Fostering a trusting environment, adopting social emotional learning, and incorporating student voices are ways to increase student engagement, according to experts taking part in a panel discussion this week about improving students’ participation in school.
The online discussion was geared to implementing strategies that could help students be more involved in their own education. Students are engaged when content is accessible to them and they are interacting with the course material, peers, and teachers, though that may look different for every student.
“Some students might be more vocal, other students my want to write, another student may want to draw” said panelist Jonte Lee, a high school science teacher in the District of Columbia public schools. He became known as the “The Kitchen Chemist” when he turned his kitchen into a chemistry lab during the height of the pandemic to keep his students engaged in virtual learning.
The discussion, part of Education Week’s periodic “Seat at the Table” webinar series, was moderated by Peter DeWitt, an author and opinion blogger. Along with Lee, panelists included Ron Myers, a career teacher and principal in Oklahoma and Texas, and Russ Quaglia, an author and researcher studying students’ self-worth, aspirations, and engagement.
The panelists focused on three main strategies schools can improve student engagement.
Student voices begin the conversation.
Myers spoke about creating a climate of trust in the classroom so that students feel safe to engage in conversation and learn from each other because ultimately, students’ voices start the conversations.
“You have to create these conditions where students feel as though they can be truthful with you,” he said, “we are here to create a condition or classrooms of safety and trust so that students can help drive the learning in.”
Quaglia said that, based on student surveys he has conducted, there are three main drivers of meaningful engagement: ownership, responsibility, and connectivity. Schools need to be an environment where students feel that they have ownership of and responsibility for their education.
“Let the students know what they are learning and why they are learning it,” said Quaglia. “And if we cannot answer those questions, it is no wonder some students are disengaged.”
Make social-emotional learning a cornerstone.
The topic of social-emotional learning sometimes gets pushback. But the panelists said it can be key to increasing engagement with students. Referring to students by their names, asking them how they are feeling, and letting students know that their emotions are valued can translate into students processing their feelings in better ways, which can lead to engagement with peers and teachers.
Use surveys to find out what students need and want
A survey can be a useful tool for engagement because it allows students to express their desire for what they wish to learn and how they want to be taught. It provides students with a voice., but “don’t do another survey if you are not going to do anything with it,”Quaglia warns. Surveys are to be a guide for teachers and school staff to learn the needs of their students but most importantly, implement those needs.
“The students always have something to say to us. What they are not convinced of is that we are willing to listen and learn from them,” said Quaglia.
Panelists agreed that there is a need to invite and expect students to participate in their education and that there is room to look within the system and implement new strategies.