Changing Mindset to Increase Student Engagement

Have you ever experienced a convergence of events that caused an unsettling in your thinking? I did, and the result pointed to one conclusion: transform my approach to student engagement.

Since September, a series of events caused me to consider how to best engage students. I have to be honest, the year began with a few unsuccessful lessons on APA and MLA formatting. Although formatting content can be dry, this year I especially felt the lesson led to bored and drowsy students. The same phenomenon occurred with other lessons that had, what I thought, were well thought out collaborations. Educators and I presented content with interim assessments woven in to ensure progress. Yet, even with the best planning my peers and I began to see the same phenomenon experienced with the formatting class: students were not engaged. Knowing that the bottom line is to educate, we were determined to find better methods for how to engage our students.

Determining how to engage students is an undertaking. I first needed to better my mindset by being honest. The reality is how I engage in learning will always be different than my students. High school students remain 14-18 years of age. Sadly, as I grow older, the generation gap continuously widens. Acknowledging the gap caused me to purge any thinking surrounding the age-old adage of “students these days.” With a cleared mindset I felt open to learning how to engage my students.

At the same time I cleared my mindset, school principals created professional development activities to better understand instruction. Groups of educators ordered by importance evidence-based classroom considerations and instructional strategies. Once the groups compared their lists, the school administrators revealed student perspectives reflecting the research of Robert Marzano and David Hattie. It was unsettling that the most important classroom considerations and instructional strategies that educators identified barely aligned with student perspectives in research results. Educator perspectives placed importance on relationships and classroom management, while the evidence indicated students want to know where they stand in their achievement and engage with meaningful technology, such as video microbursts of content. It was after this professional development I realized I was asking the wrong question. Rather than considering how to engage students, my question should be  “who are these students I need to engage?”

With my mindset shifting again, it was kismet to receive an invitation to attend Simmons University Professor Dana Grossman Leeman’s online lecture examining Generation Z students. The lecture connected characteristics of my students with the research surrounding their generation. Using Dr. Leeman’s research as a starting point, I investigated more to understand Generation Z students. I found that depending on the resource, defining the Generation Z cohort can vary. The Generation Z cohort ranges from 1995 to 2014. Variation of age range and alternative identifying names correspond with the students’ connections. iGen, Gen Tech, and Gen Wii indicate connections to technology, while Generation Homeland, Gen Z, and Generation Z indicate the importance of national security. Their connection to September 11 is a point in history rather than an emotional participant.

Characteristics of Generation Z include:

  • Dr. Leeman (2018) presented that Generation Z has an attention span of 8 seconds. They want quick portioned pieces of information to learn and similarly communicate information. Generation Z is engaged when collaborating and making decisions. Demographically they are multiracial and highly aware of injustices, which leads to a desire to have a positive impact on the world.
  • Andrea Bencsik et al’s (2018) research determined that Generation Z is intrinsically motivated. They value personal achievement goals above external rewards and aspirations. Knowledge sharing is a natural behavior among Generation Z, but only when the organizational structure allows for sharing.
  • David and Jonah Stillman (2017) offer Generation Z has a fear of missing out, often volunteering for many roles. Prescribing to making their own mistakes, they are a DIY generation where YouTube offers instructions. Generation Z makes collaborative choices that overlap into school, work, and economics. But pay attention, they are highly competitive even when collaborating.
  • Innovation Group’s 2015 metastudy indicated Generation Z are always connected with digital equivalences to possessions and tasks. They don’t want want to be underestimated having a desire to make a difference in the world and see themselves as striving to change the mistakes of past generations. Generation Z follows those individuals and companies who also strive to positively impact the world. As a result, Generation Z has a sense of “ethical consumption” that places value above brand ownership.

There is much more to learn about Generation Z students. School librarians have always been on the cusp of new concepts, which has us ready to develop fresh methods of engagement. As experiences converged to change my mindset, I can only ask that all educators, including school librarians, be open to a mindset shift of their own. Before we can truly determine how to engage students we have to know who they are as learners, consumers, and humans within our world.


Bencsik, A., Molnar, P., Juhasz, T. & Machova, R. 2018. “Relationship Between Knowledge Sharing Willingness and Life Goals of Generation Z.” Proceedings of the European Conference on Knowledge Management 1: 84–94.

Hattie, J. 2019. “250+ Influences on Student Achievement.” Visible Learning Plus. Retrieved from

Innovation Group. 2015. “Generation Z Executive Study.” J.Walter Intelligence Company Retrieved from

Hattie, J. 2009. Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. New York: Routledge.

Killian, S. 2018. “8 Strategies Robert Marzano & John Hattie Agree on.” The Australian Society for Evidence-Based Teaching. Retrieved from

Leeman D.G. 2018. Generation Z.  Simmons University, Faculty Workshop, November 11, 2018.

Stillman D. & Stillman J. 2017. Gen Z Work: How the Next Generation Is Transforming the Workplace. Ebook: Harpercollins.


Author: Georgina Trebbe

Georgina Trebbe, Ed.D. is the school librarian at Minnechaug Regional High School in Massachusetts. She is also an adjunct instructor for Simmons University’s SLT program. Georgina’s interests include information literacy, collaboration, and school librarians as researchers.

Categories: Blog Topics, Professional Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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1 reply

  1. So once you know your Generation Z students, please share how you go about engaging them.

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