The New Rules of Engagement

 I’ve recently read Michael McQueen’s book “The New Rules of Engagement“.  I’ve been recommending that all teachers read it.  I read it in one day!  (Those who know me well will realize how unusual that is for me.)

In his book McQueen, a social researcher, describes the characteristics of “Generation Y” (those born from the early 1980s to the late 1990s) and compares them to “Generation X” (mid 60s – early 80s) and the “baby boomers” before them (mid 40s – mid 60s). 

As I was reading his book, there were a number of things that stood out to me and helped me to make sense of what I see happening in schools between teachers and students. 

The following is not meant to be a précis of Michael McQueen’s book.  In fact I have only touched on two of the author’s 8 “paradigm rifts” – fundamental differences between the way Gen Y kids see the world and  Gen X and Boomers do.  Instead it is a record of the thoughts that have been swimming round in my head since reading it, and looking at my classroom and my school through McQueen’s lens.


Point 1.  RESPECT: Gen Y kids don’t respect position, they respect people.

Members of Gen Y, contrary to popular opinion, are not lacking in respect.  In fact they may have more respect to give than Gen Xers!.  However they don’t give respect to someone because of their status or position, but rather, because they have earned respect (p. 65).  They don’t give respect because they “should” they give respect because they choose to.  The implications of that for teachers can’t be overstated. If you are a teacher, your Gen Y students won’t respect you just because they should, just because you are a teacher, just because you are older than them or just because you insist on being called “Mr…”.  They will respect you if you exhibit behaviors that make you worthy (in their eyes) of respect.

Point 2.  COMMUNICATION: Gen Y kids value unbroken communication pipelines. 

For Gen Y kids… being in communication is more important than it was for Gen X kids.  And what’s important is not WHAT is being communicated. Communication itself is the important thing.  A student will come home from school, go straight into her room and log on to MSN or MySpace to chat to the same friends she has spent the day with.  Her mother says “What could you possibly have to say to your friends? Haven’t you been with them all day?”  But her mother misses the point that what’s important is not WHAT her teenage daughter is communicating; its THAT her teenage daughter feels the need to be in communication.  It’s all about relationships and relating. In McQueen’s words instantaneous communication is “core to their existence” (p. 72). 


As I read McQueen’s book… I had many thoughts.  But these ones have occupied my mind a great deal. When you put point 1 together with point 2, I think you can make some interesting predictions.  

Prediction 1.  Students are likely to respect teachers who make it possible, even expected, for them to communicate with each other anywhere, anytime (even if it is about classwork).  So using communication tools such as MSN, social networking sites, discussion boards, mobile phones, elluminate etc is likely to be met with a great deal of respect.

Prediction 2. Teachers who confiscate mobile phones from students do so at the risk of losing the students’ respect as they are removing their students’ communication tools – attacking the “core of their existence”.  

Prediction 3. Many teachers will find it hard to engage students and perceive them as disrespectful, because they are insisting that their students, upon entering the classroom, cut all lines of communication both with the outside world, and those sitting next to them.

Prediction 4. Students are likely to be motivated to study if that study is being done in a way that encourages online interaction when they are at home.  (Remember its not about WHAT is being communicated – Gen Y kids want to communicate.  If you give them a work task that requires them to communicate… it will engage them).

I decided to test these predictions, gently.  So I asked a friend of mine, who is an Assistant Principal whether the teachers who routinely confiscate students’ mobile phones are also, generally, the teachers who most struggle to win student respect.  The answer (with barely a pause to think): “yes”.  Of course it’s possible to question cause and effect here.  But if McQueen is right, and I suspect he is, then respect from our students will be predicated on whether or not they perceive us as teachers who help them build meaningful (= learning) relationships.

Am I building communication channels, or dams?


10 thoughts on “The New Rules of Engagement

  1. Andrew, it sounds like “The New Rules of Engagement” should be on the essential reading list for all teachers!
    Just a few days ago I had a fabulous experience with a group of Year 11 English students and their teacher. They were using a wiki for the first time. It was so exciting to see them jump into their work after a short discussion and demo – they were ENGAGED! As I walked around the room and spoke to them, I was so impressed with, not only how quickly they took to using a wiki (none had ever actually used it as a collaboration tool) but, the clever ways they were using it to collaborate with each other.
    Sadly, I think many teachers just don’t understand that removing or not allowing students to have their communication tools, eg: mobile phones, really IS attacking the “core of their existence”. When we respect them, they respect us.
    I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of “The New Rules of Engagement” – it sounds like it’s going to be a text that I will be quoting…and quoting…and quoting!
    Thank you Andrew for sharing it with us.

  2. Some really valid points. It will be the teachers whom the kids like and respect most, who will actually do this for them.

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  4. I heard Michael McQueen speak a few weeks ago and bought the book. I proceeded to read it and couldn’t put it down. I see real value as a teacher for implementing changes in my classroom. By recognising needs of students and to have a better understanding of the things they see as important or value is essential for me to make any steps towards improvements.

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  6. As a parent have issues with my youngest of 3 girls, I was recommended the book by a friend with children the same age as mine. I’m looking forward to an interesting read. Apparently, not just for teachers.

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