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Retaining Teacher Talent

The View From Generation Y

Finding 5: All teachers desire meaningful collaboration with their colleagues—not just younger ones.

The literature on Gen Y workers in the private sector suggests that opportunities for collaboration are extremely important for this new generation. Research indicates that Gen Y strongly values working collaboratively in teams (Shaffer, 2008, p. 4) and, more generally, developing solid relationships with their coworkers and, in particular, their immediate supervisor (NAS Recruitment Communications, 2006; Wellins & Schweyer, n.d.).

Our findings reveal that, like other professionals, Gen Y teachers do want to collaborate with colleagues. But this finding was not unique to Gen Y; all teachers expressed a desire for such collaboration. When asked whether they would prefer to teach in a school with a lot of collaboration among teachers and guidance from instructional experts or a school with less collaboration but more freedom to design lessons independently, roughly two thirds of both Gen Y and non-Gen Y teachers preferred the former (see Figure 15).

Figure 15

Note: These differences are not statistically significant.

As with their interest in receiving regular feedback, Gen Y teachers desire collaboration because they want to be as effective as possible and view collaboration as a learning opportunity. An elementary school teacher from Washington, D.C., said the following:

We all can grow. No one has reached their highest level. We can all be better teachers all the time. The way to do that, I learn from so many other teachers. My teaching style is what I take from everyone I see and what works for me.

Gen Y teachers mentioned various formats for collaboration that were helpful, including collaboration both with teachers in the same subject area as well as teachers from different subject areas but similar situations. An elementary school teacher from Chicago said the following:

I've been extremely lucky. Ever since the school has been founded, we have things like teacher talk, critical friends, where we meet every week, and we either develop our curriculum or we see each other teaching and help each other with what problems or how to target students better and what things we can apply to and improve ourselves in our school. That has been vital to our school.

Collaboration was likewise seen by one Gen Y teacher as a way to avoid stagnating, or "getting stuck in my ways." Although improving instructional practice was seen as the primary benefit of teacher collaboration, time spent on collaboration can, in fact, save time, as mentioned by a high school teacher from Northern Virginia:

We don't have to reinvent the wheel, so if you want to refine something, we can go ask for advice. It saves a lot of time…we can finish each other's ideas and develop something that works for the team, which is very helpful.

Although 60 percent of workplaces experience intergenerational tension (NAS Recruitment Communications, 2006), cross-generational collaboration can foster positive relationships that celebrate the unique contributions that teachers from different generational groups can add to the school (Carroll, 2009). Gen Y teachers clearly have much to learn from their older, more experienced colleagues about being an effective instructor. At the same time, these more experienced teachers may be able to learn from Gen Y teachers, particularly about certain technologies that can aid instruction or recent educational research from preparation programs that may still be fresh in their minds. In sum, ample opportunities should be provided to make the most of this cross-generational eagerness to collaborate to improve teacher effectiveness and, in turn, retention.

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