If you ask a child what they want to be when they grow up and why, you’re likely to get a direct, easy to understand answer. “I want to be a soccer player. I like to play soccer,” or “I want to be a dancer. I like to dance.” We, as the seasoned adults, may chuckle to ourselves and think, if it was only that simple that the things we enjoyed doing translated into self-sustaining work. Though, when we, the wise adults, begin to think about what types of work we want to do, our approach is often only slightly more sophisticated. We are likely to consider our salary requirements, where we want to live, and if we are willing or able to re-train ourselves if we don’t already meet the job’s requirements. But we often don’t consider what a job entails past the description of the job. A job driving a school bus, for example, involves driving children to school. Will we like driving children to school or not?
Sam Chaltain, a strategic communications consultant whose work focuses on teaching and learning, recently wrote an opinion piece published in the New York Times about just that – driving a school bus – featuring Lavonda Thompson, a bus driver in Hartsville, South Carolina. Hartsville is a small community with a relatively even number of black and white students of varying socioeconomic status, but with large pockets of poverty. Hartsville partnered with Yale University to better meet the needs of school children in the hope of improving educational outcomes. Researchers discovered that children often arrived at school distracted by events that took place on the bus and that a surprising number of reports were filed by bus drivers documenting children’s poor behavior.
To address the school bus experience, an initiative was launched to train bus drivers on the developmental needs of children and how drivers may constructively intervene during misbehavior and better communicate with parents. Learning now starts on the bus with an emphasis on promoting good behavior versus punishing poor behavior. Lavonda Thompson’s job may still be best defined as bus driver, but her role involves many responsibilities that could not be easily defined in a job description.
When we think about what it is we want from a job, may it be a job we currently have or one we are considering, our thinking should not be limited to the job’s description. There may be opportunities to redesign a job by what we are willing to put into it.