The Millennial Question: What Can Educators Take Away from Simon Sinek’s Conversation?

I recently came across this conversation with Simon Sinek, where he discussed the ‘Millennial Question’. I found it interesting and insightful on many levels. For although Sinek is looking at millennials in a workplace context, I believe it raises many questions and considerations for educators as well.

In a nutshell, Sinek discusses some of the alleged characteristics of millennials (entitlement, narcissism, self-interest, unfocused and lazy) and how they came to be. He breaks this down into four pieces:

#1: Parenting

What Sinek says: They have low self-esteem. Millennials are plagued with the lowest self-esteem of any generation, due in part to “failed parenting strategies” that involved too much unwarranted praise, parents fighting academic battles for them and receiving whatever they wanted when they wanted it. Then, upon entering the workforce millennials are faced with the shattering realisation that their mum can’t get them a promotion and that there is no prize for coming last!

Considerations for educators: One of our primary jobs as teachers is to prepare students for the world beyond the school gates. We can’t do this by ‘spoon-feeding’ them every step of the way. Provide structure, yes. Provide support, yes. But we need to challenge students and teach them that it is ok to fail. Only then can they build the resilience to pick themselves up and try again.

#2: Technology

What Sinek says: They rely on technology more than people. Engagement with phones and social media releases the highly addictive chemical, dopamine, which is also released when drinking, smoking and gambling. However, unlike the latter, there is no age limit for owning a smartphone! As a result, millennials are growing up relying on technology for support, rather than forming deep and meaningful relationships with friends.

Considerations for educators: Two things. Firstly: we need to look at our own technology behaviours. Are we being good role models? Do we use our phones at meetings? Or check emails when we’re meant to be teaching? Students look to us for normalised behaviours – we need to ensure that we are modelling a balanced use of technology. If we can’t “switch off” how can we expect them to? Secondly: we need to look at technology education. We teach them with technology, sure. But are we teaching them about technology? Do they know the effects technology use is having on their brains? Do we teach them techniques on how to balance their online and offline lives? Do we provide rules and guidelines around technology use during class time? This is the area I am most passionate about, and am focusing on through my ‘Teaching in the Digital Age’ services.

#3: Impatience

What Sinek says: Millennials expect to achieve things instantly. Millennials have grown up in a world of instant gratification, helped in a large part by technology. However, there are some things that take time to achieve, such as job fulfilment, self confidence and a specific skill set. This is something millennials are struggling to understand, given the instant world they’ve grown up in, and it’s affecting them when they reach the workplace.

Considerations for educators: So often, we teachers discuss how to make our lessons more fast-paced and exciting – for it’s the only way we feel we can keep today’s ‘impatient’ students engaged. Is this the right approach? Should we be catering and facilitating this sense of impatience, or should we be re-setting their expectations? How can we do this? Perhaps immersive tasks that the students work on over an extended period of time, or bringing back more ‘chalk and talk’ lessons or even engaging in regular mindfulness activities and meditation. Patience needs to be learnt, and we can give them the opportunities to practice.

#4: Environment

What Sinek says: Businesses have the responsibility to help millennials. Millennials are now finding themselves in a corporate environment, which isn’t helping them build the social skills, confidence or life balance they need to be happy or successful. These businesses now have to work extra hard to help millennials fill the gaps they are missing.

Considerations for educators: We have a responsibility to help millennials as well! Often by the time they’ve reached adulthood and the workplace, it’s too late – the ‘bad habits’ are well and truly formed. As teachers, we are in one of the best positions to help millennials become happy, healthy and well rounded individuals. Let’s use the insight we now have to do this. There is no one right approach or method, but by addressing these four pieces of the millennial question, perhaps we can go some way to improving their sense of self worth and wellbeing.

A final thought… are we any different?

I’m a teacher. I’m also a ‘millennial’. I can certainly relate to many of the experiences Sinek describes about this young generation. What does it mean when we have millennials teaching millennials? Not to mention pre-millennials who are also now picking up some of the “technology” and “impatience” habits (note Sinek’s reference to all participants around a meeting table being glued to their phones). We may need to focus on ourselves, as much as our students!

Sinek’s discussion was an interesting one, and raises many questions and considerations for the future wellbeing and success of our students. I don’t have the answers! But the points I’ve raised are ones I’m going to be thinking a lot about over the coming months, to see whether I can improve my own teaching practice to reflect the needs of my students. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section! Are you already been addressing these issues? Have you found success in any particular strategies?

About Me

My name is Kim Maslin, and I’m a West Australian educator who is passionate about digital technologies and developing healthy life-long learning habits. I provide a range of ICT-related seminars and workshops, as well as web design & digital marketing services. I am also a teacher and Digital Learning Coordinator. You can find out more about me here.

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About Kim Maslin

Kim is a passionate educator empowering others to feel confident using technology. She has spent the last 10 years teaching students aged 5 to 85! Kim is the author of The Tweeting Galah cybersafety series.