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10 Ways to Encourage and Engage Millennial Educators

Young teacher woman, portrait and smile in classroom, school and sitting on desk for education job.

By Sarah Delawder

Welcome to the age of Millennials, where avocado toast and Instagram filters reign supreme. But beyond the stereotypes and viral trends lies a generation that is reshaping the workplace as we know it. With their tech-savvy skills, insatiable thirst for purpose and unwavering commitment to social justice, Millennials bring a fresh perspective and innovative ideas to every industry, including K-12 education.

If educational leaders are willing to better understand Millennials and capitalize on the strengths they bring to a campus, they will find that Millennials can be a valuable asset to any educational institution.

Who are Millennials?

Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, currently make up the majority of the workforce and will continue to dominate it until at least 2030 when they will comprise 75 percent of working individuals (Torpey, 2020). Despite their high-achieving nature and desire for value-driven work (Raub et al., 2023), (perfect traits for educators!) Millennials are oft-described as narcissistic (Keener, 2020), job-hopping (Holtschlag et al., 2020) and lacking appropriate workplace behaviors (Roberts, 2019), making them seem less than desirable as employees.

Contrary to what many Boomer (and even Gen X) leaders may believe, Millennial educators are easily managed when their specific needs and expectations are met. In fact, Millennial educators bring an empathic, collaborative and inquisitive tone to the workplace that can greatly influence progress in an industry not known for easy acceptance of change.

What makes the Millennial educator different?

Unlike Gen X, whose introduction to technology was hours spent fighting dysentery on the Oregon Trail during elementary school, many Millennials spent those early years texting friends on their first generation iPhones. This reliance upon technology can alienate Millennials from other generational cohorts, especially when they have more understanding of edtech than their Boomer and Gen X administrators do.

Further separating them from their non-Millennial colleagues is their perceived lack of organizational commitment. Previous generations retired from the district where they were first hired and were lauded at retirement parties full of colleagues from throughout their 30 to 40 years in the district. Now, 64 percent of Millennials believe working in a job for one to two years before moving on is reasonable (Bolden-Barrett, 2019). This lack of continuance commitment frustrates non-Millennial colleagues and managers who see commitment as part of being a responsible employee (Sujansky, 2004). However, Millennials have discovered that this flexibility actually benefits their work-life balance, job satisfaction and performance (Akumina, 2019).

What does the Millennial teacher actually want?

Millennials are socially-conscious and expect their organizations to be as well. They have a sensitivity to fairness and an expectation of meritocracy over equity (Kyeong & Kim, 2022). This difference between what non-Millennials and Millennials expect at work can cause tension. Prior generations of educators worked extremely hard to embed equity in the workplace through the development of unions and collective bargaining agreements. Millennial employees think differently about work, wanting to be compensated based on quality of work, not years of service.

How can educational leaders engage Millennial educators?

Millennials expect strong leadership, advancement opportunities, alignment of organizational and personal values, good coworker relationships, healthy work-life balance, recognition and cutting-edge technology in their workplace (Keith et al., 2021). It is important that both immediate supervisors and senior-level leadership recognize Millennial accomplishments and contributions to keep them engaged and committed to staying in their roles.

Ten ways to encourage and engage millennial educators

1. Involve them in high stakes decision-making. Millennials prefer to be included in decision‐making, working alongside their leaders, as opposed to being deferential to them. They seek opportunities to question policies, interact directly with leadership, participate in making critical decisions, collaborate with peers and spend their time working on tasks that have real‐world impact (Maier et al., 2015). Millennial teachers are not afraid to question existing (and often outdated) policies and procedures. They are comfortable disagreeing with their principals and district office leadership, providing alternative approaches and ideas and expecting to have those ideas heard. This can be challenging for Boomer and Gen X leaders who have a hierarchical perspective of leadership and positional power.

2. Give them direct and explicit feedback. And do it often! The annual performance evaluation simply isn’t enough for the Millennial educator. They desire a mentorship and coaching relationship with their supervisors (Bolden-Barrett, 2019), one where they can come to you to discuss their concerns and needs and receive not just positive accolades, but constructive advice and immediate feedback (Usha Menon & Alamelu, 2018). Millennial workers can enjoy their jobs without feeling an obligation to stay (Juliana et al., 2021); it is how they are valued by their leadership that affects their intention to leave. Your role as educational leader is paramount in their decision to stay at your school or district.

3. Focus on well-being and employee appreciation. Provide opportunities for Millennial employees to cultivate workplace friendships, which can help enhance Millennial employees’ feeling of belonging (Badri et al., 2021). When Millennials feel like they belong, they are more likely to stay with their organization. Don’t be afraid of Friday happy hour events off campus in a restaurant rather than a bar so that all feel welcome to engage and develop a culture of belonging. It can be especially helpful for Millennials and non-Millennials to connect off-campus where their differences are not so clearly displayed.

4. Provide hands-on professional learning opportunities that bring career advancement. Formal career management practices such as training and development are positively related to employees’ organizational commitment (Holtschlag et al., 2020). Millennial employees do not exhibit the same levels of organizational commitment as do members of other generational cohorts. Increasing their organizational commitment can minimize their likelihood to leave. Millennial employees prefer experiential professional learning opportunities that help advance their knowledge and understanding. Leaders should embrace the use of technology to improve and automate procedures to engage their Millennial educators.

5. Be a transformational leader, not an authoritative one. Educational leaders should focus on building trust and rapport with Millennial teachers by being genuine, open and communicative. They should also foster a strong sense of connection within the school community. Authentic leadership impacts organizational commitment in Millennials (Pradipto & Chairiyati, 2021). They build their employees up through motivation and training. Millennials do not want authoritative leaders or traditional task-driven managers; they want coaches who will help them grow and develop. Coaching and leadership skills are invaluable to leaders of Millennial workers, and school districts should invest in these types of training for their school leaders.

6. Pay attention to workplace culture. Millennials place high value on emotional well-being in the workplace (Badri et al., 2021). Do not ignore Millennial employees when they bring workplace conflicts to you. They are looking to you as their mentor to help them work through this conflict. Acknowledge toxic practices and people, and be transparent about it. Millennials value procedural fairness (Kyeong & Kim, 2022) and are more likely to stay with their organization when they believe it does too.

7. Build a strong sense of purpose within the organization. Millennial teachers seek purpose in their work. Educational leaders can support this by developing clear organizational values and mission and demonstrating a commitment to that mission in their daily work. Leaders should encourage a sense of enthusiasm in the teaching staff. Millennials are more likely to leave their job if they feel underutilized or bored. Provide opportunities for growth. Consider allowing employees to choose their own path of professional growth that honors their interests and values over a singular plan for all to follow.

8. Provide opportunities to make a difference. Personal development and the search for meaningful work are the main reasons Millennials leave one organization for another (Yuliawati & Teonata, 2022). If Millennial employees can meet those needs within their current organization, they are more likely to stay. Give Millennial educators the space to work on passion projects. Provide a culture where employees can suggest new classes, programs, or activities. Show your Millennial educators that there is room to make a difference at your school, district or organization and they will!

9. Embrace change! Rather than get frustrated when your Millennial teachers question existing policies or procedures, embrace this new perspective. Sure, they don’t bring the years of experience you do. Sure, they don’t understand the existing culture and system that has been in place for decades before they arrived. But what they do bring is an understanding of technology and an expectation of social justice greater than any previous generation of educators has brought to campus. Millennials enter a school organization expecting to be given the attention that non-Millennials believe should be earned (Roberts, 2019). Leaders who believe Millennial educators need to “do their time” before becoming decision-makers on campus will find themselves without those educators as they leave for organizations that value quality of work over years of experience.

10. Stop and smell the roses. Millennials expect work-life balance and do not identify themselves by their career as members of previous generations do (Yuliawati & Teonata, 2022). Rather than looking at this as a weakness, consider that their emphasis on self-care makes them more resilient, not less. They will not work themselves to burnout, making unreasonable sacrifices to martyr themselves to the education machine and becoming lesser and lesser versions of their previous selves. They will slow down or ask for help. If you are there to give it to them, they are more likely to stay. And, it might benefit the rest of us to consider this approach as well.

Engaging Millennial educators requires embracing their fresh perspectives and innovative ideas. By providing opportunities for collaboration and acknowledging their unique needs and expectations, we can create more inclusive and effective learning and work environments that can shape the future of education.

Sarah Delawder is director of curriculum at Method Schools, an online independent study charter school. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree and is researching educator turnover.


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