Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Conversations with a Gen Z Teen

I live with a Generation Z teenage boy.  Aged 16 and in year 12 at secondary school in New Zealand.  He is Māori, ko Tainui, ko Ngāti Hauiti ōna iwi.  He loves sport, food, music and socialising (on repeat!)  Like many teens, my Gen Z has struggled, and continues to struggle through the school system.  On the occasion that I am able to entice him into conversing with me (in real time and face to face), I always find that he has lots of really inspired ideas and thoughts to share.  About life, school, the future and the world in which we live.  So, with his permission, over four blog posts, I will share with you some of my Gen Z teen’s pearls of wisdom.

So who are Generation Z you ask?  “They are your sons and daughters. They populate your neighbourhoods, their thumbs spastically banging out two-way conversations composed entirely of over-punctuated and under-constructed sentences.  They may even work for you.  Eventually, you will work for them.”  Gen Z are the generation after the Millennials.  Born anywhere from the 1990s through the 2010s or from the early 2000s to around 2025.  They are also referred to as iGen, eGen, Net-gen and the Digitarians.

Characteristics of Gen Z

  • Have never known a world without the internet or cell phones
  • Tend to text instead of talk face to face
  • Require constant and immediate feedback
  • Globally aware
  • Independent learners and self directed
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Collaborative
  • Tech savvy
  • Expectant of flexibility
  • Plans and commitments are often made instantaneously
  • Smart! Able to process massive amounts of information and new knowledge quickly

Great infographic about Gen Z here

Image sourced from:

Knowing and understanding our learners is foundational to supporting their educational success.  With this in mind, it’s important to acknowledge that many of our Gen Z learners are currently being taught by Generation X teachers.  As a Gen X mother, I have discovered the impact life experience and possibly the generation gap has had on my ability to communicate effectively with my Gen Z teen.  Regardless of our generation gap, sometimes I wonder if my teen and I are speaking different languages and live on different planets!

Characteristics of Gen X  born between early 60’s and early 90’s

  • Cynical, world weary and skeptical
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Educated
  • Ethnically diverse
  • Pragmatic, practical and independent
  • Tech savvy
  • Flexible
  • Knowledge seeking and sharing
  • Self sufficient, do things for themselves, handle problems on their own

So with our similarities and differences in mind, it’s important to understand and acknowledge the impact this might have on a reciprocal learning relationship.

Gen X (Teachers)
Gen Z (Learners)
Implications for Learning
Believe that “if you want something done well, do it yourself”.  If you broke it, fix it!
Believe in problem solving through collaboration
Collaborative learning experiences & problem solving
Are highly educated and see education as the necessary key to success
Believe that knowledge is power but don’t always place the same value on what Gen X deem to be the ‘stuff you need to know and be able to do’
Learning made meaningful to the learner.

Realising potential and celebrating all success and progress
Flexible but not as resilient or embracing of change
Very resilient to change as live in a world where change comes fast and furious
Learners directing own learning & using technology as an enabler
Like to plan ahead, sometimes a whole year in advance and will often make plans for others
Often reluctant to commit to what they are doing tomorrow because things change and can be resistant to plans that are made for them
Studying for a test or exam 3+ weeks out might be a challenge for some Gen Z’s.

Pre-determined learning VS spontaneous learning experiences.
Well versed in learning and memorising information that we might need one day. Used to learning ‘just in case’
Do not rely on any learnt information being correct for a sustained period of time.  Like to learn ‘just in time’
Technology gives access to the most up to date knowledge.

Could be a challenge to engage in content that is not contextualised or considered to be for an immediate purpose.

Check out this great clip - How to Communicate with Gen Z

Gen Z Teen’s Pearls of Wisdom

What do you think future jobs will be like?
“Futuristic jobs will be based around technology.  You will be able to do interviews on your phone or laptop wherever you are around the world.  People from around the world will apply for jobs anywhere.  I think there will be robots doing a lot more things like build houses coz someone will invent robots that can do all that stuff.  I think people from all around the world will apply for jobs anywhere coz they will have the same skills and they will be able to just face time people here in NZ whenever they have to.”

What do you think it will be like to be Māori in the future?
“People might not know if they are Māori coz our language is dying.  People might just think we are just another brown person who doesn’t know their language or heritage.”

What do you hope it will be like?
“That we all get our land back and we could rebuild the old Pa sites and then our old people could go back there to live without having to buy houses that are all separate from each other.  Like a Māori retirement village!  I wish our culture would be cherished in the future like a taonga.  I wish we would hear our language more and that all New Zealanders could speak Māori.  It would be real cool if there were heaps of jobs in the future where it was compulsory to speak Māori.  Then people would need to go and learn it.”

What’s the hardest thing about learning and why?
“It depends. There’s some things I like learning.  Some things you are just not interested in learning and so it’s harder.  Sometimes it just takes too much effort to try and understand.  It would be awesome if we all just had USB ports in our heads and we could just download what we want to know.”

What’s the hardest thing about learning at school?
“It depends sometimes on the teacher that you have and if they like you or not.  Also sometimes I think the teachers feed off negative energy - if they know that you don’t like them or you are not really interested in the subject then some just don’t really care if you learn or not.  The teachers that really help you and get to know you are the best and that’s when I can learn and then I send them positive energy back.  The best teachers don’t just talk to you about school stuff. They are interested in your life and who you are.”

What do you wish your school and teachers knew/understood about you as a learner?
“That I don’t just automatically know or understand everything they teach me.  I need someone to come up to me and ask me if I need help.  I wish they knew that I like to learn by watching videos or listening to people explaining things. I like to be shown how to do things, telling me things doesn’t always work for me.  I’d like them to make learning fun and be excited and pumped up about what they are teaching.  If they teach like they don’t love it or are interested in it, how are we supposed to get engaged in it?  It’s  always really good when teachers help us learn stuff by connecting it to things we are into and that kids our age like doing.  It’s also great when teachers let us use technology to our advantage. We’re used to using it everywhere else and we already know how to use it help us learn.”

Unpacking these Gen Z Pearls

What my Gen Z teen has articulated to me in his own unique way is:
  • He see’s his place in the future job market in a global sense
  • He’s concerned about the future of his language, culture and identity and sees it as everyone’s responsibility to revitalise and normalise Te Reo Māori
  • He know’s learning is hard at times but he has clear ideas about how he learns best and what will help him to learn
  • His perception is everything. Whether his teacher’s like him or not is not necessarily the issue.  What he perceives about those learning relationships absolutely is.  What  he believes about his relationships has a direct bearing on how he learns and in turn his academic success
  • He really just wants to feel that his teachers like him, believe in him, want him to achieve and will help him to do so
  • He wants to be inspired by teachers and he believes his engagement in new learning is directly linked to the way in which content is delivered, assessed and how he engages with it.
  • He sees technology as an essential enabler to his learning - simply a ‘given’.

Image sourced from:

Implications for teaching and learning

Taking all of this into consideration, I pose some provocations for us as educators and parents to consider.
  1. How are we preparing our kids for a global job market?
  2. What are we all doing to ensure the survival of our indigenous languages, cultures and identities?
  3. How do we gather student voice and use it to inform our teaching practice and learning programmes?
  4. How are we empowering our kids to direct their own learning?
  5. How can we inspire our kids to learn and to make school content relevant in the minds of our tamariki of all ages?
  6. How can we continue to strengthen our relationships with kids? Between school and whānau/the community?
  7. What opportunities are we offering our kids to use technology to aid their learning?

I know I’m biased but in my opinion, my Gen Z Teen is a genius!  I share his wisdom with you all in the hopes that we might gain insight from the generation that will lead us all into the new millennium.

Other references: