Managers in many professions—including those working for school systems—share a common topic of complaint these days: challenges around hiring and keeping millennials.
That generation, generally defined as those born between 1981 and 1996, has been stereotyped unflatteringly as self-absorbed, entitled, and obsessed with technology to an unhealthy extent. The group also makes up large proportion of today’s eligible workforce.
In a session here this week at the annual conference for Learning Forward, which advocates for and provides professional learning for educators, dozens of instructional coaches, administrators, and central office staff members gathered to address tactics for hiring and retaining millennial teachers—and with an eye toward avoiding stereotypes.
Emily Poag, a professional developer and program manager for the Delaware Academy for School Leadership at the University of Delaware, began by asking participants to list characteristics and words that came to mind when they thought of millennials. Here’s what the group at my table came up with.
The educators at my table (made up mostly of Gen-Xers, born 1965-1980) also began batting around some of their frustrations with millennial teachers: They want to text or email parents rather than call them; they take sick days and then post about what they really did on social media; they think their classrooms are running smoothly when they’re not.
Poag then asked the educators to go back and star those words on their lists that might be stereotypes. The participants, for the most part, starred all of their words.
At that point, Poag posed some peer-reviewed research findings about millennials in the workplace:
- They value work-life balance.
- They don’t put much value in job security.
- A large majority of them (91 percent, according to one national survey) aspire to reach leadership positions.
- They believe evaluations of their work should be based on outcomes produced, not on age or tenure.
- They want to be in constant conversations about performance.
Given all this, a key to retaining millennials, Poag said, is offering ongoing professional learning.
That does make sense: For a group that wants to be leaders and believes opportunities should be based on merit (rather than age or experience), continuous learning and feedback will be critical. That is, if you want to move up the ladder and believe hard work will get you there, you’ll want to know how you’re doing at all times.
Poag then handed out a rubric with these questions for principals and other hiring managers to ask themselves:
How does your organization ... And how could your organization ...
- Encourage voice?
- Encourage work-life balance?
- Develop leadership skills?
- Offer mentoring support?
- Provide frequent communication and feedback?
As Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote in an Education Week opinion piece, another recent poll showed that millennials are supportive of strengthening teachers’ unions. But unions have historically protected last-in, first-out hiring policies and tenure-based advancement, rather than the outcome-based evaluations that millennials say they support. So, of course, even data-based generalizations such as the ones above should be viewed with some skepticism.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.