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Can Gen Y Fix Our Schools?

By Vicki Zakrzewski | January 22, 2013 | 0 comments

They may get a bad rap, but research suggests that the needs of Gen Y teachers could help us create thriving schools.

Right now, Generation Y teachers are in a game of chicken with the school system. And it’s anybody’s call as to who will win.

Many believe that Gen Y is flakey and entitled; Gen Y teachers (those born between the years of 1977 and 1995) are lending credence to that belief by leaving their profession in droves. But why is this?

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Research suggests that Gen Yers have very specific workplace demands, and they’re turned off by today’s school environments, which include few rewards, minimal opportunities to collaborate with other teachers, and little-to-no feedback from administrators. As a result, Gen Y teachers are expressing their dissatisfaction with their feet—and, consequently, reinforcing certain generational stereotypes.

So if Gen Yers won’t tolerate these school environments, why should administrators cater to their needs? Because what Gen Yers want from a workplace may, according to scientists, actually create thriving schools—a win-win situation for everyone in the end.

To help administrators better understand their Gen Y teachers, here are four suggestions for how to engage and retain these teachers—suggestions that should also go a long way toward building a positive school culture.

1) Provide opportunities for collaboration. The isolation of teaching may be off-putting to Gen Yers, as they prefer to work in teams—not unusual for a generation that grew up with social networking and cooperative learning. So encouraging your teachers to work with each other on curriculum development, special projects, team-teaching, and more, will feed Gen Y’s need for teamwork.

But they’re not the only ones who will benefit from collaboration. Research shows that participating in professional learning communities can improve teaching practice and student achievement—both of which will boost teachers’ morale.

In addition, some scientists suggest that cross-generational teams will help foster positive relationships between teachers of varying experience—a major factor in positive school cultures. So encourage veteran teachers to share their wisdom and new ones to share their knowledge of the latest teaching techniques, especially if it involves technology, a particular Gen Y strength.

2) Shower them with rewards and recognition. Gen Yers expect their successes to be acknowledged. Remember, these are the children who received a ribbon even if they came in 8th place.

But they’re not the only ones who’ll benefit from more pats on the back: Researchers have found that lack of recognition in the workplace is the second highest cause of psychological distress for employees. In contrast, rewarding employees for a job well-done can yield such benefits as improved job satisfaction, productivity, and performance, along with enhanced on-the-job learning. It also can smooth the way for organizational change—so if your school is on an improvement track, recognizing teachers for their efforts could go a long way.

These days, the increasing demands placed on all teachers jeopardize the intrinsic rewards of teaching, like seeing the light bulb going on in a student’s head. If Gen Y’s need for recognition compels schools to do more to show they value our teachers, that might help restore some of those rewards for all teachers.

Find ways to tell both Gen Y and veteran teachers that they’re doing a great job—and not simply because they improved their students’ test scores, which is actually not a motivating factor. Effective administrators will go the extra mile and ask their teachers how they want to be recognized for a job well done.

3) Be a mentor. Gen Y teachers want constructive feedback from their superiors that will help them improve their teaching—and they want it often. If you’re not available, ask an experienced teacher who teaches a similar grade or subject to mentor Gen Yers.

An effective mentoring relationship can actually help with teacher retention. It’s important to note, however, that mentoring requires both skills on the part of the mentor and compatibility between the mentor and mentee. According to researchers, a mentor must:
• Create a safe place where the mentee can be vulnerable and ask questions;
• See the potential for growth in the mentee;
• Set clear expectations and outcomes for the relationship;
• Deliver constructive feedback and communicate with rather than at the mentee.

4) Walk the talk. It’s especially important to Gen Yers that their personal values align with their employer’s—they’re the most service-oriented generation on record, research suggests. A friend of mine who coaches new teachers in urban settings told me that most of them choose to teach in this setting because they want to make a difference, they want to give back. So, if your school’s values don’t match theirs, don’t worry—many Gen Yers will likely refuse your job offer.

However, if a Gen Yer does accept your offer, he or she is going to be watching to see if the school’s values are put into practice by all involved, especially by the administration. And this is a good thing for everyone.

Scientists have found that authentic leaders—those whose values align with their actions—increase employees’ trust in the leadership, along with their commitment to the organization. So, the more that Gen Y teachers—and every other teacher—see that you are “walking the talk,” the more likely they will stay.

In the end, there’s no guarantee that any Gen Y teacher will teach at your school for years to come. Still, if administrators can work with this generation’s needs in a positive way, these Gen Y teachers will have made an impact, possibly for the benefit of teachers and students alike.

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About The Author

Vicki Zakrzewski, Ph.D., is the education director of the Greater Good Science Center.

  

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