How to manage Gen Y teachers: They want more feedback and collaboration with their peers

iStock_000021514404SmallNot so long ago they were students. But, increasingly, Gen Y, the generation born between 1977-1995, is becoming an important part of the education workforce.

Unlikely to have one lifelong career because of their expected lifespan and the rapid pace of change in the workplace, they are teachers for the foreseeable future, but that is subject to change. How can you support them so that they stay as long as possible in their teaching careers? What do they want from you?

According to a new report from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the American Institutes for Research (Workplaces That Support High-Performing Teaching and Learning, Insights From Generation Y Teachers), they want many of the same things Baby Boomer teachers want, but with some important differences.

Gen Y teachers want frequent feedback on their teaching, support peer learning and shared practice, want high performance recognized and rewarded and believe technology enhances student performance, but are more realistic about the impact of technology than might be predicted based on their comfort levels with technology use.

Despite their interest in getting feedback, however, Gen Y teachers have concerns about the fairness, rigor and meaningfulness of current teacher evaluation systems, the researchers found.

“Even though most Gen Y teachers want to know whether they are on track, have a strong desire for frequent and meaningful feedback on their performance, and are open to shared practice, they have serious concerns both about how they are evaluated and how administrators use those evaluations,” the report says.

Only about a third of Gen Y teachers thought that their most recent formal evaluation was useful and effective in helping them be a better teacher. Gen Y teachers are somewhat less in favor of using student learning as a way to evaluate their performance than Baby Boomers and are very skeptical about using standardized achievement tests as a measure of learning.

The report is based on a reanalysis of 11 existing, nationally representative teacher surveys, 3 case studies of AFT affiliates and 7 focus groups with Gen Y teachers. One of the goals of the study was to give schools and districts information that they can use for workforce development as this profound generational shift occurs. Researchers said they wanted to avoid making sweeping generalizations and focus instead on trends in workplace expectations to help administrators retain Gen Y teachers as long as possible.

“Through focus groups, survey reviews, and case studies, researchers identified the expectations that Gen Y teachers bring with them to the profession in order to provide clues to the best ways to support them and help them be effective for as long as they are there.”

The researchers identified 5 distinguishing characteristics of this cohort:

  • They tend to desire more frequent feed- back on their teaching and impact from peers, mentors, and principals than do their more veteran colleagues
  • They are more interested in, and have more experience with, shared practice than their more experienced colleagues
  • They want differentiation in rewards and sanctions for themselves and their colleagues based on effort and performance
  • They want to be evaluated, but tend to be very concerned about equity and validity in teacher evaluation
  • They are enthusiastic about instructional and social networking technology, but expect more from technology than most schools can deliver.

Surprisingly, the differences among the generations on the importance of having the latest technology in the classroom are not that significant, according to the report.

“More than one focus group teacher mentioned that it (technology) can malfunction, ruining a well-thought through lesson plan,” the report says. “It can be costly and quickly outdated. And, particularly in classrooms with students who have behavior problems, the threat of children breaking expensive technology or misusing the Internet can outweigh the benefits to student learning.”

During the focus groups, teachers were presented with various scenarios to elicit their responses. Participants were presented with a scenario about a hypothetical new magnet school that provided teachers with interactive smart boards, high-speed wireless Internet, Twitter hotlines, technology support staff and professional development in technology as well as dedicated time every day for teachers to collaborate with one another. Teachers, overwhelmingly, cited that collaboration as the most attractive aspect of the magnet school.

Opportunities and structures for collaboration vary widely in schools across the U.S., according to the Survey of the American Teacher (MetLife, 2009) About 12% of teachers reported spending fewer than 30 minutes per week in structured collaboration with other teachers and school leaders, while another 41% say they spend more than 2 hours per week, with the rest of schools falling somewhere in between.

Gen Yers want more than talk

There are not significant generational differences in teachers’ desire for such opportunities, according to the report. However, most Gen Y teachers seemed to expect the collaboration to go beyond talking and sharing ideas about instruction, to opening their classroom doors to share their practice with one another.

Their openness to shared practice may stem from the fact that beginning teachers are more accustomed to having their mentors and teacher education faculty in their classrooms. One second-year Gen Y middle school teacher said in a focus group: “When I observe other teachers, I realize my own faults, or things that I overlook in myself.”

Gen Y teachers’ desire for frequent feedback on the effectiveness of their instruction signals that they have high aspirations for their students’ learning.

However, they are less in favor of having their impact on student learning measured with standardized achievement test scores. Some 50% of Gen Y teachers say student standardized test scores are an “excellent” or “good” indicator of their success as a teacher compared with 63% of Baby Boomers.

Gen Y teachers feel student growth is a better measure of teacher effectiveness and that adequate induction programs for new teachers are just as important as evaluating new teachers.

“Gen Y is known for its ‘education-mindedness,’ a quality that may drive them to teaching as a profession. They are not only the most educated generation to date, but Gen Yers tend to attribute their successes to the educational opportunities they have received; tend to be creative and tech savvy; are committed to creating a better world around them, and are confident and idealistic that they can make this happen.

Workplaces That Support High-Performing Teaching and Learning, Insights From Generation Y Teachers by Jane Coggshall et al., American Federation of Teachers and American Institutes for Research, April 2011.

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