This past Friday, Terra State faculty and staff participated in our spring 2016 convocation – Generational Crossroads. The day was packed with information, from the State of the College to departmental updates, and fun learning experiences that opened an excellent dialogue about how we at Terra work with the different generations on campus. As one might expect, the baby boomers and generation x-ers had some strong ideas about our newest generation – the millennials, but we were reminded that every generation struggles with change. After reflecting on the experience, I would like to share a few takeaways from the day.
Each generation has its negative stereotypes but we don’t have to play into them. Instead we can use these to enhance the learning experience. For example, baby boomers are often labeled as workaholics, generation x-ers as selfish, and millennials as overly dependent on their phones/tablets. Sure, these traits are less than flattering, but let’s put them into a classroom to see what can happen when they are addressed in a positive manner. For boomers, focus on the value of an experience or assignment. Once they see the merit, they will dig in and commit more than one could imagine. For generation x-ers, give them some autonomy. Instead of forcing them into a box, allow them to ask why and challenge them to come up with a better solution or method. And for millennials, use the idea that they like being connected to their advantage. They tend to make the best connections when working with others and sharing their own personal experiences. Keep in mind that this does not have to be face-to-face groups. In fact, most millennials prefer to connect via technology rather than face-to-face.
Each generation has variances – take the time to find them within your classroom. While it is easy and convenient to group people into categories based on ages, we need to remember that each person is different. They have had different life experiences, have different goals, and may not fit the idea you have of them based on their generational category. In any Terra classroom, there may be students from each generation but that does not mean they don’t share some traits too. Meet them where they are and build on their experiences – you may find out that your generation x-er loves structure rather than flexibility and that is alright! By taking the time to learn what your students need, you show them they are important and add value to the classroom no matter what their generation.
Conflicts will arise – use them as teachable moments. When working with a group, disagreements are sure to pop up. Instead of downplaying them, use them as ways to have students examine their thoughts critically. We want all of our classrooms to provide students with a safe and welcoming environment but the world is made up of different opinions and beliefs. By asking students to explain their thought processes, we are allowing them to explore what makes their thoughts sound and may even help them realize their processes need more work.
Interacting with different generations creates a dynamic learning environment. How boring would life be if everyone was the same? Sure, it might be easier if everyone learned the same way and thought alike, but the joy of humanity is each person is an individual. Learning to work together and interact with a variety of people makes life worth it – sharing experiences and connecting with others forces us to develop new ideas and thought processes that ultimately make us happier and healthier people.
I challenge everyone to step out of their comfort zone by talking to someone from a different generation this week. Take the time to get to know someone who doesn’t share the same ideals that you do. They probably won’t change how you think and you probably won’t change how they think, but it’s the dialogue that is key.