Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Students are changing - how should we be..?

This term we have been working through some ideas put together by Michael McQueen, a social researcher who writes and speaks particularly about social trends and the changing nature of young people.

Last week, we watched him speak about the shift in 'the nature of students' - one of three broad trends he identifies as being of particular significance to schools and teachers.
McQueen makes the case that there are five aspects of young people's lives which are rapidly growing in prominence - today's students are increasingly becoming...

Plugged in

The fast-increasing access to, familiarity with and capacity to to use digital technologies is resulting in some quite dramatic changes to today's youth - both for the better and, in some cases, for worse. McQueen's key message is that, despite some of the detrimental effects attributed to excessive technology use by young people, educators need to acknowledge and respond to the way these technologies have changed the young people of today, as well as what skills and capabilities will be valued in the future. Resistance is futile (& possibly negligent...).

Grown up

Today's students encounter grown up behaviours, language, responsibilities and attitudes earlier and more regularly than previous generations. This is impacting upon the relevance of the learning content they work with at school, as their set of life experiences are becoming quite different to those of previous generations. It is also impacting upon how we need to be interacting and relating with young people, as their emotional and psychological readiness for some of these more 'grown up' concepts and experiences may be lacking.


This point basically refers to a worrying reduction in the capacity of young people to be resilient. The old-fashioned acknowledgement that 'life isn't meant to be easy' has been flipped on its head by pop culture and modern advertising, which now send the message to kids that life is meant to be easy (& fun, exciting, fast-rewarding... ). Two worrying effects of this mindset change emerge: 

  1. When faced with difficulty or struggle, young people are now more likely to give up, drop out, or change direction (seeking the easier path / goal); 
  2. (More concerning) When faced with difficulty or struggle, young people are now more likely to think that there is something wrong with themselves (as they are not doing things as easily as others that they are comparing themselves to)... 
Crucial traits and outlooks for success and happiness in life - persistence, 'grit' and the valuing of growth, rather than fixed mindsets - are becoming neglected and underdeveloped in our young people.. 

High maintenance

Youth today have grown up in a culture soaked in feedback - frequently gifted and almost instantaneous feedback. Think earning of points in video games, achieving 'likes' and the equivalent on social media, electronic communication that allows for almost instant responses to be received, etc... This has created the 'monster' that is the young person who cannot cope without such regular feedback, reassurance and the external validation that they are worthy... 


Today's students have grown up with unprecedented rights, choices, freedoms and decision-making power. This has been the case in the home and in the school, with the result being a swelling proportion of students who will argue their point of view, dispute a decision they find unfavourable and expect privileges to be laid out for them... Gone are the days of respect your elders!!

After each of these five ideas was presented, we had some great discussion in small groups about;
a) When / where / how we had seen these trends exemplified..? AND (more importantly)
b) What could this mean for us as teachers and as a school..?

As our school begins preparing our next four-year strategic plan, these ideas about the shift in 'the nature of students' and their impact upon our own practice, will help inform the priorities and directions we set for our school for the next few years.

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