Entitled, narcissistic, lazy, uncommitted, educated but unskilled.
These are just a few phrases that have been used in pop culture business literature to describe Millennials. I’ve always struggled with the notion of characterizing an entire generation with rigid labels, but at first glance the amount of information focused on the baggage Millennials bring with them seems to support there are significant differences in this newest generation leading classrooms across the country.
Who Are Millennial Teachers?
Millennials are the generation of Americans born between 1980 and the mid-2000s. They are the largest generation in the U.S., representing one-third of the total U.S. population. Millennials are the first generation to grow up with computers as a part of their daily lives and they are the most educated generation in the history of the United States. According to a report commissioned by the White House in 2014, About 61 percent of adult Millennials have attended college, compared to 46 percent of the Baby Boomer generation. Millennial teachers are also the most culturally diverse generation in American history, more tech savvy, socially plugged in, and more open to change than any preceding generation.
Wait. Educated, diverse, tech savvy, socially resourceful, and open to change?
Aren’t those the same qualities school leaders are looking for as they pursue 21st century learning? So is this generation of teachers the most difficult ever to manage, or exactly what school leaders need to usher in the type of education required for today’s students?
Are Millennial Teachers Different from Previous Generations?
The current workforce in education is unprecedented. Currently there are five generational types who are working in school districts.
Due to improved healthcare (but increased health care costs) and lagging retirement benefits people are staying in the workforce longer and that is completely changing the dynamics of the workforce that school leaders must manage.
Information about Millennials based on anecdotal observations from those who work with them suggest Millennial teachers and their peers in other professions are far different from preceding generations, but what does empirical research say about them?
A meta-analysis study titled: Millennials’ (Lack of) Attitude Problem: An Empirical Examination of Generational Effects on Work Attitudes reviewed employee opinion survey data from over one hundred thousand respondents over an eighteen year time period. The study examined a multitude of research on generational differences and whether attitudes on important work factors varies across generations and over time.
Overall, the findings discussed in the article suggest generations are more similar than different, and the differences that do exist are inconsistent and have very small effect sizes, often contradicting generational stereotypes. Researchers in the study went on to say that individual employee level variables such as overall job satisfaction, satisfaction with pay and benefits, turnover intentions, etc. are much stronger predictors of work attributes than are time period or generational differences. In short, broad characterizations regarding personal attributes apply to individuals, not generations.
In the closing paragraphs of the article mentioned above researches offered a bit of advice for HR professionals and organizational leaders. They wrote,
“HR professionals, leaders, and managers would be better served by identifying individual differences [among employees].”
The researchers also discussed more recent findings based on one work location’s opinion surveys that indicate Millennials seem to be more satisfied with their work and their company than other generational predecessors. Millennials also seem to be more optimistic about job security, career development, and advancement. The authors also cautioned that shifting attitudes among Millennial employees may signal needed changes in organizational policy which was likely shaped by previous organizational specific attitudes. These findings underscore the importance of continually using opinion or climate surveys as part of evidence based practice in school district policy and benefit offerings.
A School Leader’s Observation About Millennial Teachers
As we began to work this article we reached out to a few school leaders who subscribe to the K12 HR Solutions Newsletter to gather anecdotal observations about differences in Millennial teachers. Chicago Superintendent, Dr. Michael Dziallo, wrote us and shared his personal insights regarding leading Millennial teachers in his district.
When we asked Dr. Dziallo how Millennial teachers were shaping instruction and learning environments in the district he replied,
“My Millennial teachers are awesome! They are willing to work in authentically collegial teams sharing ideas and trying new strategies with their students. They follow their principals and buy in to the direction set by the Director of Curriculum and me as Superintendent. [Coincidentally] All principals in the District are Generation X. All District Office administrators are Baby Boomers.”
I also asked if he saw a different dynamic between Millennial teachers when they began to enter classrooms compared to when Gen Xers began to enter districts to work with Baby Boomers. Dr. Dziallo commented that his Millennial teachers seem to be better prepared than new hires in the past. (We would note this could also be attributed improved teacher education programs). Regarding Millennial teacher personality traits and work habits he noted,
“As a rule, Millennial teachers take ownership of their classrooms and seek innovative engaging strategies to use with their students and be authentic instructors. In my observations, the Millennials tend to work with Baby Boomer teachers very well. They seem to buy into the district’s vision and mission.”
So where does this leave us?
Dr. Dziallo feels Millennial teachers are a tremendous asset to his district. Research on generational differences in employees concluded “Generations are more similar than different, and differences that do exist are inconsistent and have very small effect sizes,” yet, in the closing paragraphs of the same research paper the researchers offer there may be small, but specific differences among employees of different generations and that employers would be wise to measure generational differences in employee opinions themselves. Some management literature suggests Millennials are difficult to manage. Given the disparities in opinions and the researchers advice at the end of the meta-analysis research article discussed above, we decided to conduct a small study regarding Millennial Teachers ourselves, but we need your help.
Explore Differences Among Millennial Teachers with Us
We have offered climate surveys for school district leaders for several years now. We ask questions related to satisfaction with organizational policies, rewards, factors related to employee engagement, and several other areas.
One area we have never specifically targeted was differences among Millennial teachers. Rather than asking existing clients to explore differences among their Millennial teachers, we want to offer those reading this article an opportunity to learn more about potential generational differences in attitudes towards important factors related to school district operations and policies through a school district wide climate survey (specifically comparing responses from Millennial teachers to other generational groups).
Over the next few weeks we will collect applications from districts across the country who would like to participate in our study. We’ll be offering our school district climate surveys for free for up to 30 school districts. We hope to collect applications that represent a sampling of districts based on various geographic and economic factors such as districts in middle/upper class suburbs, urban districts serving low-income/ poverty populations, private schools, rural and suburban schools with homogeneous ethnic populations as well as those that have very diverse ethnic groups in their district.
We would love to make this opportunity available to more districts, but due to current projects and obligations we unfortunately have to limit this opportunity to a representative, yet manageable number of districts and respondents. After we collect and analyze the data, we will provide detailed and overall and demographic analysis of the data to each of the participating districts and publishing a comprehensive report for our subscribers to access.
We are excited to learn more about Millennial teachers in school districts and to explore how to use the data to help school district leaders in the evidenced based practice of school leadership. To learn more about this opportunity or to request an application for participation in this climate survey, click on the link and complete the application form. Your responses and district demographic information will allow us to make every effort to survey a broader perspective of educators around the country.