John Eggers: Are your children engaged?
Are your kids in school engaged? No, I'm not talking about if they're about to tie the knot, heaven forbid. What I am talking about is are they participating in school or are they just taking up space?...
Are your kids in school engaged? No, I’m not talking about if they’re about to tie the knot, heaven forbid. What I am talking about is are they participating in school or are they just taking up space?
Some kids take up space in school. Maybe you were one. I am sure all of us played the role of a fencepost at one time or another. Usually kids who aren’t involved, who aren’t participating, who aren’t doing something worthwhile, don’t do well and too often leave school early without their diploma.
Of all the things that teachers do with kids in the classroom, trying to keep all students actively involved or engaged is probably the most challenging task a teacher faces. Anyone who works with young people knows this. Many choose a different profession because the challenge is too daunting.
What teachers try to do is engage all students in whatever they are teaching. “Are all students involved in learning?” is still a big challenge today just as it was 50 years age. Some would argue that the challenge is probably even bigger because young people have access to so many distractions.
When are students not engaged? If students are taking a nap, messing around with other students, skipping class, just sitting, or not thinking about what is being taught, not much learning is going on.
Students are engaged, for example, when they are asking questions, talking with other students about the subject, actively doing something relating to what is taught, reading or thinking about the subject.
I was a physical education teacher so, for me, it was easy to see what kids were not engaged. If they were not moving, they weren’t engaged. As a Spanish teacher it was also fairly easy to determine who was with me and who was not. Since most of our class time was spent in speaking Spanish either one on one or in groups, roaming around the classroom was a good test for student engagement.
Band or music teachers know who is and who is not engaged because they can see and hear who is active. For classroom teachers where students are seated at tables or desks they have a more challenging time engaging students because they are not mind readers. It’s hard to determine whether or not a student is thinking about a particular math problem or a spelling word and not thinking about a new Netflix video.
Good teachers test every day to determine if their students get “it.” When students do well, you can be more confident that they were engaged. If they don’t do well, they were probably spending too much time being a fencepost.
What can teachers do to ensure that students are engaged? This was the topic presented to Roseau High School teachers at a recent teacher workshop I had the privilege of facilitating. Roseau and other school districts treat student engagement as a priority. Here is just a sampling of the things they suggested that they felt would enhance student engagement. Notice that many of these tie into student-teacher relationships.
● Have more individual conversations with students.
● Take more interest in what students do outside the classroom.
● Take more time with teachable moments.
● Engage the quiet students in a non-threatening way.
● Focus on what is in it for the student. How does it relate to them?
● Acknowledge them as they walk in.
● Get ideas from colleagues.
● Do more exciting things in the classroom.
● Get kids moving.
● Celebrate small successes.
● Use more humor.
● Use relevant examples and activities.
● Find out what is relevant to kids and build on that.
● Ask questions about the subject at the end of class.
● Put “fun” in your lessons.
● Question their understanding by using a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.”
● Apply life skills to students individually.
● Appear comfortable and confident with the activity.
● Identify the at-risk kids. Connect with them outside of the class.
● Have class-to-class competition.
● Adopt “Every Monday matters” and “Life Lesson Thursday.”
● Focus on personal goals.
● Listen to kids.
● Gain student trust.
● Show students that your teaching actually holds value.
● Keep it fun.
● Get student feedback.
● Bring real-life situations to the class. Use community members.
● Engage students not in your class.
The teachers identified many other ways to engage students. Now, the challenge is to select a few and use them diligently and if they don’t work, try something different, which is what teaching is all about.
It’s become a cliché to say that teaching is not easy. When you try to keep a classroom full of students actively involved six hours a day for 180 or more days a year, this can wear on a person. Still, teachers do it and like the Roseau teachers, they keep looking and trying new ways to ensure that all of their students are learning. Hats off to Roseau teachers and hats off to all teachers.
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.