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Three Things to Consider for Teaching the Next Generation

Is today's school curriculum meeting the tech-savvy needs of Generation Z?

By Rachel DeWitt


September 10, 2018

A major difference between Millennials and Gen Z kids is illustrated quite clearly in each of their Instagram accounts. Just having a look at the social media platform can help teachers better understand how to engage with their students. Millennial Instagram accounts often look more like a digital scrapbook with personal photos, landscape images and quotes. For the most part, the millennial Instagram account is a series of photos that tell their story.

How does this differ for Gen Z? Open up one of these accounts, and you will find a series of curated and customized images that paint a picture of how they want to appear-—because their identity is a brand. Taking cues from the Kardashians and other famous reality TV stars, today’s generation sees their online presence as part of their personal brand that can provide both social and capital value. The entrepreneurial spirit within this generation believes that every activity should be altered and modified in order to reflect an “on brand” depiction of what they do and who they are. If this is the case, then what does it mean for traditional adolescent benchmarks like going back to school? Has this annual rite of passage transitioned into a “personal lifestyle campaign” for Gen Z-ers?

Think about it. This is a generation that is monetizing just being alive. If that’s the case, what could “traditional school” possibly teach students who are already curating and broadcasting their own lives exactly how they want to be received? ? Is today’s curriculum addressing the whole student and meeting their individual needs? As a former teacher, with a younger sibling now headed to the front of the class himself, we had a discussion about teaching the next generation. Inspired by our conversation, I want to encourage all of the teachers heading back to school to:

Teach digital literacy:

As mentioned previously, students today are creating their own personal brands online. Digital literacy has never been more important. We’re connected to a world that bombards us with choice 24/7, and this is no different for students. No matter what the subject is, incorporating an understanding of digital media should be a part of the curriculum today.

It should also start at a very young age, considering kids as young as 7 years old are engaging with social media and are livestreaming their Xbox games by the time they get home. Take the time to teach students about appropriate sources of information, online safety and security, sharing personal data, and how to minimize your digital footprint. These are lessons that can be incorporated no matter what formal subject matter you may be assigned to teach.

Focus on awareness (self, others, global):

With an over-abundance of information, and several things competing for our time, it is increasingly difficult for people to quiet their minds and be fully aware of ones’ self in the world. It’s important to encourage adolescents to engage in self-reflection and to tune out of the demands of the digital world and other people’s views and expectations. Learning how to be mindful will help students tap into their own self-conscious and better understand their personal views and expectations. This is particularly important for teenagers as they can even become “morbidly self-reflective grasping at groups, ideologies, fads, fashions, and trends to define who they are or might be.” Learning the tools to help combat these sordid thoughts can be incredibly empowering at this age.  Self-awareness can also aide students in growing awareness of other living things and can help foster empathy and compassion.

Ask more questions to your students:

Critical thinking is a dying activity. Instead of pushing information for rote learning, be an educator who asks your students probing questions. Get them to explore relationships that they may not have otherwise found on their own. Difficult questions will help students develop higher level skills according to Bloom’s taxonomy. In order to answer questions they may have never thought about, students will have to analyze, evaluate, and form their own opinions. This can happen in both STEM and humanities classrooms, but should really be happening throughout the entire school. Asking more questions breeds critical thinkers, and with today’s current climate, this is particularly important.

Heading back to school, today’s teachers have quite a lot on their plate. They are responsible not only for teaching our next generation, but they are also some of our students’ strongest role models. To all the teachers heading back to school this fall, thank you helping us educate our next generation.


Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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