The Generational Divide

After two separate stints as relieving deputy principal, as well as my full time role as teacher and Head Teacher, it is increasingly clear that there is an expanding rift between the generations to be found within the school community.

Teachers, do these sound familiar?

“These kids just don’t show any respect”

“These students are just not interested in anything we do”

“Kids just want to take the easy route and are just lazy”

Are you engaged in these types of conversations in your staffrooms? Are you saying similar sorts of things to anyone who will listen?

As relieving deputy I was constantly dealing with this frustration from teachers and the fallout in terms of poor behavior and conflict. Talking to the students during these encounters it was also just as clear that the students were equally frustrated with their teachers.

“He doesn’t show me any respect so why should I respect him?”

“She doesn’t care about me and what is happening in my life”

“Its so boring, all we do is write notes off the board and have to listen to her talk at us”

“All we get is teachers yelling at us and saying how bad we are”

So what can we do to improve the situation for both the staff and the students? How can we create better teaching and learning environments so everyone comes away feeling better, feeling respected?

Some of the answer came to me at the 2011 North Coast Quality Teaching Conference when I was listening to Michael McQueen’s keynote on “The New Rules of Engagement”. This brilliant presenter talked about the differences between the generations and how that if we don’t understand what drives us there can be very little successful interaction.  Check out his website, The NexGen Group, for more information.

This is what was happening in my school. Over 70% of our staff are Baby Boomers and there are some huge attitudinal differences between this group and our students who are Generation Y.

If we are going to turn things around there needs to be a greater awareness of what drives us and what we see as important. Teachers need to gain a better understanding of the motivating factors for Gen Y (and Gen Z) and, the students also need to know how to connect with what is important to Baby Boomers and Gen X.

Okay, but not every Baby Boomer or Gen X teacher has problems so how does this fit into this scenario?

There are always people who, through their personality or teaching style etc, will not have the same problems in or out of the classroom. They have, perhaps instinctively, learnt how to transcend the generational divide to both the benefit of themselves and their students. We can learn from them as well.

So, one of the main focuses for our Staff Development Day at the start of Term 2, 2011 is to raise our awareness of the generations and how to engage Gen Y so as to create a more positive teaching and learning environment. Hopefully, teachers will take on board the information we give them and embrace the activities so as to take the first steps towards a greater appreciation of what makes their students tick. And from there, I hope they will modify what they do and how they engage in the classroom. If they do, it will be a win-win situation.

I have attached the presentations if you would like to look at them and extend your own understanding of Gen Y.


Gen Y Notes

Engaging Gen Y Students


About madiganda

Head Teacher English at Coffs Harbour High School, passionate teacher and proud recipient of the 2017 ETA Premier's Teacher Scholarship. @Madiganda on Twitter
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6 Responses to The Generational Divide

  1. TroyMartin says:

    Very interesting and insightful professional learning…This all leads back to the changing nature of teaching and learning. From your slide show I like this: ‘Asking “Why?” is not being challenging – they are seeking relevance.’ As a member of Gen Y I also find this of colleagues, that I am not challenging authority or seeking to rock he boat (ok, sometimes I am).

    I experienced some kind of this professional development at my last ‘tough’, working class school and if really led me to collectivtism, the personalised learning situation. I still believe that the push and pull of assessment as opposed to learning, of NAPLAN, School Certificate and HSC results driven teaching rather than learning leads to the great divide. I currently teach at a fairly middle class school and my motto is basically the students will conform to your expectations. There a lot of classrooms who work in highly effective teacher-centred assessment for learning situations, however, a tech-savvy, group/problem based learner as a mentor style of a teacher can still work with those same students…This post is a great insight into the changing nature of relationships in classrooms (when classrooms don’t really exist…)

  2. madiganda says:

    Thanks Troy for the comments. I so agree with you that our current system is actually accentuating the divide by keeping us in an out-dated education system that disregards the needs of today’s students. The open letter on the the new paradigm fits perfectly with the other focus of our SDD which is based, in part, on the work of Mark Treadwell and his “Paradigm Shift”. I feel another blog post coming on!

  3. carlaleeB says:

    I really enjoyed this post Paula. I particularly like Jasons ‘generations are not a box, they are clues”. Similar to others, I could never decide how much credit to give this theory, so many of the X qualities did not seem to ‘fit” how I view myself 🙂 and so many different views about them have been espoused. However, I heard a talk at the Byron Bay writers Festival a few years ago that challenged some of my assumptions and presented some new ideas. Wish I could remember who spoke ! Yes, we have the same conversations in our staff room. I think there is a lot here to really help teachers or any of us in todays working environments. You have put together some great resources. Thanks for adding something valuable to my day, something that I can also share with staff. All the best with your presentation!

  4. madiganda says:

    Thanks Carla.

    I agree that these descriptions are not absolute and we are still all individuals that can’t be completely pigeon-holed. Our parents play a big part in how we turn out and I, myself, will be interested to see how my daughter will turn out as a member of Gen Z given that her parents are early Gen X and a Baby Boomer.

    Let me know of any feedback if you share this with staff.

  5. janene van gogh says:

    Thanks Paula for a timely revisit into the differences between generations. I am currently relieving DP at the moment and can see frustration from both students and staff in my present role. The material you have supplied would be fantastic for our staff as well, although I can here the usual crowd muttering disrespect, poor work ethic, no sense of responsibility etc….
    In many instances I think that teachers really believe that the methods they have always used will allow students greatest opportunities for success.(as assessed via examinations/tests). I would love to hear how your staff respond to this information and modify their own teaching and learning.

  6. madiganda says:

    Hi Janene,

    Yes, I think they will be a tough crowd in some respects but it is promising that more than half of all staff have signed up for the follow up workshop on Engaging Today’s Students so obviously they see that something needs to change.

    Interestingly, I have done some sessions with kids who repeat “troublemakers” on how to understand their teachers (using generational info) as well as how to get on their good side and when they implement the suggestions it works! So the understanding goes both ways.

    The SDD sessions will hopefully be the first step on the road to change. I will let you know how I go!

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