It is certainly no secret that one of the keys to student success is academic engagement. If we can just hook students into deeply thinking, analyzing, enjoying and applying new information, they will increase their learning. So, as teachers spend much of their days pondering the idea of student engagement, I too, spend much of my days pondering the same, with one difference. How do we engage teachers? If engagement is good for students, engagement is good for teachers. If teachers are engaged, students are engaged. Teachers need to be engaged, the question is, “How does teacher engagement happen?” To answer this question, let’s take a look at what engagement is. Dr. George Kuh defines engagement as:
“The engagement premise is straightforward and easily understood: the more students study a subject, the more they know about it, and the more students practice and get feedback from faculty and staff members on their writing and collaborative problem solving, the deeper they come to understand what they are learning and the more adept they become at managing complexity, tolerating ambiguity, and working with people from different backgrounds or with different views.1″
One of the challenges we face as educators and administrators is taking the “what” and knowing the “how.” Dr. Kuh gives us what engagement is, but how do we do that? How do we increase teacher engagement? In analyzing the definition, possible answers arise:
- ” …the more students study a subject, the more they know about it…”
From my point of view, and in substituting the word “students” for “teachers” this speaks to professional development; increasing the study of the subject of teaching. To work on this, we get our staff together for weekly professional development. Often times teachers are asked to read an article or view a video before we get together but with this weekly professional development we have committed to time set aside each week to learn more. Additionally teachers are encouraged to attend face to face or web-based learning opportunities. The administrative team currently participates in weekly professional development webinars.
2. ” …the more students practice and get feedback from faculty and staff members on their writing and collaborative problem solving…”
We began this work with our staff in Professional Learning Community discussions. Each week, teachers would meet to discuss teaching and learning. The role of their team partners was to provide feedback. This year we have been able to kick it up a notch. Teachers observing teachers has become part of our daily practice. Every day, you will find a teacher in a colleague’s classroom observing for task design and student engagement. Following these observations we meet together for “feedback.” Work is analyzed, questions are answered and problems are solved. The key component of this work is the discussion following the observation.
3. “… the deeper they come to understand what they are learning and the more adept they become at managing complexity, tolerating ambiguity, and working with people from different backgrounds or with different views…”
In supporting teachers in deepening their understanding we look for demonstration of their new learning. When we go from the discussion to the practice or doing stage, we know teachers are managing, tolerating and working with. More than that, we know teachers are finding success.
Exciting new ways of demonstrating this understanding have become evident.
- Teachers are advertising and asking for other teachers to come into their classrooms, “Come and observe me when I am doing this, then you will see how I am doing it.”
- Teachers are blogging. Sharing, analyzing and drawing connections to their classroom practices.
- Teachers are video-taping their work with students to use during our professional development sessions.
- Teachers are connecting during their out-of school time, either face to face or virtual networks to search for answers to their questions.
As we continue further into this work, more teacher engagement is becoming more evident. The outcomes of this work are absolutely rewarding! Student engagement has increased significantly; less office referrals, more project-based learning, and more collaborative learning opportunities. Energy and involvement from teachers has also increased. There has become a purpose and a sense of achievement. As I was talking to our International Teacher who is here for one year on an exchange his words were like music, “This school is different, teachers talk to each other. This place has a great atmosphere.”
- George D. Kuh, “The National Survey of Student Engagement: Conceptual and Empirical Foundations,” New Directions for Institutional Research, vol. 2009, no. 141 (March 9, 2009), pp. 5–20.
Lori blogs at www.attheprincipalsoffice.com You can follow her on twitter @lorilynnecullen