Generation Z Goes to College

Last week at the IECA Conference in Denver, CO I attended a seminar with Corey Seemiller, the co-author of Generation Z Goes to College. Seemiller conducted research with students from Generation Z (those born between 1995 and 2010) and cross-referenced her findings  with 300 sources to identify the key attributes that define this generation. When thinking about how to best work with GenZs, it’s important to consider the environment in which they are growing up — GenZs have experienced unprecedented technological change over their lifetimes; GenZ is the first generation to be connected since birth.

As the parent of two GenZs and mentor to hundreds more, I found Seemiller’s insights fascinating.   Below are some tips on how best to understand and interact with GenZ as a parent or educator.

Show, Don’t Tell. Generation Z approaches life with caution, but once they see an example of what you are asking them to do and feel comfortable with the concept, they feel confident to move forward. They grew up watching YouTube videos whenever they wanted to learn how to do something — play the ukulele, scramble an egg, program in Swift, or apply makeup. This digital show and tell mentality pervades how they do school work, approach new tasks, and learn new concepts. Seemiller said that she has found this generation of students quite creative once they understand the task and see they can push beyond the boundaries. The more we can show them before we tell them, the more likely they are to succeed and follow through.

Demonstrate Positive Leadership. Seemilller says that this generation grew up with leaders that had to conquer Voldemort (Harry Potter), sacrifice themselves for the good of their communities (The Hunger Games), or continually lied to the public to gain power. No wonder they fear leadership. While they have a distaste or aversion to many of the current leaders, they have a desire to affect change in the world in a positive and wholesale different way than leaders of the past. Providing positive role models and encouraging them to follow their interests will help them develop into the types of leaders that they want to see in the world.

Encourage and Grow Individual Talents and Strengths. Generation Z wants to make a difference, and they want to find a purpose and utilize their innate skills to influence wholesale change. They care passionately about justice and equality, however they also have a desire to move past identity politics and focus on bigger issues facing society, such as our planet and safety. Seemiller quoted a student from her study: “If we don’t do it nobody will and I want to be the one to make the change.” While she said they are mostly risk averse, 40% of Generation Z has entrepreneurial aspirations. The more we can encourage them to follow their passions, grow their strengths and find a way to connect those strengths to a larger purpose, the more productive and fulfilled they will be.

Make Learning Enjoyable and Purposeful. Learning for Gen Z works best when it is experiential, relational, provides opportunities to apply learning to larger issue, and rewards milestones:

  • Experiential. Help students take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to the real world. Instead of a paper, have them film an interview of a historical figure.
  • Driven by relationships. Developing and nurturing relationships makes a difference in why they do something.
  • Passion and purpose. Ask students: “What do you care about? What is your calling?”
  • Milestone rewards. Gen Z loves seeing they have completed parts of a larger puzzle. Digital badging is huge (think Fitbit) so familiarize yourself with digital badges to encourage this generation as they hit milestones.

Provide Alone Time and Advanced Assignments Generation Z likes to have time to process information before being put on the spot to respond. The flipped classroom, where students read or watch a lesson before class works well with this cohort because they have time to process the information on their own before coming to class.

Co-Pilot, Don’t Helicopter. Seemiller contends that helicopter parenting is transitioning into co-pilot parenting. This could be a function of both parents working or just a major sea change in parenting style. This translates into a more cooperative approach to parenting. Gone are the days of micromanaging every aspect of your child’s life. Instead, Seemiller said that parents and children work together toward reaching goals. GenZs like to work alone, but also together. Sharing Google Docs and getting input from others defines teamwork for this generation.

Be Present and Available to Help them Process the World. Generation Z is the first generation to be connected since birth. They have an overload of information, but don’t have the skill to discern fact from fiction. They have lived through 9/11, cyber bullying, Alt-Facts, and a divisive world. Since they receive much of their information online, they are largely alone and can have a hard time processing the overload and in the case of cyber bullying, the heartbreak of feeling attacked. This has led to increased anxiety and fear. But as parents and educators, we can help them distill fact from fiction and feel a human connection, which they so crave. Interestingly 69% of this generation (compared to 54% of the Millennials and 29% of Generation X) see their parents as their number one role model.

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