5 Trending Topics No Elementary School Leader Should Miss: Generational Shift

Five trends no elementary school head should miss: this is the assignment my colleague Mary Menacho gave me for my remarks to Elementary School Heads Association (ESHA) members and prospective members at a gathering last week at Trinity School in Menlo Park, CA. I’ve tweaked the focus from “trends” to “trending topics” to give myself the latitude to address issues on which there’s buzz, even if we’re not yet seeing considerable traction. So, one at a time, here are the big five from where I sit, along with a sixth topic that I believe we need to kindle.

#4: Generational Shift

Twenty years ago, I heard heads of schools lamenting that the faculty population was changing. Compared to the past, young teachers were not so interested in the “triple threat” assignments of teaching, coaching, and “after hours” duties and more willing to set limits and ask for what they wanted and needed. This crop of teachers was also more attuned to work-life balance and more likely to appreciate and do well with autonomy.

Ten years ago, I heard teachers lamenting that the parent population was changing. Compared to the past, parents were less deferential to school authority and less interested or able to volunteer their time. They were also more keenly attentive to their children’s needs, desires, and comfort.


Today, association directors are taking note: the needs and preferences of our members are changing. As a group, members are less enthusiastic about meetings, prefer their communication in digital form, and want to know how their involvement in a group or project will benefit them directly. They’re more self-sufficient and also more open to new ideas.

Sounding familiar? This, of course, is the transition from Baby Boomers, born from 1946-1964, to their Gen X counterparts born from 1965 to 1981. And a new change is coming, as the next generation, the Y’s, reach our teaching population in a few years.

If we’re going to serve our constituents well, we need to pay attention and to develop what Sarah Sladek calls “generational intelligence.” Two very good resources from Sladek, offering research and reflections on the characteristics of recent generations are:

Our theme song for this post? Cue Bob Dylan, iconic member of The Silent Generation, with The Times They Are A-Changin.’


  1. Honored to be listed on your top 5, Claudia! I’ve presented to several education associations in the past year and I hope that association leaders and educators throughout the nation will pay attention to the demographic shift before it’s too late. The average age range of members in most of these education associations is 50-59. Worse yet, in the next 5 years 1.6 million teachers are expected to retire and 46% of new teachers leave education within their first 5 years of teaching. Forbes reported on the teacher turnover being a “big problem” for America’s schools. If you’re not terrified when thinking about the future of education in our nation, you’d better check your pulse.

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