Here are links to download both Randy Schultz and my presentations on generational theory in education that we co-presented at the 2014 TICAL Leadership 3.0 Conference.
In a former post, I fleshed out my kid-friendly definition of digital literacy. In this post, I'll dive deeper into the idea that being digitally literate means knowing...
Why it is essential to be adaptable and develop lifelong learning habits concerning technology and the digital world.
Adaptability as a 21st century skillImage Source: www.digitalsparkmarketing.com
Preparation for standardized exams, such as Advanced Placement, SAT, ACT, or any one of the state proficiency exam acronyms, revolves around getting students familiar with the test items they will see on the big day. Students are given tips on how to eliminate multiple choice answers, drilled on how to score all of the core points for the Document Based Question, praised for writing canned thesis statements that lead off bland 5 paragraph essays. Can you imagine the uproar from educators, parents, and students if on the day of the big test, students sat down and opened their blue books to reveal...something completely unexpected!?! How many of the students would roll with the punches and forge ahead? How many educators would shrug their shoulders and hope for the best? How many parents would be lined up outside of the head of school/principal's office the next day? In our educational system where accountability is key, flexibility has been sacrificed in the name of preparedness and content coverage has taken precedence over diving deeply into the subjects about which our students are passionate.
Many voices in the world of 21st century education are prescribing a heavy dose of adaptability and lifelong learning to students' curricula as a way of preparing them for the world beyond graduation. For example, Tony Wagner defined agility and adaptability as one of the Seven Survival Skills for Careers, College, & Citizenship in the 21st Century in his recent book Global Achievement Gap. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills similarly named flexibility and adaptability as well as initiative and self-direction as part of the Life and Career Skills needed for a 21st century education. Further defining these skills, P21 cited the need to "adapt to varied roles, job responsibilities, schedules, and contexts", to "work effectively in a climate of ambiguity and changing priorities", to "deal positively with praise, setbacks, and criticism", to "go beyond basic mastery of skills and/or curriculum to explore and expand one's own learning and opportunities to gain expertise", and to "reflect critically on past experiences in order to inform future progress", among others.
Those are great ideas, but how do you effectively teach and assess those skills? My answer: technology.
teaching & Assessing Adaptability with technologyBuzzmath's Adaptability & Flexibility Badge
The world of technology with its ever-present updates, version 2.better, different operating systems, and refreshed interfaces is the best authentic tool we have to teach adaptability and flexibility. These skills are ingrained in our tech savvy students because they live them everyday.
I have never heard of a student with even a modicum of tech facility being unable to function on a school's Mac computer because they had a PC at home. I have, on the other hand, encountered numerous adults who insist on having Parallels installed on their single computer to avoid having to learn a new operating system (individuals forced to do so because their software is not adaptable exempted).
It is often said that digital natives can intuitively use technology. I disagree. They can adaptively use technology. Instead of being wed to a particular look and feel of a software interface, digital natives see beyond the cosmetics to the logic behind it. If changing the arrangement of my new smart phone's home screen makes it more navigable and efficient, then so be it. Give me a few minutes to explore and I'm ready.
This corresponds directly to the skills that employers report they seek in potential candidates. According to the staffing company Manpower, adaptability and flexibility rank in the Top 10 Skills Employers Want. (Notice that computer skills and motivation and initiative also rank in the Top 10.)
So how does this translate into curriculum? Looking back on my days in the classroom, I blocked off a chunk of time before each tech assignment/activity/project to do demos and I distributed packets with step by step instructions. Instead of nurturing my students' flexibility and adaptability impulses, I was herding them all into a neat line to follow my detailed instructions. Should I instead have gotten out of the way? Here are some ideas that educators can put into practice the next time they introduce a new tech tool.
I have a feeling that if exercises like this became more frequent and students were given the opportunity to reflect on their own skill set, they would dig in deeper and enjoy the challenge. I'm not teaching again until Spring, so I would love to have another teacher volunteer to test the hypothesis!
What about Adaptability in teachers?
As Ghandi said, we must be the change we wish to see in the world. This statement applies particularly to teachers, who must model adaptability, flexibility and lifelong learning with respect to technology if we hope to see these attributes emerge in our students. Edutecher's Adam Bellow made exactly this point at a recent #140edu conference.
As an edtech director, part of my job is to shield my teachers from any and all tech problems and then to walk them through solutions when issues arise. The reasoning behind this suggests that teachers are fragile, unable to absorb setbacks, and ready to gasp in despair and throw their laptops out of the window at the first sign of a problem. Reflecting on this point of digital literacy has me thinking of applying the same methodology to a tech inservice. After all, restart a teacher's Smartboard and they're good for a day, teach a teacher how to restart their Smartboard, well then... maybe the students would notice.
I am in Nadira Hira's featured workshop on Crossing the (Generational) Line. This is very much my Achilles heel, in that intergenerational management is a passionate interest of mine. After only a few hours at the NAIS conference, I am more convinced than ever that independent schools actively cultivate the qualities in Millennial students that are then viewed as so onerous and grating in Millennial workers! At the President's breakfast this morning, I sat with educators who were discussing how their curricula are explicitly designed to create agency within students, to connect them with global issues, and to support student actions to solve problems on a local level and beyond. Let's imagine what type of young adults these fortunate kids will grow up to be. I predict someone who believes intensely in their own worth and who doesn't want to get bogged down in insignificant tasks, who views passion as more important than experience, and who desperately needs to feel that they are moving towards a lofty goal. I rest my case.
Ms. Hira identifies certain challenges that crop up with Millennials. The first is hovering parents and how boundaries and codes of acceptable behavior need to be established. Next, face to face communication and conflict resolution skills are being replaced by electronic means, to sometimes detrimental results. She claims (to which I have certain reservations) that Millennials lack initiative and are paralyzed by a group-think mentality. Then, Millennials need fulfillment in their work, and will noticeably slack off when confronted with routine drudgery. Finally, diversity is taken for granted, while inclusivity is still a skill that Millennials need to explicitly confront.
So what do I think independent schools do to mitigate these challenges and encourage the positive tendencies in this generation (which were noticeably absent from this presentation!?!)? First and foremost, stop blaming the parents! In order to move forward with constructive solutions, independent schools need to recognize their part in the creation of Millennials mindsets. This is not just an external problem that needs to be fixed. We are now facing the results of the conscious student empowerment that we ourselves champion. Sure, parents need help establishing boundaries in a world where expectations of privacy are radically different. But our students also need help establishing emotional resiliency in a school culture where success is strictly quantified on every exam, report card, honor roll, and SAT score.
One of the points I loved about Ms. Hira's presentation was her discussion of dress code, all the more pertinant for the NAIS suit and tie/power suit crowd. The visual language of professionalism has changed for my generation. Who said that a teacher is less serious or less dedicated to his/her craft when wearing jeans? You'll recognize me at this conference as one of the only people in jeans. I've got on a nice blazer, but nevertheless jeans.
Addendum: A great question was asked: how does socio-economic class affect this generational paradigm? According to Hira, technology is the great unifier. With access to shared communities such as Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram, Millennials share culture to an extent that was previously impossible.
I was recently perusing the NAIS 2013 Annual Conference program, and I was excited to see a featured presentation on Thursday by Nadira Hira entitled "Crossing the Generational Line". Only two weeks ago, at the Online Educational Symposium for Independent Schools in California, I gave a very similar presentation entitled "Leveraging your Millennials". So to foreshadow this presentation, I've posted a few of my slides and revisited the main points of my argument. In sum, no matter if this new generation of teachers entering the classroom is referred to as Gen Yers or Millennials, they pose retention and management challenges as well as offer unique opportunities to independent schools across the country.
Before dismissing my focus on Millennials as irrelevant or even ageist, consider the shocking independent school teacher retention statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Education. Far outpacing their public school colleagues, a whopping 23 % of new teachers with under three years of experience and 17% of teachers with 4-9 years of experience left the profession during the 2008-2009 school year. The vanguard of the millennials, or my teaching cohort, would have been teaching for 5 years or less in 2008-2009. Although assuredly there are individuals from other generations included among these new teachers, one cannot ignore the large proportion of Millennials that comprise these two groups. Thus, on today's independent school campus, the teacher retention problem is in large part a Millennial problem to which we need to craft Millennial solutions.
Within faculties where three generations coexist and often collide, a simple fact must be acknowledged: we interact with the world and with each other not only through a cultural lens, or a gendered lens, but also through a generational lens.
Independent schools must scrutinize their communities, professional development programs, and management strategies to not only attract the best talent this new generation has to offer, but also retain them. To help in this endeavor, I've identified 5 mindset shifts taking place in Millennial teachers that have the potential to cause tension or enable positive innovation.
To begin, a traditional attitude among teachers is to think "My classroom is my castle and I am master of it. I control everything that goes on within these four walls, and I won't tolerate challenges to my authority". Autonomy is one of the most cherished values in independent schools, where teachers are intellectual powerhouses and authorities in their field. For example, when I was hired at St. Mary's Academy, I was specifically told that I would be in charge of making my own curriculum and that I would have no interference. Instead of being energized by this autonomy, I was terrified. The reason? I come from a generation that has suffered from a severe lack of autonomy. Millennials' parents were ever present, group work was stressed in school, and our generation crowdsources advice from friends and strangers to make decisions. Autonomy to many Millennials is not liberating, it's isolating, especially as a new teacher. NAIS President Pat Bassett echoed this sentiment when he called for independent schools to distance themselves from "a myopic focus on the autonomy part of the equation" and adopt more collaborative strategies. Creating time in the day's schedule for collaborative work and mentoring relationships, as well as encouraging Millennials to plug into online professional learning networks that are rooted in the social media tools we already feel comfortable with, such as blogs, forums, or twitter, are great ways to break through the wall of autonomy.
A corollary to this shift is the oft-discussed Millennial desire for increased feedback. Millennials have grown up in a world of status updates, where friends from around the world comment within hours on our random thoughts and experiences. Where no news was considered good news for previous generations, no news to a Millennial is a sign of neglect. Silence from our superiors makes us suspect that we're not coming up in the administration's metaphorical news feed or even worse, we've been defriended! Better systems of feedback and observation are critical for Millennial teachers to feel valued, challenged, and appreciated. But let's be honest, even the most industrious administrator wouldn't be able to fulfill many Millennials' demand for feedback! In fact, according to a 2006 Hudson intergenerational survey, 25% of Millennials claimed they wanted weekly feedback from their superiors! There are some interesting tech-enabled models, however, that could provide frequent and quality feedback while preserving administrators' sanity, such as the English Companion Ning, which has members upload webcam footage of their teaching for the larger community to comment upon. Creating online communities of practice for new and/or young teachers in independent schools across the nation that take advantage of webcams and other synchronous communication methods would be an interesting and exciting experiment.
Third, a mindset shift that is at the root of most intergenerational friction among faculty is the Millennial rejection of the established notion that one has to first pay their dues in order for their ideas to have weight. Take my biography for example. Despite only 8 years in the classroom, I have taken on leadership roles not only in my school, but also in organizations such as NAIS and ISTE, and from time to time I have experienced some push back for my "ambition". In a 2011 MTV survey entitled "No Collar Workers", a full 76% of Millennials claimed their boss could learn a lot from them, and 65% insisted that they should be mentoring older coworkers. The 2006 Hudson survey reported that 81% of Millennials said that it was important to have direct access to senior management, while only 44% of the Baby Boomer generation agreed.
This might reek of arrogance, but before you condemn Millennials, you need to acknowledge the role society, and yes, even the education system has played in creating this entitled monster. Millennial kids are told constantly that we are special by our hovering parents, that we can do anything we set our minds to by our encouraging teachers, and that we can change the world by well-meaning schools that fly us around the nation to attend leadership conferences. Furthermore, in a world where you can be famous overnight with a creative viral video, the idea of slowly work up the ranks is unappealing. We have internalized Lady Gaga's lyrics "We are all born superstars", and superstars are not intimidated by people in positions of power or hierarchies. They transcend them. For better or worse, organizational structures are seen by Millennials as flat, with everyone from the head of school to the board of trustees as accessible. If independent schools continue to mandate rigid verticality based on seniority, Millennials will view your school as inauthentic and archaic.
Next, our average established independent school teacher is well versed in content knowledge, or what to teach, and pedagogical knowledge, or how to teach, be it UBD, PBL, or any other series of three letter acronyms. The piece they were missing and to which edtech directors have devoted countless hours is how to achieve the T in TPACK, or how to integrate technology into their skill set. Millennial teachers, on the other hand, are not asking for help on how to use tech. With few exceptions, figuring out technology is a more intuitive process for the chronically tech-dependent. But what lots of us don't have is the pedagogical knowledge that comes from years of experience, and the ability to apply our tech skills to the improvement of student learning. This mutual need is a perfect opportunity to create cross-generational reciprocal mentoring relationships, pairing tech savvy Millennials with pedagogically experienced veteran teachers. Reciprocal mentorships could address Millennials' need for collaboration, and our desire to be part of the solution, not just a passive recipient of a mentor's imparted wisdom.
Finally, the last shift is perhaps the most troubling to administrators. Previous generations of teachers were lifers, who remained in the classroom for decades. There is no longer the case. Millennials are constantly scanning their options, and if we are to reverse the troubling retainment trends, new strategies need to be devised.
As a generation, Millennials have little to no brand loyalty. We switched our Nintendo for a Sega, Sega for Playstation, Playstation for Xbox, Xbox for Playstation2. Society has taught us that there will always be a better version just around the corner, so we don't get too attached to our iPhone 5 or job, because Version 6.0 probably has some cool new feature that we've been waiting for. Couple this with a short attention span, and you have disaster for human resources. Millennials are bored if we're not evolving, and if we're bored we're looking for a new job. Living through the Great Recession has gotten us used to the prospect of being unemployed, because after all it was our generation who was either the first to be let go or stuck living at our parents' house in unemployment.
So what are Millennials looking for in a job? Not salary, but flexibility and meaningful work. A Mercer human resources study found that 83% of Millennials indicated that they were motivated by flexibility, while for 73% salary was a motivating factor. And according to the MTV "No Collar Workers" survey, millennials want three things from their workplace: flexibility, respect, and free food.
So is there hope? I think so. As independent schools develop blended and online strategies, the flexibility that comes from these platforms is inherently attractive to Millennial teachers. The chance to grow our skill set and move fully or partially online speaks to our need for growth, and the work anywhere anytime format blends perfectly with our desire to have an integrated work-life balance. Add to this that many Millennials have experience with online or blended courses as students in university, and you have the perfect candidate.