3 Generation Z traits today's teachers need to adapt to

It might be hard to believe, but Generation Z includes students in elementary school all the way up through college. According to the Pew Research Center, they were born between 1997 and 2012.

While this population is sometimes called the post-millennial generation, there are some key differences that set Gen Z apart from the one that precedes it. Those differences have implications for the way they learn, develop and function in the classroom. That can be intimidating for teachers who may be new to working with Generation Z.

The good news is there’s plenty of research that can help educators better understand this particular group of students. Join us as we explore some key Generation Z traits and uncover how you can adapt to those characteristics in your classroom.

3 Generation Z traits that impact the classroom 

Find out how good teachers can approach teaching Gen Z students, who tend to be digitally immersed, incredibly diverse and prone to anxiety and depression. 

1. Gen Z students are true digital natives

You may have heard the term “digital natives” used when speaking about Millennials, but Gen Z is really the first generation that doesn’t know life without technology. To this population, Google, Instagram and smartphones are not just convenient tools — they’re necessary parts of life. Generation Z expects to be connected to the world and able to access information at any time. This translates to education as well.

Gen Z students want immediate feedback on assignments just as they do on social media. They also crave autonomy in their education. Students want to make decisions about what they learn and how they demonstrate their knowledge. 

How can teachers adapt?

Rather than trying to draw students away from technology, consider how you can use it to provide information and engage with them. Here are five tips for teaching digital natives: 

  • Use educational software — There are a lot of tech tools that can both make your job easier and keep Gen Z students engaged. In addition to full-service learning management systems, you can leverage software to create everything from interactive presentations to educational games.  
  • Begin a dialogue — Long lectures aren’t the best technique for Gen Z students. They’re used to multitasking and skimming for the most valuable information. Try a variety of teaching methods to keep the class moving. 
  • Use visuals to your advantage — Like lectures, large blocks of text can result in students losing engagement. Using charts, graphics and multimedia can make the material more memorable.  
  • Hold online office hours — For students who are used to immediately reaching people online, sending an instant message is likely going to be more effective. It’s also more efficient for parents of younger children to reach out directly than setting up a formal appointment. 
  • Provide rationale — Gen Z students are used to constantly updated newsfeeds and have come to expect only the most relevant information. For that reason, explain upfront why a lesson is important and how it’s applicable in the real world.  

2. Gen Z students are diverse 

Generation Z is the most diverse generation yet. Nearly half are racial or ethnic minorities, and they’re pursuing college at rates higher than previous generations. The majority of this generation also believes that diversity is good for society and is willing more willing to side with those who speak out against inequality. 

How can teachers adapt?

Interacting with individuals who are different helps people anticipate alternative viewpoints and recognize that reaching a consensus will take effort. That’s clearly relevant to teachers. But educators need to take extra measures to support a diverse student population. Here are four tips from Imagine Learning

  • Explore your own culture — By understanding the social interests, goals and thought-patterns that influence your culture, you can better identify personal biases and recognize the value of cultural background. 
  • Make an effort to understand other cultures — Go beyond the surface and aim to understand how the diversity of your students affects how they see themselves and the world around them.
  • Think carefully about language — Language and dialect are key parts of culture. By examining how words are used, you can learn to communicate with students in a more meaningful way.  
  • Use diverse books and materials — Incorporating multicultural literature can help students identify more with the material and foster cross-cultural understanding. 

3. Gen Z students experience high rates of depression and anxiety 

It can be easy to dismiss moody or withdrawn behavior as typical teenage angst. But according to the Pew Research Center, a growing number of this generation is experiencing something more serious. The total number of teenagers experiencing depression increased 59 percent from 2007 to 2017. Potential contributing factors include academic pressure, high rates of perfectionism, and a lack of adequate sleep. All this is to say there’s a high likelihood that you will encounter a student with a mental illness. 

How can teachers adapt?

Teachers can do a lot to support students struggling with mental health issues. The International Board of Credentialing and Continued Education Standards (IBCCES) offers six great techniques that can help educators teach Generation Z students who may be facing depression:

  • Work with students — Rather than using an authoritative teaching style, try engaging Gen Z students one on one. Be sensitive that their emotions may impact their learning. 
  • Use techniques that focus on positivity — This isn’t to say you should let bad behavior go unaddressed, but you can use strategies that focus on empowering students. Try rewarding engagement with verbal praise and regularly reviewing ways that students demonstrate growth. 
  • Make accommodations — Educators can give assignment extensions, break tasks into smaller pieces, and offer to help students create study plans. They may also encourage students to help one another. 
  • Set the stage for success — Recognizing success can give students much-needed confidence. Even though you must follow state standards, you can break up your curriculum into frequent milestones for students to celebrate.  
  • Consult the experts — School-employed mental health personnel can provide counseling, connect students to further services and collaborate with family members. 
  • Take a class — Learning from experienced educators can help you apply evidence-based research to your teaching. Some courses can even demonstrate how to create a safe place in which to talk about mental health. 

Succeed in teaching Generation Z

Each new generation of students will bring changes to teaching and learning. You’ll continually find yourself adapting your instructional style to account for their interests, struggles and goals. But one thing that won’t change is the trend toward a more digital world.  

As you begin to adapt to Generation Z traits, you’ll want to give extra consideration to making sure students are ready to navigate a technology fueled work environment. Learn more about how to prepare your students for success both during and after school by reading our article, “What is 21st century learning? Preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s workforce.”



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