From the Principal
In the past week, our Senior Leadership Team and academic staff participated in workshops with two adjunct-professors of education from Queensland University of Technology, Professor Erica McWilliam and Professor Peter Taylor. As ‘thought leaders’ in their field, both Erica and Peter presented informed and, at times, challenging and provocative views of the educational space in which we teach. Together, their research has involved observing lessons taught across the globe, most notably in Australia, Singapore and Cambridge. For Peter Taylor, this work has included over 2000 lesson observations, and thus his understanding of ‘enabling routines’ that teachers establish within the classroom and the creation of a positive learning culture are both comprehensive and well founded. As an author, Erica McWilliam has recently released her book, ‘The Creative Workforce: How to launch young people into high flying futures”.
During the St Catherine’s staff workshops, Erica introduced the need for developing a ‘low threat, high challenge’ educational practice. A practice necessitated by the trend across society that can be described as a “retreat from difficulty and challenge”. Erica describes in the second decade of the twenty-first century, pedagogy has moved towards a ‘therapeutic’ model of teaching exemplified by a ‘keep kids happy’ approach and actively raising children’s self-esteem through embedding positive psychology, with the resulting effect a ‘low threat, low challenge’ learning environment.
In 2015, Gen Z comprise the bulk of the students in schools today. Erica encourages a need to understand how their world is experienced differently from our own as adults and the implications for teaching this generation and sustaining their engagement in the formal learning environment is increasingly complex. She outlines six key attributes of Gen Z, summarised below:
Attribute 1. Gen Zs are more likely to be risk minimisers than risk takers. Unlike earlier generations, Gen Zs spend a great deal of their time as ‘home bodies’, staying close to their digital gadgets and to the people who fund them – mostly their parents. A downside of their risk-minimising propensity is a preference for ‘low challenge’ learning tasks leading to ‘easy success’ over ‘high challenge’ tasks that demand intellectual risk-taking. So staying in the grey of uncertainty for prolonged periods of time is not one of their strengths when it comes to engaging in learning tasks.”
Attribute 2: They have been described as ‘growing up too fast and also not at all’. Gen Z is the first to be born after the advent of the Internet, so for them computerised technology is just living. Their ease with new technologies means that they are likely to be able to exploit new affordances faster and more fully than their parents or teachers. Gen Zs are more likely to continue to live with their parents into their twenties and beyond, given the high cost of housing and the familiarity they experience at home.
Attribute 3: Praised since birth, Gen Zs are likely to have high levels of self-confidence and self-worth. Well-meaning parents and teachers provide a high level of congratulations and praise unattached to actual achievement. Subsequently, with such high levels of self-esteem and the affordances of easy-to-use digital tools, it is unsurprising that Gen Zs may feel they have exceptional capacities. Whether this level of self-confidence will turn into a plus or a minus in the future remains unclear.
Attribute 4: They much prefer social interactivity to passive receptivity. Gen Z’s intolerance for being lectured to or talked at, is greater than any previous generation. Because they are a smart and globally connected group, they don’t relish listening quietly to parents or teachers, even charismatic ones. Because their on-line world is one of constant interruption and distractibility, they take their information in bite-sized chunks, not in long-winded lumps. ‘Likes’ matter to them when it comes to their on-line presence and products, so the quest to accumulate ‘likes’ and/or to master games can take up much of their time and attention, particularly as they negotiate their teen years.
Attribute 5: Gen Zs are comfortable with data overload, finding ways to work with it and around it. Speed of ‘access’ really matters to Gen Zs. They do not think it a miracle that Google can search 100 billion pages in a few seconds — indeed, they are more likely to experience increasing frustration by what they perceive as a delay or slowness of access or delivery. While they are a more intelligent generation than any previous one, they will struggle to differentiate the information that is really useful for complex problem-solving from the overwhelming amount of useless, extraneous, impeding or misleading information that is proliferating globally. They are more likely to go for the quick answer than check the reliability of information, and this creates challenges for their teachers.
Attribute 6: The widening gap between their formal schooling and the skillsets they require will leave many ill-equipped for their working future. Gen Zs have sniffed the wind when it comes to future employability. They know that university degrees are no passport to job security and this worries them, though they still have their sights set on a tertiary education. They are prepared to be flexible in relation to the where, when and how of paid work, but will expect the same from future employers. Many will demonstrate high levels of entrepreneurial skill as they scan the horizon for more interesting ways to be remunerated or simply to do what they enjoy doing.”
As Gen Z students look less to traditional information sources for their learning, the implication for educators is vast and complex. There is clearly a need to make the learning engaging, encouraging confidence to tackle academic challenges, raising curiosity with and without digital devices and instilling a discerning and critical thinking culture within the learning environment remain at the forefront of our discussions as teachers. The School will continue to work with both Erica McWilliam and Peter Taylor to lead discussions that include ‘look-over-the-horizon’ explorations of larger social, cultural and educational trends and how this may impact on the classroom practice at St Catherine’s and specifically the participation of students in learning.
I invite our School community to support our Director of Business, Mr Mike Zammit, who has volunteered to represent St Catherine’s at the St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria (Vinnies) Sleepout for CEO and Senior Executives. Mr Zammit will be ‘sleeping rough’ in the South Lawn Carpark of Melbourne University on Thursday 22 June where he is permitted to use clothing and a sleeping bag to stay warm and will be provided a piece of cardboard to use as a mattress (no airbeds or sleeping mats are permitted!).
With over 725,000 Victorians living below the poverty line, Mike will join nearly 250 Melbourne business and community leaders who have signed up to sleep rough for a night. You are encouraged to support Mike in the Sleepout by donating at www.ceosleepout.org.au/ceos/vic-ceos/stcatherines/