Take Your Mom to Work Day: What I Learned About the World of Work by Tagging Along at Amazon

Heather Sass

Heather Sass is Chief Academic Officer at Mason City Schools, a suburban district near Cincinnati focused on personalizing learning through a culture of innovation and inclusive excellence. Heather’s experience as a third-generation teacher, a district administrator, and an educational coach fuels her passion for building learning organizations that make a difference in the lives of students, teachers, and communities.


Before my flight landed in Seattle, I was fully anticipating the possibilities of professional learning at Amazon Take Your Parents to Work Day. It wasn’t just about experiencing my daughter’s new work environment with 6,000 other parents at one of the world’s biggest companies. It was also about the opportunity to learn authentically about the workplaces our students are facing and how we can best prepare them for that future.

 

Customer Obsession

Amazon has absolute clarity on why they do their work—to delight their customers! “Customer obsession” at Amazon means listening and deeply understanding the clients’ wants, needs, and experiences. A common practice at the company is to leave an empty chair in the room during meetings as a simple, yet dramatic representation of the customer’s voice.

 

Work Environment

Work spaces are simple, yet full of opportunities for creativity, flexibility, and collaboration. Whiteboards are everywhere—in hallways, elevators, and meeting rooms. Colleagues work in eating areas, conference spaces, and rooftop gardens. Quiet rooms are available for reflection, study, and introspection. The Spheres offer a place where people can work completely surrounded by plants. Flexible work schedules and creative grouping around projects offer choices for the way time and human resources are structured.

 

Working Backwards

Amazon conceptualizes ideas around “PRFAQs”—a 5-6 page document that includes a press release envisioning the reactions of customers delighted with the end result. Another section is devoted to frequently asked questions. Beginning with the end in mind focuses the work.

 

Amazon and Personalized Learning

One of the job titles at Amazon is User Experience Designer. In personalized learning, we can see ourselves as user experience designers for students, by

  • Being “obsessed” with knowing students well—listening to their needs, passions, and goals and keeping them at the center of every conversation about learning
  • Creating flexible spaces and time for learning
  • Being clear and focused toward the vision of the desired outcomes our learners need to live into their futures.

Preparing Our Students for the Contemporary Workplace

At Mason City Schools, we are planning a more comprehensive, intentional approach to the development of the essential learning outcomes necessary for success in a workplace like Amazon. We recognize the importance of developing cross-disciplinary skills so that students are prepared for to think critically, communicate, collaborate, and innovate. We are also expanding our learning outcomes to include critical mindsets for flexibility, optimism, resilience, persistence, and empathy. Paired with rigorous academic content, these skills and mindsets can provide our graduates with a solid foundation for further learning and workplace readiness.

We are actively involved in conceptualizing our approach to personalizing learning because we believe it will not only support the development of those desired outcomes, but empower learners to drive many of the decisions central to the learning process—co-creating goals, choosing ways to learn new content, and designing performances to celebrate what they know and can do. At the center of our design is the concept that learners must know themselves well—what drives them, what strengths they bring to learning, and what they are passionate about doing in their lives.

The workplace culture at Amazon reminded me how important it is to empower learners in these ways. The design we are crafting for personalized learning is an exciting step in ensuring that our students are prepared for their futures—ready to manage their own “learning” as they accept the challenges of collaborative, project-driven work in a high performance, contemporary workplace.

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