The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicate, Collaborate, and Create Community


Jennifer Abrams & Valerie von Frank

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Praise for The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicate, Collaborate, and Create Community

    “Readers of The Multigenerational Workplace will be inspired to reflect and respond to the complexities of their workplace and motivate diverse generations for today and into the future. In addition, collaborative teams will find this book useful in enhancing their ability to communicate across generations.”

    Clara Howitt, Superintendent of Education/Trustee

    Learning Forward

    “A massive exodus of Baby Boomers combined with a huge influx of Millennials has created a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reinvent the teaching profession for today's world. To make this possibility a reality, we will have to abandon 20th-century human capital solutions that have become 21st-century problems. We will have to rethink the teaching career from recruitment through retirement. In The Multigenerational Workplace, Jennifer Abrams and Valerie von Frank give school leaders the data, strategies, and tools they need to successfully navigate this transition.”

    Tom Carroll, President

    National Commission on Teaching & America's Future, Washington, DC

    “This book will quickly become an essential on every leader's bookshelf, offering a framework that is helpful to all of us who lead multigenerational organizations along with practical tools and activities to assist in planning and facilitation. Being on the cusp of Gen X and Gen Y and a leader of a team of teachers that includes Baby Boomers through Millennials, this book will be an essential resource for me.”

    Zoe Duskin, Principal

    Inspired Teaching Demonstration Public Charter School Washington, DC


    View Copyright Page


    When I think of how my study of how to be generationally savvy began, it was conversation by conversation. The first was a problem-solving conversation with my superintendent, who was curious about ways to support the district as increasing numbers of administrators retired and replacements came in quickly. That first conversation led me to design an in-district administrator retreat. The feelings about the topic, both skeptical and curious, were anything but indifferent, and opinions were voiced. This topic had heat. Something was up.

    As I crafted the “Being Generationally Savvy” workshop time and time again during the next few months, outside the district and then across the country, I added to my stockpile of stories people told me at coffee breaks and noted the questions people asked as they tried to apply the work in their contexts. I held focus groups after school for different generations to tell me their challenges collaborating with others at work. I brought in lunches for new teachers so they could tell me about their struggles and share what supports they needed. And then the e-mails would come. “Have you seen this article?” or “You have to hear this story from an interview I just did yesterday with this new teacher—such a generational moment!”

    The set of questions grew. People pushed and pulled at the generational filter I was describing. How did being generationally savvy change for those in an urban setting? Did it matter as much in a rural setting? What about the filter of culture? Of gender? What about the developmental stages? Wasn't everyone going to change and become like a Traditionalist at age 65?

    The work went deeper. Specific requests for assistance helped develop the topic even more.

    • What about Millennial supervisors and administrators? What do we do for them since they are so much younger than those they will be leading and evaluating?
    • What can we do to create a better succession plan, because we can see our district will have more retirements in the next 10 years?
    • What can we do to recruit new employees so they think this is a great place to work? Do we need to change our orientation? What other changes do we need to make?
    • What can we do to support veteran teachers as we increase expectations around technology and other new initiatives that change how people will work together? How will we support them in changes that are likely to be uncomfortable?
    • How do we talk to 40-somethings who feel so different than Boomers? Do we need to change our policies for them and the Millennials?
    • What about professional development? Should we do more online? What needs to be taught face-to-face?

    And so this book was written. It compiles the discussions and the research, the e-mails and the articles, the focus groups and the coffee breaks. This book is the conversation. Join in.



    Much appreciation goes to the following people who sensed the need for discussion around this topic and who have supported me in ways they might never truly know. I am grateful.

    To Mary Frances Callan, my former superintendent, Burton Cohen, my former director of secondary education, Becki Cohn-Vargas, my former director of elementary education, and others at Palo Alto Unified School District who offered me a space to talk about generational challenges and a forum in which to work with the material.

    To those in other school boards and school districts and educational organizations who added to and pushed the work forward: Judy Levinsohn and her new-teacher mentors at Orange County Office of Education; Caroline Satoda and Debra Eslava-Burton and their colleagues at San Francisco Unified School District; Anna Moore and others at Monterey County Office of Education; Sharon Ofek and her new teachers at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School; Michael Zeldin, Chaim Heller, and others in the DeLeT Program community; the Association of California School Administrators; the Independent Schools Association of the Central States; the California Association of Independent Schools; the Virginia Association of Independent Schools; the Illinois Principals Association; and those at Learning Forward conferences who encouraged me, participated in the workshops, and shaped my thinking.

    To my colleagues outside the United States with whom I have worked and who found the ideas “right on” and worthy of consideration: Scott Moreash, Luciana Cardarelli, Suzanne Molitor, Hilda Pierorazio, and others in Peel District School Board (DSB) in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada; Clara Howitt and others at Greater Essex County DSB in Windsor, Ontario, Canada; members of Tri-Association: The Association of American Schools of Central America, Colombia, Caribbean and Mexico; and members of the East Asia Regional Council of Schools. This work has deepened and broadened thanks to your perspectives.

    To my “behind the scenes” supporters, friends, and family who were my cheerleaders and brought me generational perspectives of all ages: my father, Richard Abrams; my late mother, Myrna Abrams; my Gen-Xer brother and sister-in-law, Adam and Shelley Abrams; and my “not yet to be generationally named” nephews, Joe and Evan. To my friends of all generations, John Hebert, John Fredrich, Jen Wakefield, Greg Matza, Ann Idzik, Sean O'Maonaigh, Pam Lund, Collene Bliss, Katy Bimpson, and Mary Sano, who generously listened, dinner after dinner, walk after walk, as I crafted the workshop, and ultimately the book, and who offered much needed perspective. To the Kimpton Hotels where Valerie and I wrote parts of this book and spent many a fabulous evening, and to our kind and supportive editor, Dan Alpert. It was Dan who introduced me to my coauthor, Valerie, my Joneser colleague, who through her agile and sharp writing skills made this book so much more engaging and thoughtful.

    —Jennifer Abrams

    I feel a deep gratitude to the many, many great teachers who taught me not only their subjects but also to love learning. Many of them may not be with us anymore, but their names stay with me as inspirations and people whose guiding hands at key times in my life shaped me: Sr. Mary Agnes, Mrs. Dohn, and Mrs. Sunseri at Ursuline Academy in Bethesda, Maryland; Mrs. Crayhan at Barnsley Elementary in Rockville, Maryland; Mrs. Mills and Mrs. Goodman at Wood Junior High in Rockville, Maryland; Maryanne Williams and Dianne Emanuel at Wilson High School in Florence, South Carolina; and so many others.

    The National Staff Development Council (NSDC) contributed so much to my professional learning during nearly a decade as editor of the JSD and through numerous conferences that helped deepen my understanding of the field, and I am thankful for the opportunities I had to learn with NSDC, now Learning Forward. Thank you to Dennis Sparks and Joan Richardson, who were going to hire someone from Ohio and instead allowed me to join the NSDC family in 2000, and to Stephanie Hirsh and Joellen Killion, who have continued my learning.

    I feel a deep appreciation to my family, particularly Hannah and Grace, who watched unflinchingly as I inched my way through this work.

    Finally, I am everlastingly grateful to Dan Alpert, whose unfailing understanding and faith in this book allowed it to happen, and to Jennifer for inviting me in so willingly to be a part of it.

    —Valerie A. von Frank

    About the Authors

    Jennifer Abrams is a national and international education and communications consultant for schools and hospitals. Jennifer trains and coaches teachers, administrators, support specialists, nurses, hospital personnel, and others on successful instructional practices, new-employee support, supervision and evaluation, being generationally savvy, having hard conversations, and effective collaboration skills.

    In Palo Alto Unified School District (Palo Alto, California), Jennifer was a professional developer who designed training for new teachers, K-12 teachers, instructional supervisors, and administrators in areas of instruction, equity, supervision, and teacher leadership. She also was lead coach for the Palo Alto-Mountain View-Los Altos-Saratoga-Los Gatos Consortium's Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment Program.

    Her publications include Having Hard Conversations published by Corwin in 2009, “Planning Productive Talk,” an article for ASCD's Educational Leadership (October 2011), the chapter, “Habits of Mind for the School Savvy Leader” in Art Costa's and Bena Kallick's book, Learning and Leading With Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Success, and contributions to the book Mentors in the Making: Developing New Leaders for New Teachers published by Teachers College Press.

    Jennifer has been featured in ASCD's video series Master Class, hosted by National Public Radio's Claudio Sanchez, as a generationally savvy expert for “Tune in to What the New Generation of Teachers Can Do,” published in Phi Delta Kappan, May 2011, and by the Ontario Ministry of Education for its Leadership Matters: Supporting Open-to-Learning Conversations video series.

    Jennifer considers herself a “voice coach,” helping others learn how to best use their voices—be it collaborating on a team, presenting in front of an audience, coaching a colleague, or supervising an employee. She lives in Palo Alto, California. Jennifer can be reached at or

    Valerie von Frank is an author, editor, and communications consultant. A former newspaper editor and education reporter, she has focused much of her writing on education issues, including professional learning. She served as communications director in an urban school district and a nonprofit school reform organization and was the editor of JSD, the flagship magazine for the National Staff Development Council, now Learning Forward, for seven years. She has written extensively for publications, including JSD, Tools for Schools, The Learning System, The Learning Principal, and T3. She is coauthor with Ann Delehant of Making Meetings Work: How to Get Started, Get Going, and Get It Done (Corwin, 2007), with Linda Munger of Change, Lead, Succeed (NSDC, 2010), and with Robert Garmston of Unlocking Group Potential to Improve Schools (Corwin, 2012).

  • Epilogue

    Normally in the course of professional learning, the culminating activity is some amalgam or interpretation of a “Here's What, So What, Now What” exercise. In the final session, everyone has a chance to summarize key ideas learned and why those insights are important in a professional context. Then each participant lists a few “Now What?” next steps. What will I do or say differently than I might have before the professional development began? What changes will I make to my practice?

    This book is the “Here's What.” This is what we know about the generations and how generational similarities and differences make the workplace more interesting—and more challenging.

    You likely picked up this book with some ideas in the back of your mind that are the “So What” of generational savvy. You probably were aware of some differences in your workplace or elsewhere that led you to question what was happening. We hope through the examples we shared, the facts and information we provided, and the discussions you generated by working through the activities you selected in each chapter, that your “So What?” awareness has grown. What you read and what you might have learned in discussions with your colleagues we hope helped you develop your generational filter of perception to see how generational differences affect your work.

    Now we come to “Now What?” What specifically will you change in your practice?

    • How will you communicate in a way that better supports how you interact with a different generation?
    • Will you change your website in ways that meet the needs of the generation you are recruiting?
    • Will you start planning professional learning with a more nuanced generational lens?
    • Are you prepared to look at your legacy to thoughtfully plan how best to prepare those who will take your position?

    As we said in the introduction and throughout the book, the generational filter is only one filter through which to see ourselves and our work. Working effectively together also requires taking into account colleagues' cultures, racial, and ethnic affiliations; countries of origin; genders; religious identifications; and other filters through which we view the world. This book asks that you add the generational lens.

    So what will you do next with your increased awareness and understanding of the generations? What will you do differently as a teacher and a colleague? As a principal? As a system or district administrator? What will move you and your work forward to act with greater understanding and effectiveness? The answer lies in the generational savvy you acquired in the process of working through this material, additional readings you may have sought out, and the generational dexterity that you now apply.

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