The following blog appeared as an article in the Canadian School Libraries Journal on May 25th, 2023.

How is the Alpha Generation Reflected in Your LLC?

Did you know that this June, the last class of Generation Z will be graduating from elementary school? As of next year, our elementary (K-8) schools will be completely representative of a new generation: Generation Alpha. 

What will this generation need from our school libraries?

First, let’s understand a bit more about this cohort. Who are they? They are called Alpha because they are the first generation born entirely in the 21st century. In fact, this group includes all children born between 2010 and 2024. Generally, they are the children of Millenials (Generation Y). Occasionally, they are called “mini-millennials”. They are the younger siblings of Generation Z. Each week, there are approximately 2.8 million Alpha Generation children born. When they are all born by 2025, they will make up 2 billion of the world’s approximate 9 billion population. This is larger than any other generation in history. To help you with the scale, Baby Boomers numbered 78 million. This group is 25 times bigger than that. They will certainly make an impact on the world.

Next, what makes this generation unique? Well, to begin, they have spent more hours in front of digital screens than any other generation. For example, statistics show that 2 out of 3 Alpha generation children ages 8-11 have access to a Smartphone. Some say that they are less dependent on physical peers as other generations. This doesn’t mean they are not social, they just socialize differently (hello metaverse!). They are tech savvy, and use technology ubiquitously. But they also like “retro” things. The recent Mario Brothers movie success appeals to multiple generations. Alphas are more visual than other generations (hello TikTok) and have even been occasionally nicknamed “screenagers”. These children have parents that research products more than any other generation and are very loyal to brands they like. This generation is having an influence on what their parents spend money on. This is the generation that might populate the moon and even Mars. They will also likely have a longer life expectancy than any other generation in history. However, they will also be more impacted by climate change than any other generation. Another consideration is that many students in this generation (but not all) will have had their education or life interrupted or impacted by the COVID epidemic. 

Perhaps to best respond to this generation’s needs, we need to consider what will impact their futures. Like I said, this generation is inheriting a world that will be increasingly affected by more extreme weather events and heat waves. This group will be a highly educated generation which will have a huge emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). What role will AI play in all of their lives? When they enter the workforce, there will be a huge aging population.  How will they respond to the high amount of retirees in the world? 

So, what does this mean in our Library Learning Commons? How can we help this generation develop, learn and grow? Here is my top-five list. 

  1. We need to foster empathy through literacy. We need to teach this generation to care about and have an impact on others. Let’s bring social  justice issues that are local, national and global to their attention. An example: access to clean water in Canada. Is there an Indigenous community near you that is under a boil water advisory? Many students feel this is a global issue (which it is). However, it is also happening in Canada. In fact, recently, students were surprised to learn that this is happening in two communities within 20kms of my school. And they want to take action and are following the story closely. Some actions are being taken, but the progress is slow. Perhaps we can set the base for a generation that can actually achieve reconciliation. Empathy can be taught and it takes time. I would argue that empathy needs to be the foundation for all the other items in this top 5 list. We need to shine a light on inequity and care about others. We need to be exposing students to stories where empathy and allyship is modeled. Mindful collection development, curation displays and organization can make an impact on this.
  1. We need to encourage STEM projects that have a focus on sustainability and the environment. Yes, creating and building things that help solve problems is important. But before we begin that piece we have to teach students why they should care. When planning these lessons, it cannot be all doom and gloom. What hope and examples of hope can you provide? Who is doing inspirational work? Do the people you are highlighting represent your student population’s diversity? Environmental problems are really complex and involve so many different perspectives. How can we help them understand these perspectives to try and solve these truly wicked problems? How are Global Competencies or the 17 Sustainable Development Goals reflected in your space and partnerships with other teachers? Outlawing plastic bags and moving to electric cars will not be enough. We need to change how our cities are built. Our Makerspaces and lessons involving technology need to be centered on this. Our Library Learning Commons need to be places where we can help students envision a better future and make it come to life.
  1. AI will be a part of their lives. Are we prepared to help them use it well? From what little I know about it, critical thinking skills will be so essential. How can they use AI in a way that will improve our world? Will AI be their work companion? How can we help students use it ethically and efficiently? First, we need to stop fearing it, and start dabbling in it ourselves. Information literacy and being able to figure out if images, facts, articles and news are real or fake will be more critical than ever. As Teacher-Librarians, we need to have our fingers on the pulse of new digital developments. We also need to talk to students and have them teach us about and how to use platforms and technology that we may not understand completely. TikTok, Discord and Omegle are currently on my radar. How are our students demonstrating digital citizenship or even leadership on these platforms? Who are they influencing or being influenced by? How are they ensuring their own safety and privacy? Are we open to learning? Media Literacy, Information Literacy and other literacies connected to the digital world will be more important than ever.
  1. Conflict resolution & understanding different perspectives. How can we prepare these students for an increasingly divisive world? These students are witnessing a lot of conflict in the world. So have other generations. How can we ensure that they learn about past conflicts to help them understand the world today? How can we ensure that they do not repeat the mistakes of past generations? How can we help this generation to seek to understand each other’s perspective? To celebrate our differences and similarities? Our Library Learning Commons need to be safe spaces where people feel included, supported and where differences of opinion can be worked out peacefully. What books or articles can we carefully choose to help students explore issues deeply? We need to help students explore conflicts beyond themselves, and also perhaps the storms within themselves. In my experience, this is a group of students that needs to be explicitly taught self-regulation. I am learning more about what true Self-Regulation is through Dr. Stuart Shanker and his work. We need to foster students who will learn to recognize their stress, be able to reframe and reduce stress so that they can restore their energy. We as adults in the LLC need to be modeling this for students. Our spaces need to be places where students can self-regulate. What do we have available for them? 
  1. Listen to the Alpha Generation. Let’s be open to input from these students. What do they need from us and the Library Learning Commons space? This year, our LLC has had a supervised “alternate recess space”.  It has been a little like having indoor recess daily. Next year, we are reframing it as “open learning space” time. We will encourage students to come to learn new skills. Want to get a coding certification? Come and work on it. Want to improve your social skills? Come and play some games. Want to make t-shirts, buttons, stickers or other products about a cause you care about?  Expand your knowledge of Micro:bits and other technology that you are learning about in class to applications that you care about (i.e. a Land Action Kit). Come and make them! More autonomous making and exploring of interests.

This video might be a great conversation starter with young people.

In fact, I think I will do just that. Stay tuned for Part 2!

Finally, what would you add to this list? Let’s turn it into a Top-Ten. In what other ways do our Library Learning Commons need to reflect this upcoming, influential generation? What tools will we need, and how will we need to adapt? Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments below.

Featured Image by Markus Spiske on Unsplash