2022 didn’t start the way that we were hoping. With COVID cases increasing day after day, schools and educators continue to face multiple challenges: keeping schools safely open, addressing students’ academic, social and emotional needs, dealing with significant staff shortages and one that makes things even harder, a persistent lack of trust in our ability to come together and navigate these problems as a community.
In our efforts to find the best solutions for children and youth, we cannot forget that difficult emotions such as fear, anxiety, overwhelm, or sadness, are currently driving people’s behaviors. Each of these emotions has a message, but it is often difficult to pause and understand the purpose of these feelings. From parents and educators to administrators and young people, we are all experiencing these emotions, and need space to process them and feel heard.
A good question to ask is “what are these emotions trying to tell?”
The pandemic has forced many changes to how we teach and learn—from using technology to engage students and creating community in online settings to a greater focus on self-directed learning. Many educators didn’t know that they could be effective teachers in a virtual environment, and yet they became tech jedis. This agile transformation shows that innovation in education is possible, even under difficult circumstances.
However, when we think about a post-pandemic future and how education can be a tool for social transformation, there is a priority that we need to keep at the forefront of our efforts: the need for our students to be “engaged with their learning, with each other, and with their lives.” Dr. Andy Hargreaves, Director of Chenine (Change, Engagement and Innovation in Education) at the University of Ottawa and Research Professor in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, explains in this ASCD article how the future of learning lies in engagement. That is to say, creating learning environments rich in meaning and purpose, where educators ignite “students’ intellectual curiosity” as Zaretta Hammond often says.
From an SEL standpoint, engagement means that our students have a desire to learn and that they have the academic, social and emotional tools to succeed in learning. This involves understanding what it is that students want to learn, so you can support them in that process. This engagement needs to be contextualized to your learning community and differentiated based on your students’ needs.
This focus on student engagement has implications for the role of the educator as well. We cannot do the same things and expect different results, right? For starters, educators need adequate support in order to effectively engage their students, starting with a systemic and systematic effort to support educator wellbeing, and followed by a commitment to integrate SEL into academics, grading, discipline plans and systems of support. Need help with that? Send me a note.
To get started, take a look at these three strategies that can help you increase student engagement in your classroom.
Tap into your students’ passions. What are your students favorite activities, hobbies, and things they like to do? What topics get your students fired up? If you don’t know or don’t remember from the beginning of the school year, consider implementing “genius hour”, a semi-structured time when students decide on topics they would like to learn. For more information about genius hour, check out this video and this article.
Address compelling issues. Students need to feel a sense of connection with the world around them. Discuss current events that are relevant to your students’ context or that are interesting to your students. Consider having students create a museum exhibit that explores local history and/or community challenges. Check out this Edutopia article to learn how to get started.
Nurture students’ sense of purpose. As you know, Transform with Purpose is one of the essential skills in the HEART in Mind model. Purpose not only strengthens our students’ resilience, but it can also be a tool to increase our scholars’ engagement in the learning process. Check out the process outlined in chapter five of Teaching with the HEART in Mind, and use it with your students. If you haven’t read the book yet, this may be your chance to grab a copy!
You may be wondering how in the world you can even consider your students’ engagement level, while you are barely making it. I hear you! It may not be possible for you to start anything new right now, and that is okay. However, you might try to incorporate one of these items (students’ passions, compelling issues OR students’ sense of purpose) in at least one activity that you will be doing in your classroom this upcoming week. What do you think?
Engagement is not an all-or-nothing endeavor. You can increase your students’ motivation and level of engagement through intentionally incorporating their passions and interests, addressing relevant issues and nurturing a sense of purpose. As you are trying new things, observe your students’ response and tweak based on their feedback. You got this!
Did you know that Teaching with the HEART in Mind has been selected as one of the favorite books for educators by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley? What an honor! I am grateful for this recognition and hopeful that this book will support educators to teach wholeheartedly every day. Check out the complete list here.