If I’m Bored, They’re Bored

A little while ago, Matt sent me an interesting document put together by Google: what do teens and twenty-somethings find “cool”. Their definition was simple.

Teens feel something is cool if it’s unique, impressive, interesting, amazing or awesome. Something becomes “cool” when it brings joy or happiness or is unique enough to stand out from everything.

I think the breakdown of “cool” categories is noteworthy:

What teens think is cool

Not surprisingly, girls think fashion is cool, boys think video games are cool, and family isn’t cool (also, fun fact, neither are cars).

But what I want to highlight is that school is not cool.

Adults could be more empathetic to the students in their academic environment. Students are bored out of their minds. They’re usually forced to be there; they’d rather be some place else; and they’re counting down the hours to when they can leave and go do something more engaging.

What should the teacher do? I think it’s simple: Be engaging. 

Sadly, some people think the opposite of “boring” is “entertaining”. According to the data, this is completely wrong. Part of the work I did for Summit was to analyze the student evaluations for their program each year. You would think that students between the ages of 16 and 22 would rate wonky speakers with get low marks and the comics with high marks. That is not the case. They both got low marks. The responses generally go something like this:

  • The speaker stood up there for an hour and was boring so I couldn’t understand what he/she was trying to say.
  • The speaker stood up there for an hour and was funny but they didn’t say anything.

Both extremes don’t get us where we need to be because both get us to boring.

I think where most teachers/speakers go wrong with engagement is they ask, “How will this engage the audience?” rather than “How will this engage us?” Passion is contagious. And a speaker who is enthralled with their own material and the students in the room will at least connect with empathy if not interest: “I didn’t get a word of that, but he was sure passionate about.”

What breaks my heart is that I meet far too many teachers who are bored. And then we wonder why students aren’t more engaged. It’s not a mystery: attitude reflects leadership. So the rule of nature we should embrace is, “If I’m bored; they’re bored.”