Millennials: They often face judgment from older generations and are considered flaky. According to Pew Research Center, anyone born between 1981 and 1996—ages 24 to 39 in 2020—is considered a millennial. I fall into that range. You would think that would make me more empathetic to millennials’ shortcomings, but that’s not necessarily the case. In my experience, I’ve seen a difference in maturity and willingness among millennials to become better professionals. Some millennials seem to have an accelerated learning curve toward professionalism, whereas some struggle more. As illustrated in one interpretation of the learning curve (see Figure 1 below), those who are naively confident soon find they don’t know much and need help. If you employ millennials, please know that there will be a learning curve for teaching, as well as for their professionalism.

As principals, we must know and understand whom we employ. We must accept that members of the millennial generation have a lot of growing up to do. That growing up can happen quickly or slowly depending upon your level of support for increasing their professionalism. It is our responsibility as we host professional development to improve teaching and learning. We must also address professionalism—or, as millennials refer to it, “adulting.” Because, like everything else, our lack of skills is not our fault.

I offer five recommendations for principals and their leadership teams to support millennials’ professional growth.

line chart showing learning curve, 3 screen shots of a website

  1. Help new millennial teachers accept that they don’t know what they don’t know. As educational leaders, we need to leverage teacher leaders as resources. Find teacher leaders who do certain things well and allow new teachers to observe them doing it. Tell the teachers to fake it until they can own it. When they have observed it and debriefed with a member of the leadership team, allow them to try it out. Offer coaching and support throughout their efforts. Lastly, tell them to continue doing it until it becomes natural.
  2. Train millennial teachers to use technology tools to make their lives easier. I recommend Microsoft Office Outlook calendar (see Figure 2 above) or Google calendar. Suggest that millennial teachers put a calendar app on their smartphones. Many principals, assistant principals, and other members of the leadership team already use calendar invites to set up meetings and coordinate with professional learning communities. Teachers should also use their calendar to schedule time for their teaching duties such as grading papers, submitting lesson plans, and calling home to students’ parents or guardians. This will help to keep them accountable for deadlines. If it becomes a norm on your campus, then this is another form of support.
  3. Express to millennial teachers that they need to be a person of their word. As the saying goes, a man’s word is his bond. Teach millennial faculty that saying they are going to do something and then completing that task speaks to their character. They need to know that if you commit to finishing a task, you have to do it! Additionally, they need to know that if they can’t or don’t know how to do something, they need to say so. Millennials need to understand they don’t have to be people pleasers. They can say no—they just can’t make excuses. They need to know that you respect honesty above all else.
  4. Millennials need to be told that no one owes them anything. Entitlement among millennials at times can be overbearing. They may have been very successful at some things with little effort, but in teaching that will not be the case. Teaching takes effort, planning, delivery, and confidence. It takes admitting when you are wrong and accepting help. Did I mention planning? Sit down with millennial teachers one-on-one to plan a daily agenda, including times. I have often observed that new teachers underplan. Their lack of planning then leads to classroom management issues.
  5. Explain that they are not there to be friends with students. Students have plenty of friends; their teacher should not be among them. Explain to millennial teachers that it is perfectly fine to want to be liked by their students, but teachers and students must have professional boundaries. As the leader of school culture and climate, you must train teachers to set boundaries like they set classroom expectations. They don’t need to connect on social media or give out their cellphone numbers. One way to communicate with students is to use a Google voice number or an application such as Remind (see figures 3 and 4).

When coaching millennial teachers to improve their instruction, we often supply them with ample professional development to expose them to the latest and greatest strategies and techniques. However, we may fall short in teaching professionalism. It’s assumed that millennials know how to be professionals, but we can no longer afford to assume. We must support and train millennials on how to be the professionals we desire in our work environment.

Jamie Handy, MEd, is a dean of students for the Houston Independent School District in Houston.