“Mind The Gaps” To Create Compassionate Schools

Encouraging Empathy Between Generations of Educators

When I speak about preventing bullying, I encourage schools to create a “culture of compassion.” A big piece of this is helping students learn to see from each others’ points of view and treat one another better. But just as big a piece is helping the adults do the same—because sometimes we grown-ups (even we educators) forget to put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes as well.

I’ve especially seen this when it comes to educators of different generations working together.

You know what I mean: a teacher from one generation rolls their eyes or makes a snarky comment when a teacher from another generation:

  • uses “too much” or “not enough” technology;
  • does something a “new-fangled” or “old-fashioned” way; or
  • does or doesn’t “get” a pop culture reference from today or years past.

Worse is when this turns into teachers not wanting to work with colleagues from other generations because of these differences.

Here’s what I know: To truly create a culture of compassion in our schools, we need to change the way we think, and talk, about the generation gaps among educators.

So, let’s dig in.

First, consider the generations we’re dealing with. While exact years vary from report to report, there are typically four generations at work in our schools and offices today—a first in American history. They are:

  • The Traditionalists: A.K.A. “The Silent Generation,” born between 1925 and 1945, shaped by events such as The Great Depression and World War II.
  • The Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964, our nation’s largest generation, deeply affected by the Vietnam War and the 1960’s.
  • Generation X: Born between 1965 and 1980, shaped by events such as the Challenger Space Shuttle explosion and the Iraq War.
  • The Millenials: A.K.A. “Gen Y” or “Gen Next,” born in the 80s and 90s, raised in a post-9/11 era of school shootings, and never without the Internet.

Second, let’s consider some strategies to work more intentionally with this generational spread on our school staffs:

  1. Acknowledge And Celebrate Generational Differences Openly.
  2. Create Teams, Mentorships and Communications that Mind the Gaps.
  3. Remember the Common Goal.

Cooperation happens when we focus on what matters most to all the generations of teachers in the room: the success of our students.  Whatever our generation, we are all here because we believe in the promise of our future generations.

According to the experts, our generational culture stays with us, so we will never truly “grow into” understanding or being like the generations before us. In other words, a Baby Boomer at 25 was very different than a Millenial at 25, and they will retain this difference at their respective ages of 50. The same is true for the generational perspective of our students—their youthful selves are simply different than ours were, and they will never see the world as we do.

So, it behooves us to understand and respect each generation, as they bring something unique to the table that will remain as such. This perspective can take us a long way in creating a deeper and more successful “culture of compassion” in our schools.

Alex Kajitani is the 2009 California Teacher of the Year, and a Top-4 Finalist for National Teacher of the Year.  He is a highly sought-after speaker, and the co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers. His first book, Owning It was named “Recommended Reading” by the U.S. Department of Education. Alex is also on a mission to get every kid in America to learn their times tables, and to make this happen, he created the popular online program www.MultiplicationNation.com. Alex has a popular TED Talk, has been honored at The White House, and was featured on The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. For more of his innovative ideas, visit www.AlexKajitani.com.

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