When we talk about student engagement, what are we talking about? Are we talking about the noisy classroom where middle or high school students are excitedly sharing their ideas in small groups about their creative solutions to the math problem their teacher posed?  Are we talking about the first graders who can’t help but yell out the answer to the teacher's question posed during the reading of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I bet it can’t be as good as the book!). Are we referring to the fifth grade class in which every student is quietly completing their individual social studies worksheets? 

According to Wise Ways (144): “ ‘Engagement’ is the extent to which learners actively and persistently participate until appropriate responses are firmly entrenched in their repertoires. Such participation can be indexed by the extent to which the teacher engages students in overt activity – indicated by absence of irrelevant behavior, concentration on tasks, enthusiastic contributions to group discussion, and lengthy study.”

Depending on our individual teaching styles and/or our principal/school/district expectations, all three examples might meet our definition of student engagement. However, if what we want are students who are self-motivated and interested in really understanding the content rather than just working to get an A, we need to apply the definition in Wise Ways and analyze the expectations on our teachers and the resulting ways in which our students are taught.

In last week’s blog “What Are Some Effective Ways To Share Leadership and Build The Capacity Of My Staff” one of the principals talked about giving up control (with support) to teachers as a way to build their capacity for leadership. The same holds true for the students we teach.  As Daniel Pink says in the September 2014 issue of Educational Leadership, “We want kids who are engaged.  If you truly want to engage kids, you have to pull back on the control and create the conditions in which they can tap into their own inner motivation.”

In the interview of Mr. Pink, he raises a number of important issue for our consideration as we think about engagement and motivation, including:

  • the use of rewards only results in improved performance for routine skills, not for work that requires “greater judgment, creativity, and discernment.”
  • an important distinction between compliant behavior and engaged behavior and how to adjust our expectation of teachers and students to promote engaged behavior.
  • the importance of promoting what he calls “Goldilocks tasks.”  These tasks are analogous to tasks based on Vygotsky's Zone Of Proximal Development, which depend upon the social aspects of learning, selecting material that is appropriate for each student, and providing just the right amount of support so that students can be successful.
  • Spending more time explaining and responding to why questions and less time explaining how to do something.  For example, spend some more time explaining why we do division, and less time explaining just the procedural steps for how we do division.
  • A specific technique called motivational interviewing to help students determine the reasons they engage with learning tasks.

 You can read the entire article by clicking this link.  Educational Leadership Article

You can also view an interview with Mr. Pink by clicking this link.  Interview with Daniel Pink

Have your Leadership Team, Instructional Teams, and the entire faculty read the article and consider the following questions:

What does engagement look, sound, and feel like? What does compliance look, sound, and feel like?

 Are teachers and students in your school engaged or compliant?

 What policies and practices encourage compliance?  Which encourage engagement?

 What is the relationship between compliance/engagement and behavior issues in your school? If increased engagement is your goal, what will be the impact on the behavior issues?

If you determine a need to move toward more engagement, what steps need to be undertaken?

Consider posting your ideas in the Reflections section or posting a question in the Discussions section of IndistarConnect. Others are working on the same issue. We know they'd appreciate your insights or the opportunity to share theirs. 

 

 


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Paul Axtell

With more than thirty years of experience helping organizations and individuals be more effective, Paul Axtell has honed his insights in executive offices and training programs for everyone from office staff and line workers to managers and team leaders.

A large focus of his work is how to run effective and productive meetings—to turn them from something people dread into useful, productive sessions with trackable results.

Paul is the author of multiple books, including Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, Being Remarkable, and Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids. He can be reached at <a href="http://www.paulaxtell.com">www.paulaxtell.com</a> and via email at paulaxtell@mac.com.
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