Generation Wite-Out vs. Generation Ctrl+Z

Guest post by Paul Hermes

My mom asked me if I could help her answer some questions about her new iPhone. We arranged that I would come over to help her. When I arrived, my mom took out a spiral notebook with a page full of questions. I have had an iPhone for several years, so many of the “issues” were easily answered. However, there were some that I wasn’t sure about, so I Googled a few of them to find the answer. For others, I just started trying stuff to see if I could figure it out. I asked her several times if she tried various solutions, to which she replied every time, “No, I was afraid that I would wreck it.” A little frustrated, I said, “Mom, there is nothing on this phone or what we are doing that is doing to ‘wreck it,’ and if what we try doesn’t work, we can just change it back.” Through this process of trial and error, we were able to solve all of her questions.

As I was driving home, I reflected upon the situation and my disbelief that my mom had all of these questions she couldn’t resolve by herself. When I got home, my first-grade daughter was fully operating my iPad and she certainly hasn’t asked for help on how to play the Hair Salon 2 or BrainPOP Jr. apps. It occurred to me why this was all happening. My mom is part of the “Wite-Out Generation,” while I am a part of the “Ctrl+Z Generation.” My mom was raised in a generation where you went to experts for answers. A generation where things can break if they were handled by novices. A generation that learned by listening to experts talk. A generation that isn’t used to—and is somewhat afraid of—technology. A generation who, if they made a mistake, had to use laborious products like Wite-Out to try to fix their mistakes (and even Wite-Out didn’t fully erase their mistakes).
I am from a generation where knowledge and expertise are no longer in the hands of experts only. A generation that has self-directed access to this expertise 24/7. A generation that is used to and not afraid of using technology. A generation that knows we have the option to just do a “Ctrl+Z” to undo our mistakes.

If we view these generations through this lens of Wite-Out Generation vs. Ctrl+Z Generation, what are the implications for our schools, teachers, students, and needs of all generations? If you are a school administrator or leader, what accommodations or adjustments are you making to support and engage your Wite-Out Generation teachers? How could this perspective on this generation of teachers impact your view of them and their current roles as leaders and learners within your school? If you are of the Wite-Out Generation, what must you acknowledge about yourself and your leadership style? How do you need to change/update yourself and your perspective to continue to learn, grow, and stay relevant and effective in a Ctrl+Z world?

Conversely, if you are a member of the Ctrl+Z Generation, what does this mean for you? What advantages and disadvantages does having this generational membership give you? How does this affect or change your ability to work effectively with your colleagues, specifically those from a Wite-Out time? What learning styles or approaches are best for you? What do you need and want from your school administrator or leader? If you are a school administrator or leader, what accommodations or adjustments are you making to support and engage your Ctrl+Z Generation teachers?

But the most important thing to consider is what this all means for our students. What does it mean for how they learn? For what they learn? For who teaches them? For what their future needs will be? What does the generational trend away from Wite-Out and toward a Ctrl+Z mindset mean? How does this affect our perspectives of education (both learning and teaching), schools, experts, curiosity, and failure? If we don’t consider the background of our teachers and leaders or the preferences, needs, and futures of our students of this generation, I don’t care if you have the jumbo-size bottle of Wite-Out or if you are an expert in using the keyboard short cut to “undo.” Our mistakes will be inerasable.

How do you address generational differences among those who lead and teach at your school?

Paul Hermes is the associate principal at Bay View Middle School in Green Bay, WI. He believes being an educator is the most important profession in the world and has dedicated his life to improving the lives of students, families, and communities. He is the 2016 Wisconsin Associate Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @BVPaulHermes and visit his education and leadership blog, Analogies from an Administrator.

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