Look who’s joining school cultures!
A new generation has just started or is about to join the teaching crew: Generation Z. They bring with them their own beliefs, perceptions, and values affecting the way things are done. Getting ready to welcome them aboard may reduce culture shock, lower attrition rates, and increase synergy right from the start.
Watch out! They are NOT Millennials.
Z-ers display distinctive collective traits that distinguish them from other generations at work. Born at the turn of the millennium, most researchers would set this cohort’s birth years between 1995 and 2012 (Stillman & Stillman, 2017). Truly global, digital, and visual in their upbringing due to common key life-experiences from entering school to puberty, Gen Z-ers display a collective mindset that distinguishes them from their predecessors: the Millennials. There are two clear aspects where Z-ers differ: their DIY mentality and their individualistic, anti-collaborative way of working.
Independent, empowered, and self-reliant, Z-ers want individual attention and expect immediate results. They value face-to-face interaction and collaboration with 24/7 availability, but may lack interpersonal skills. Opening multiple communication channels for their distinctive demands in style may engage them better and facilitate their induction process.
Institutions will need to accommodate their practices to Z’s new insights and interpretations, and Gen Z-ers will have to adjust to make the intricate transition from teacher training institutions to real classrooms. Easing the path towards both goals and providing clear professional development ladders from early age will be school leaders’ great challenge.
Mind Z’s mindset
Raised in the 2000s, some Gen Z-ers were very young during 9/11 or the 2001 crisis, but they have grown up in a complicated socio-economic environment marked by complexity, insecurity, uncertainty, and global warming. World events that have marked this generation also include wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorism (Al Qaeda, Isis, etc.), the influenza A/H1N1 pandemic and the expansion of social media, which includes the invention of Facebook and Twitter among other networking sites or services, for instance.
The sharing of these significant life-events during early childhood and adolescence has given origin to Gen Z’s collective mindset. These ‘defining moments’ have made these novice teachers age-bound in perceptions, motivations, and fears. They may also present themselves as more pragmatic and realistic, showing acquired coping mechanisms and resourcefulness. Addressing their unique needs and wants effectively will make them more productive and committed to staying!
Houston! Will we have a problem?
There is no denying that each generation shares collective traits or generational footprints that may bring people together or set them apart, generating conflicts around ‘generational clashpoints’ (Lancaster & Stillman, 2002) or ‘generational sticking points’ (Shaw, 2013) such as communication, dress code, or professional training.
Finding ways to make collective agreements and understanding that no generation is better or worse but simply different, as Stillman & Stillman (2017) propound, does provide a way out. And above all, remember the golden rule: generational stereotypes describe large numbers of people, but do not predict individual behavior (Shaw, 2013).
Opportunity, threat, or both?
Schools and related educational centers are the most generational diverse ambit. No other organization or social institution displays such a variety of co-existing generations interacting on a daily basis for two main reasons. Firstly, emerging Generation Z, is the largest component of school demographics as its members are still populating classrooms as students. Secondly, whereas traditionalists have mostly retired from workplaces, they have left their legacy of organizational structure, management practices, and policies (Erickson, 2010). This generational diversity, properly woven into school cultures, may bring about lots of opportunities for personal and institutional growth.
All in all, there is no denying that Z-ers, the first true generation of teachers of the millennium will impact school cultures and all stakeholders with their values, beliefs, and shared meanings. And they have come to stay!
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