Last Saturday, April 2nd, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) hosted an event on engaging all community members in the conversation around local education. It was designed to help school committees understand how different generations of people have evolved (including their value systems, preferred elements of mutual understanding, and communication systems). Understanding what groups have experienced and the ways in which they were/are shaped helps communicate inclusively and in a variety of ways.
[Disclaimer: this presentation is around generalities only; it doesn’t speak to individuals within broad groups or imply that any one value, communication, or listening style is isolated to one group or better or worse than another; rather, the intention is to be inclusive and address all interests.]
We now have six living generations:
· 1901-1945: G.I. and Silent Generation
· 1946-1964: Baby Boomers
· 1965-1985: Baby Busters/MTV/Boomerang Generation
· 1978-1990: Generation Y/Millenials
· 1995-2007: Generation Z (the new Silent Generation)
· 2007+: Next Generation
For purposes of this discussion, groups were divided into four subsets: Greatest, Boomers, Gen X’ers, and Millenials since these groups represent those with whom we most prevalently engage in our community. Here are some highlights of each one:
Greatest: Wars were begun and ended. The depression deprived people of much. It was the golden age of radio (newspapers were scarce unless one lived close to a newsstand). Books were the primary way to tell stories. Heroes and the media were dominated by white males and much bad behavior was hidden and reputations protected (think baseball reporters who might be denied access to players based on how they portrayed them in the press). Labor unions began and Social Security was established.
· Values: patience, delayed gratification, risk aversion, respect for authority, loyalty, dedication, and sacrifice
· What leads to mutual understanding?: use of long term goals, formality and order, feel part of a larger effort, not rushing, don’t stereotype as technophobes – want to learn and need support
· Communication: books, letters, cards, face-to-face, print, TV
Boomers: Economic prosperity, suburbia, an increasing focus on children. TV arrives. Civil Rights movement, Women’s movement, Vietnam, assassinations and the space race. Heroes were more diverse, like MLK, JFK, Billie Jean King. There was less acceptance of “keeping quiet;” people weren’t on pedestals in the same manner as the past.
· Values: personal gratification, health/wellness, promotion/recreation, youth, work, volunteerism, optimism
· What leads to mutual understanding?: focus on near future, more individual but still meetings/team building, answering “how does ___help us do better?,” focus on challenges and how they can help, books/tapes
· Communication: face-to-face, formality in communication (real signatures, even in e-mails), feel strongly about the chain of command
Gen X’ers: MTV, single parent homes, computers. A global discussion started (e.g. Nelson Mandela, Perestroika, etc.). Heroes included more entertainers, Gates + Jobs, athletes, and for the first time things + animation.
· Values: diversity, global thought, work/life balance, fun, independence, informality
· What leads to mutual understanding?: multiple sources of info (not just one person saying something), use of resource lists, electronic support, brevity of materials (bullets/checklists)
· Communication: last generation to engage with cursive, source info desired, mainstreamed e-mail, tech savvy
Millenials: Technology, multiculturalism, reality TV. 9/11, patriotism, school safety, and the first black president. Heroes included Jobs (again- iPod this time), Princess Diana, Tiger Woods, Jon Stewart, Mark Zuckerburg, the Williams sisters.
· Values: Optimism, confidence, idealism, fun, diversity
· What leads to mutual understanding?: take time, communicate expectations, large teams with strong leadership, supporting “the art of conversation” (since texting often supplants in-person/voice communication)
· Communication: less formal, visual (photos, images), start with outcomes and work backwards to the start to improve understanding
For the purposes of simplifying recommendations of communication ideas, the presentation separated the generations into two groups.
Greatest / Boomer: Historically, school systems are very poor at communicating with this group. The appreciation districts feel for their continued support of public schools must be appropriately communicated. Some ideas:
· District newsletter 2x/year e-mailed and hard copies at Senior Center, library, etc.
· Issue press releases about the schools for local newspapers
· Employ kids for community service to deliver information packets
· Produce a brochure and/or fact sheets that can be distributed
· Offer open houses for tours and presentations
Gen X / Millenials: Typically, communication methods have focused here. Ideas that build on what districts are currently doing:
· Pull interesting presentations out of SC meeting and post as YouTube videos
· Involve school and local cable access TV stations for programming
· Employ more visuals and color (green/red) in print presentations
· Ensure that the district website is effective on a mobile device
Other communication ideas can involve any and all, like workshops, focus groups, citizen advisory groups, etc. There are citizens in every community who have expertise in the field of communication and may be willing to help. Think about your work from a variety of perspectives (i.e. individuals and groups who will see your outreach – like prospective employees, potential new residents, people who don’t have children or don’t have children in the public schools or don’t have school-aged children).
My take-away: Think about how generations have evolved in order to improve understanding, and engage diverse knowledge and opinions. The more community members learn and share with school districts, the more students outcomes will improve. Challenges? School committees are volunteer organizations, and districts struggle to find the resources for communication (as they struggle enough to find resources for teaching and learning). We must learn together how to communicate (one- and two-way) with the community as a long-term process that should grow and change over time to the extent that time and resources allow.