At the start of a new academic year in South Africa, I thought it would be a good idea to give teachers some things to think about for teaching Generation Why successfully. However, many of the observations can be applied to managers, team leaders, corporate trainers, human resource practitioners, departmental heads and even parents, with a little creativity around adapting the generalized suggestions I provide to your specific environment and the Gen Why socioeconomic group that you deal with.

I do believe that the socioeconomic overlay on to generation theory must be taken in to account, but I do also think that Generation Why I have a lot in common. I have purposefully called them Generation Why (as apposed to Generation Y) in this blog, because if you learn anything from reading this, hopefully you will learn that the old ‘because I said so’, ‘because I am your superior in age’, ‘because I have a degree and so many years experience’, because I know what I am doing’ rule simply no longer applies. Social, political, family and school (or management) hierarchies as we used to know them have broken down (whether we think that is a good thing or not is not the point). Generation Why have always lived in a world of equal opportunity (even if not equality), they have grown up with icons like Nkosi Johnson and Brittany Spiers (I hate to lump them in to the same sentence) who are their own age. People are becoming successful and influential at a younger and younger age as successful entrepreneurs and charitable leaders. Generation Why have also grown up as digital natives. You have been asking your children since they were six to help you fix the DVD player or install your new computer. They are much more comfortable with gathering information on-line, staying connected to friends via social media and putting themselves out there with the ease and confidence meant only for people 10 years older. In my view, they have a point when they question why they should do something; and whether we older adults like it or not, it is time to start reflecting on whether our past or current practices are still relevant or useful.

I know, it’s hard and frustrating. You grew up in a system that didn’t change that much. The curriculum stayed the same, classroom rules stayed the same, teaching methodologies stayed the same; and departmental regulations stayed the same. Students knew their place as student and you were only really expected to worry about their academic advancement. Now you find yourself being role-model, teacher, parent, friend, confident, psychologist, nurse and financial adviser whilst grappling with the influence of huge societal problems from drugs to absent parents, discipline problems (especially in over-crowded schools) and increased competition to sell yourself, your subject and your school. Not easy? Welcome to the new world of work, everybody is feeling the challenge.

These challenges are what might hopefully motivate you to look at what you can do differently to become more successful at what you have always done. If you want to learn more about the new world of work specifically, browse through any number of any of our blogs, they are all about how the world is changing, from various different angels. If you think you know the Generation Why value system, but want a quick refresher, click here. The focus of this blog, however, is to provide suggestions on what you can do differently in order to be more successful.

What do modern teenagers want?

  • Truth and transparency
  • Opportunities to build on and off-line communities and to collaborate with the real world
  • Diverse, real and tangible experiences
  • Self-development opportunities
  • To know what is out there for them to learn and benefit from
  • Opportunities to voice their opinion or to contribute to improving the system
  • How to learn and to get excited about learning (because they are going to be engaging in learning forever)

How does one teach (manage) Generation Why?

The methodology of Outcomes Based Education (OBE) which suggested a shift away from pure content or knowledge based learning and in to an expanded focus on skills, values and attitudes as well. Whilst OBE has been rejected now, largely because it was not successful generally, I think there is much to learn and embrace from the ideology. I do think that in everything teachers do with the content, there should be an underlying focus on what skills can be taught; and how can I teach this so that the process will benefit my students in preparing them for the real world. For example, in English, teaching them Shakespeare: how does reading the text in class assist your students? Perhaps it does, but perhaps it would be better to suggest they read the text at home and the time you would have spent reading (where 90% of them will be thinking about other things and day dreaming rather than engaging with the text) can be spent in discussion around how it is relevant to their current lives. I know most of them will read the text at home, but it doesn’t matter, they are not engaging with it in class either. Your job is to get them excited about Shakespeare and how the text can make them in to better people in 2012.

Some tips:

  • Memorizing facts in class is a no no. They can do this at home, which they will, once they see the benefit to doing so
  • Acknowledge that people have different learning styles and types of intelligences. The teacher has to be adaptable to that (boys and girls learn differently also)
  • Ask students lots of questions and let them solve or come up with creative ways to learn themselves. Learning increasingly should be a collaborative experience between student and teacher (do you have the self-assurity to let this happen?). Remember they know their world better than you do
  • Give them personal challenges (which will differ). So don’t see them as all the same, because they are not
  • There should always be a practical application to almost every lesson. The skills of helping them see how theoretical information can be applied practically is fundamental to their success in the new world of work
  • Give them plenty of feedback and encouragement. One of the best things you can do as a teacher is provide young people with confidence about exactly who they are (with no better than scenarios). Think about how cut-throat the world that they are entering is, and how few mentors, parents, communities support systems they have in place. They need all the help they can get in believing in themselves. I know you are reading this with your mouth hanging open in disbelief because they are the most arrogant generation to date, but most of the time that is a cover up, they are street-smart and cocky, but also young, naive, lonely and insecure
  • Teaching today goes way beyond the curriculum
  • Use varied methodologies and lots of visual stimulation (they have never not known a world where they are literally bombarded by visual stimulation every day)
  • Think about what about the information you provide for them is going to stick? Why would they remember it or care about it? Does it make an emotional impact? Is it relevant to today and the future? Does is make sense to them personally?
  • Having an authentic relationship (and ask yourself what that means for you) with your students is imperative. It is the starting point to gaining their trust and loyalty, which are things you are going to need from them unless you want to have a hard time every day in the classroom

Should one use social media and other technology?

Yes absolutely is technology and social media makes you excited and you can engage with them authentically using it. No, if that is not the case. The point is you as a teacher (or manager) should have some idea of what it is, how it works and what’s on offer, and the best way to learn that is from your Generation Why. However, Generation Why can sniff out falseness a mile off; and because you have to earn their respect, if you appear dishonest, you will never be trusted and you will have a rebellion on your hands.  So if you are terrified at the thought of having a Facebook page, or resent the invasion that Twitter feels like, tell them that. They will respect your honesty. However, you will have to replace technology with creativity, which in my opinion is almost more valuable, because they are surrounded by technology and are starved of creativity. Is this a challenge for you? Will you have to think everything you know to be true? Will this involve a huge time investment on your part? Absolutely. But consider this:

a) your students can and would love to help you

b) the time saved by having a good relationship with your students will be worth the initial time investment

Skills young people really lack: (how can you subtly teach these everyday?)

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Face to face communication
  • Basic manners
  • Taking responsibility
  • Taking initiative and accepting the consequences of actions
  • Practical application of knowledge and experiences
  • Adaptability/ open-mindedness to diversity

How do I run my classroom?

  • Your classroom is yours; and you are the adult, remember that. However, the difference today is that you must make your rules, processes, strategies and procedures known up front. In addition, you must have thought through legitimate, logical and useful reasons for why you have those rules etc., and you must communicate this to your students
  • Invite your students to have a voice around the rules. I.e. you could either collaborate with them in making them, or get their approval once you have made them. That way they feel like they have been given a voice and are more likely to take responsibility for any rules etc. they do not follow
  • Structures and systems (and the consequences thereof) work and are necessary, the shift today, however, is they have to be transparent, purposeful and fair.
  • There is not point shouting, the result will be a lack of dignity and respect for you. Come from a place of personal and not positional power, discipline is fundamental to learning because otherwise there is anarchy, but think about how you enforce that discipline.

There is so much more I have to offer on this subject, but this is becoming the longest blog post in the world. If you would like to learn more, debate any of the above in more depth, or get practical ideas please do contact me at [email protected] and I would love to help you.

Let me know if you would like a series on a subject like this, and perhaps I can write about each sub-topic in more depth either from a teaching or managing perspective.







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