Cross-generational learning: Babyboomers #ReverseMentoring to learn from Gen Y teachers

Reverse mentoring was an idea of Jack Welch, the legend CEO at GE, instigated 10 years ago. He established a program where the top-level executives were mentored by young people, initially to learn how to use the internet. Today, reversed mentoring helps baby boomers learn about social media, apps and workplace trends, but it has had the unexpected outcome of reducing turnover among younger employers.

According to recent reports:

  • 3500 young teachers are leaving the profession each year in the Australian state of Victoria

  • Average age of teacher in Australia is 54 years of age

These numbers paint a grim picture – rapidly exiting young teachers and significant retirement of older teachers. Those of us of a “certain age” need to learn how to keep young teachers in the profession, because something is driving them away.

I belong to a multi-generational faith community – commonly known as ‘church’. The former better describes who we are. We work together every Sunday as a team, and I have the wonderful opportunity to connect across generations, with friends +/- 25 years from my age. As a volunteer I am led by people younger than me and I  also lead people older. Apart from the benefits of faith and spiritual connection, this gives me a valuable experience of working closely, for a cause, with a wide variety of people from many different backgrounds.

Just this last weekend I was struck by two conversations. One with my 91 year old father, the other with a 24 year old co-volunteer.

As I child, despite growing up in a relatively conservative denomination, my parents always embraced change and regularly challenged traditional thinking (this probably  explains me). From time-to-time I invite my father to join us for a service, which quite surprisingly, he accepts.

My father loves the warmth and friendliness he receives from our community, from all ages. But the loud music, smoke machines and exuberance displayed is not really his style, he recognises, however, that unless we engage young people in ways that are relevant and meaningful to them, then the future of the church is bleak. He gets it.

Earlier the same day I was having a conversations with a young friend, an educated and confident young woman on the career ladder for a leading international corporation. She has a great future – but true to her demographic the traditional career pathway isn’t appealing. She is prepared to leave her job next year and go to ministry training college – follow her passions and dreams.

I reflected on both – like my father, we may not feel comfortable with the choices and culture of youth and like my young friend, this generation are motivated by passion and altruistic causes.

Many of my generation bristle at being mentored or led by someone younger, but they are different, often with cause-driven motivations and we must learn from Gen Y, rather than criticise them. It is most effective when there is the mindset (and humility) of learning from each other. Reverse mentoring creates space to build enduring relationships, that transcend age and pay grades. Reverse mentoring is simply placing value on what the younger teachers bring to the profession. It could be the most beneficial thing you do – for yourself and your teachers.

How can a reverse mentoring relationship work?

Mutual trust

Clearly defined expectations

Agreed rules of engagement

Willingness to learn


Stay open to new ideas

The definition of insanity is going about things the same way and expecting different results. If we are losing your bright-young-things, and continue to  lead them the same way, then they will keep walking out the door. Let’s swallow our pride and understand our younger teachers and appreciate them, even when just like my dad, their way isn’t necessarily comfortable for me.


Read more

Reverse Mentoring & Managing Generational Diversity in the Workplace

Reverse mentoring: How young leaders can transform your organization

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