Generation Z teachers: leaders in the online learning revolution
By Natalie Repetto (Contributing writer, member and a Gen Y)
When the announcement was made that schools were to transition to an online learning model in Term 2, the teaching profession let out a collective groan.
Yet amid the chaotic scrambling of Term 1’s pupil-free week, some teachers simply took the changes in their stride.
Some of them even stepped up to lead their colleagues in navigating the online platforms and digital tools that have become part of our daily teaching practice.
These teachers are members of Generation Z. And while many teachers are feeling challenged by this novel teaching environment stripped of face-to-face interaction, many Gen Zs are thriving.
Gen Z, iGen, screenagers, the dot com kids - these are our teachers aged 25 and under and the largest number of our graduate and early career teachers.
According to Gen Z and the QTU, a report recently published by the Queensland Teachers’ Union (QTU), Gen Z is the ‘first generation to be truly digital and global.’
“I’ve been using technology and devices...since I was tiny,” Clara Sandona, a secondary school Business and Religion teacher, said.
“I think everyone my age would be innately comfortable with being introduced to new technologies,” Clara said.
Tristan Bell-Blissner, a Year 6 teacher, agreed.
“The advantage is that I’ve grown up as computers and software have improved, so I’m right there with it instead of having to learn it all for the first time,” Tristan said.
If Generation X were a petrol-powered sedan, Generation Z would be a hybrid sports car.
They’re the most highly educated generation yet, with one in two attaining a university qualification.
Gen Z are typically empowered, open-minded, optimistic and mature beyond their years.
Intensely individualistic and independent, they value flat leadership structures, professional recognition, personal happiness and work-life balance.
To members of Gen Z, online friends feel as familiar as any in the real world, and a smartphone is essentially an extension of self.
When they were in school, photobombing, planking and Gangnam Style were the height of cool, while ‘unfriend’ and ‘app’ were words of the year.
The average Gen Z will likely have six careers, 18 jobs and 15 homes in their lifetime.
The COVID-19 pandemic has opened opportunities for teachers of a generation ‘shaped by its coexistence with technology’ to not only flex their digital muscles, but to become serendipitous leaders among their colleagues.
When Tristan was called on to run impromptu ICT (Information and Communications Technology) workshops for his colleagues amid the move to online learning, he initially didn’t see it as a leadership role.
“As the day went on, I had the realisation that there were a lot of (my colleagues) relying on this (training),” he admitted.
“I also think because I'm probably far more into using technology in the classroom than some of our more experienced teachers, if there are issues, I feel a bit more confident to problem-solve them,” Tristan said.
And while some of her more experienced colleagues felt challenged when the concept of online learning was introduced, Clara said she was not really daunted by the changes.
“I found it really easy to adapt not only to the technology (aspect), but also to the fact that this way of teaching is different.”
Despite being a graduate teacher, Clara has become something of an ICT sounding board for many of her colleagues.
“They definitely presume that I know what to do with technology,” she said.
With members of Generation Z set to comprise 34% of the workforce in 2028, there are interesting implications for the future of education within an increasingly digital context.
Certainly, the past few weeks have afforded a peek into the developments that are afoot.
For example, Tristan sees the potential in creating differentiated video lessons for his students, thus freeing up time for small group conferencing.
He is excited about the capability of ICT to automate and streamline student data collection.
“I was making videos for my younger grades…and that’s definitely something that could come in handy when you’ve got a concept that might take some (students) a little bit longer to understand,” she said.
Above all, Tristan is optimistic about younger and more experienced teachers coming together to collaborate and share their strengths.
“It works well together as a team, having different ideas and different ways of approaching things,” he said.
The inherently collaborative nature of teaching is clearly robust enough to span any generational gap, and teamwork goes both ways; perhaps it’s up to more experienced teachers to encourage their younger counterparts and create space for new ideas to flourish.
“Because it is only my second term teaching, maybe if I was a little bit more comfortable as a teacher myself, I’d be more willing to try new platforms or different things that the school isn’t already implementing,” Clara said.
But for all their technological savvy, Gen Z are characterised by their craving for community and the high importance they place on relationships.
It's no wonder that while they may thrive in the digital realm, no amount of virtual reality can take the place of human-to-human connection.
“I like the social side of teaching, being with the kids, working with the kids and seeing them every day,” Tristan explained.
“I’m really missing my kids, seeing them face-to-face. And I’m also really missing the interactions that you have in person that you don’t necessarily have online. The interaction just isn’t there; I love that feel of a classroom,” she said.
Currently, approximately half of all graduate teachers are members of Generation Z; as they move through their teaching careers, evolution within the classroom is all but guaranteed.
While they may be young and less experienced, it cannot be denied that Generation Z’s mark has already been firmly stamped on our classrooms, amplified by the COVID-19 crisis.
“I hope that after all this…we don’t just go back to what we were doing before,” Tristan said.
"I hope everyone throughout this time has learnt a new skill that they can apply to their teaching,” he said.
If we’ve learnt one thing from the past few weeks, it’s that teaching will never look the same again.
Luckily, we have our Gen Z teachers to inspire, inform and not judge us when we are in need of the occasional technological lifeline.
1.Loriaux, L (2019) ‘Gen Z and the QTU’ report by Queensland Teachers’ Union. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5e5cc32128c1a0758b2c1af6/t/5ea0ce2cb6903b3a217c6b5b/1587596872604/QTU+Gen+Z+report+-+Feb+2020+%281%29.pdf#page=1