do they matter and that their vision and action are valued, but also that they have power now to enact positive change in the world. No need to wait until they are in their college or career. The future they want for tomorrow begins with their effort today. Nice work, Angela. We at QED support you.

Want to be more involved in the Choose 2 Matter movement? You can “like” them on facebook, follow them on twitter, or contact the team via their website.

Image: RubberBoots And Elf Shoes

America’s Promissory Note . . . Still Outstanding

bart-simpson-chalkboard-wallpaper-generatorIn a startling article in the New York Times, columnist Charles M. Blow lays out some statistics published in a recent UNICEF report that should equally appall and inspire us. He writes,

According to the report, the United States has the second highest share of children living under the relative poverty line, defined as 50 percent of each country’s median income, and the second largest “child poverty gap” (the distance between the poverty line and the median incomes of those below the line).

The United States ranked 25th out of 29 in the percentage of people 15 to 19 years old who were enrolled in schools and colleges and 23rd in the percentage of people in that cohort not participating in either education, employment or training.

When we consider the gravity of the challenges these young people face, both in terms of early educational opportunities and educational outcomes, we can’t help but confront our own moral and ethical responsibility to fulfill what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”

We must work together to reverse these trends and actualize a better tomorrow . . . starting today.

Below are some additional facts Mr 100mg viagra. Blow provided that are both sobering and enlightening.

In fact, according to data released last month by the Children’s Defense Fund, each day in America:

2 mothers die in childbirth.

4 children are killed by abuse or neglect.

5 children or teens commit suicide.

7 children or teens are killed by firearms.

67 babies die before their first birthdays.

892 babies are born at low birth weight.

914 babies are born to teen mothers.

1,208 babies are born without health insurance.

1,825 children are confirmed as abused or neglected.

2,712 babies are born into poverty.

2,857 high school students drop out.

4,475 babies are born to unmarried mothers.

Image: Simpson Chalkboard Generator

Year At Mission Hill – Chapter 6: Like a Family


The idea of living “like a family” is explored, like other topics within the school, as a community — among faculty, students, parents, and every combination thereof. Faculty see parents as partners, and talk about trust, cooperation, and communication as building blocks of that key relationship. The footage shows interactions between parents, teachers, and students — the kind of interactions that shape the culture of the school and ultimately shapes the experience students have day in and day out.

Year at Mission Hill, Chapter 5: The Eye of the Dragon

missionhillSo much of the language that we know to be valuable in education comes alive at Mission Hill. Art. Empowerment. Choice. Voice. Inspiration. Creativity. Student experts. Student teachers. Community.

Every year they employ a school wide theme that aims for depth and breadth throughout the school. This year’s, “Long Ago and Far Away,” and the students share a seam of study (though not necessarily specific content) that everyone can relate to, no matter the age.

5 Steps to Overhaul Teaching

Once again, Columbia University professor, Christopher Emdin, puts forth a rapid fire and common sense proposal for rethinking urban — and really ANY — education to ensure it is student focused, relevant, and purposefully engaging.

The basis of this video: Reality pedagogy which is, “Teaching based on the reality of the student’s experience.”

5 C’s of Reality Pedagogy:

  1. The Cypher (or Co-genitive Dialogue)
  2. Co-Teaching
  3. Cosmopolitanism
  4. Context
  5. Content

(Notice that content is last. Students need to know that they come first if there is to be any meaningful delivery of content.)

This post is a part of our series based on our Transformative Learning Model. This piece relates to Student Investment, Context for Learning, Culture, Personalization, and Academic Access.

“To This Day” Project (Amazing Video)

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 8.59.15 AMShane Koyczan — spoken word poet, writer, and performer — was the first Canadian to win the National Poetry Slam in 2000. That success portended the recent virality of “To This Day,” an emotional and passionate exploration of bullying, victimhood, and the ongoing struggle to heal wounds so as to not be defined by them.

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 9.02.46 AMOne of the many beautiful things about the “To This Day Project” is that it is animated by a collection of artists who created 20-second segments to accompany the poem. The result is a mosaic of visually moving interpretations of Shane’s narration. Collectively, the artistic collaboration of poet and animators create an art form that is powerful, instructive, and deeply moving. And inspiring.

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 9.10.11 AMAs a metaphor for education, it speaks to both the need to cultivate authentic opportunities for students to leverage their strengths and share their unique voices as well as the urgency of ensuring that each and every student is — and feels — safe and valued in our learning communities.

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 9.03.47 AMWatch below. It will move and transform you.

Want to know more?

On the To This Day Project website they write,

To This Day Project is a project based on a spoken word poem written by Shane Koyczan called “To This Day”, to further explore the profound and lasting impact that bullying can have on an individual.

Schools and families are in desperate need of proper tools to confront this problem. We can give them a starting point… A message that will have a far reaching and long lasting effect in confronting bullying.

Animators and motion artists brought their unique styles to 20 second segments that will thread into one fluid voice.

This collaborative volunteer effort will demonstrate what a community of caring individuals are capable of when they come together.

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 9.00.42 AM

Images: ScreenShots from the “To This Day” Video


A Year at Mission Hill Chapter 1

missionhillBelow is the first chapter of a remarkable video series: A Year at Mission Hill. The premise, as described on the project’s site, is simple:

Ten videos. One year. A public school trying to help children learn and grow. The national conversation we need to be having.

What goes into creating a powerful learning environment for children and adults? Meet the teachers, families and children of Mission Hill as they experience the highs and lows of a year of self-discovery, exploration, and frustration. And join us for a national conversation about the state of public education as it is – and as it ought to be.

Every couple of weeks until mid June, a new chapter will be released. The chapters are accompanied by additional resources and invite you to become a part of the story at Faces of Learning. It is our hope that through this sustained, in-depth look at what works in schools, we can have a sustained in-depth discussion, as a nation and as a people, about what we want for our schools, and more importantly, for our students.

Image: Year at Mission Hill and Education Revolution


The Power of Belief – Mindset and Success

Here is a great talk by Eduardo Briceno, described on the TEDxManhattanBeach website as “The CEO of Mindset Works, an organization he co-founded with Carol Dweck, Ph.D., Lisa Blackwell, Ph.D., and others to equip people with the core beliefs and learning strategies needed for success.”

Below is his talk from that event, which is both inspiring and informative. Transforming students’ experience begins with transforming educator frame of mind. (You can see a graphic explaining difference between growth mindset and fixed mindset here.)


Thanks for Crista Anderson and Angela Stockman for pointing this out to us.

This is a part of our Transformational Learning series and is related to Feedback, Assessment, Student Support, and Reporting.