Are YOU engaged?

This post is prompted by another blog post from The Future of K-12 Education—Is “Active Engagement” the Key Characteristic of Effective Teaching?

The post talks about how in a recent Gallup survey it was found that 7 out of 10 workers were either “’not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’ in their jobs”.

Actively disengaged.

I had some thoughts about what this might mean exactly, but decided I wanted a definition. A quick Google search led me to this definition from a paper entitled “Strategic Sales Reinforcement – Types of Employees Impacting Cultural Change:

ACTIVELY DISENGAGED employees are defined as employees who “aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish[emphasis added]

 

If we bring this thought into a school, do we have actively disengaged staff? We would all hope not, but I think I’ve seen a few.


So what does it mean to be actively engaged as a teacher in a school?
Here are a few initial thoughts of mine:

An actively engaged teacher in a school is:

  • openly supportive of the vision, goals and philosophy of the school—they know what they are and their work reflects this.
  • supportive of new or trial initiatives in the school—they get involved, give it a go, see the positives over the negatives and are willing to help work through any issues that arise.
  • someone who inquires into their own practice and shares their findings with their colleagues—what has worked, what hasn’t, what they’ve discovered.

 

If we get more focused and look at an actively engaged teacher in a classroom, what does this look like? Again, these are just my initial thoughts:

An actively engaged teacher in a classroom:

  • has developed and continues to develop positive relationships with their students—they know them not only academically but also as a person.
  • chooses to be passionate about what they are teaching and finds ways to instil that passion into their students—this might be in the form of authentic learning activities that are personalised to the students, for example.
  • gets actively involved in students learning—sits alongside and learns with them, guides them to find things out for themselves, helps them to explore interests and questions that arise.
  • Is a lifelong learner—If our goal is to develop young people “who will be confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners” (NZ Curriculum Vision), then surely we also have to be willing to be the same!

 

One thing that the teachers who were interviewed in my Masters research highlighted in regards to seeing students engaged online was that if they [the teachers] weren’t engaged or didn’t come back to an online discussion/activity, then the students often did not engage it it either. It’s not a new thing to us. The teacher needs to play an active role in the learning process, however the active role may take a lot of different forms.

Teacher engagement is important but how often do we talk about it? We hear a lot about student engagement, but the engagement of teachers may be just as important.

Are YOU actively engaged in your school and classroom?

Have you got anything to add, or would you change anything to my brief lists of what an actively engaged teacher looks like? I would appreciate your thoughts in the comments section.

 

Smarter Everyday

I’ve recently come across this YouTube channel: Smarter Every Day.

I’m not going to write much about it because I think the videos speak for themselves, however in a nutshell, the host has a question to answer and heads out to answer it through videos (including high-speed), interviews etc.

These are the two videos that first grabbed my attention.

How Fish Eat (Parts 1 & 2)

And just to whet your appetite a bit more, a cat video (that’s why we use the internet isn’t it?)—yeah, I know some won’t like that he’s experimenting on animals, but we know they land on their feet. The question is… Why? Lots of physics learning in this video!

There are a huge number of videos on his channel and he has over 1.7 million subscribers! The videos can be used in a wide range of educational contexts or even just to inspire kids to question and investigate more!

Creativity is important in teaching…

This is not a new idea by a long shot! Creativity helps teachers stay fresh. Creativity helps motivate students and keep them on their toes – they won’t know what’s coming next. Creativity could be the difference between a student engaging in a lesson or becoming (staying?) disengaged through boredom.

The problem is… I’m not creative.

A colleague said to me the other day that I’m good at starting with someone else’s work and editing it – making it better… but if I start with a blank page, I don’t know what to do.

She was right. I couldn’t write about a topic like the original author had, but I could work with something that had already been started.

Does being creative make a great teacher? – I would say that it definitely could (if the creativity is focused in on teaching and learning).

Does not being creative make a poor teacher? – I would argue that, no, it doesn’t have to.

There are many creative teachers in the world. Many! Teaching is about sharing knowledge, skills, understandings, character and more. Many of these creative teachers also share their ideas, resources and skills with other teachers. And so they should! We all know that we shouldn’t ‘reinvent the wheel’.

One thing that makes a good teacher (there are many!), is that they don’t give up. If they try something and it doesn’t work, they might try it again after tweaking it, or they will try something else. They find what works for them and their students.

My advice (for what it’s worth), is that if you’re like me, and don’t feel particularly creative in your teaching, then do more of what you’re doing now! Find education/teaching blogs and read them. Learn from them. Be like a sponge and soak up everything they’ve got to offer. Jump onto twitter and follow some of the 1000s of teachers that are sharing and reflecting on what they’ve tried with their students. Get along to education conferences and soak it all up as well as getting to know others who just want to learn so that they can be a better teacher too!

Now, for those of us who don’t feel creative – we’ve got other things to offer! Figure out what they are (if you don’t already know) and give back!

iPad 2 requirement at high school

This article about a high school in North Auckland requiring Year 9 students to purchase an iPad 2 has raised some interesting comments, both on the article itself, and also in my Facebook stream.

I happened to attend this high school from Year 9-11, so I’ve got Facebook friends who are alumni of the school. The comments so far on facebook have been quite negative – against the compulsory requirement saying such as ‘teacher’s teach children – not iPad’s’. There were also comments about the closed and over-priced nature of Apple, and that if we are to use technology in school’s we should be using open technology.

I have mixed feelings about asking parents to find $800+ to buy new iPad’s for their children for school. It is a large expense for a lot of parents. However, I do believe if a school is really passionate about using technology in education and is willing to provide the technical support for both students and teachers and the professional development to implement them successfully, then this could be an excellent move.

On the other side, I do agree with one of my facebook friends who suggested open technology such as what Albany Senior High School have done. This gives access to far more families as firstly the hardware is more affordable, but also with a lot of open source software – it is free.

What I would say, is that the school has made an important decision here. It has chosen to go with Apple and the iPad 2. It now needs to follow through with training and expertise given to staff; technical support for students; and an expectation that staff use them in possibly a majority of their teaching. If these things don’t happen then I would say that the negative comments are right. It is imperative that the school uses them wisely in order to see an increase in both engagement and achievement across the board.

We do live in the 21st century. Let’s make sure our schools are using the technology that is available. I’m a PC user who also has an iPad. It is a fantastic device with a lot of potential. There are other devices that are coming closer to it now, so there is choice in the world. Schools do need to consider whether they have an expectation like this, and they need to carefully think through what hardware to use and whether open technology is a way to move forward or not. It’s a tough decision, but it is time for a lot of schools to move forward.

 

Minutes after publishing this post, the following links were brought to my attention:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10739410

http://orewa.school.nz/dms/images/news_articles/Letter_to_Year_8_parents_24_June.pdf

It is important to note that from the letter the school is asking for students to bring a computing device to school. The preference is an iPad 2, however, they could bring a netbook, laptop or other device.
A computing device seems to be compulsory – not an iPad 2.

Engagement vs Learning

Ever since I started teaching I’ve kept hearing this word ‘engagement’.

“Are your students engaged?”

“This will get your students engaged.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to see them engaged, but what I’ve been wondering about recently is whether we can actually say that because a student is engaged, they are learning.

I happened to be at an ERO information evening as a Board member the other night, and they mentioned that one thing they look at, along with student achievement is student engagement. I straight away wondered, ‘how can they measure engagement?’ – particularly as they come in and take a ‘snapshot’ view of a school at a particular time.

In my view, student engagement is not quantifiable unless you can link it explicitly to achievement. Engagement can usually only be seen with anecdotal evidence. I have seen whole classes of students engaged… – in a DVD that the teacher has put on for them. Are they learning anything in particular? Probably not. Are they engaged – you bet! (And no, I’m not talking about a media/film studies class here!)

I guess I kind of know the answers to my question. We are, of course, talking about students being ‘engaged in learning’. And that should possibly be clarified in a classroom as ‘engaged in on-task learning’ as they could quite well be learning through sending (unrelated to the class) text messages to their mates. To find out if students really are engaged will take a range of formative and summative assessment also, but this does come back to my question about ERO taking a snapshot of a school – how do they measure engagement?

So, this is quite a disjointed post with some random thoughts of mine on engagement – but I guess I would argue that student engagement does not necessarily equate to student learning, but hopefully it does. What I would say though, is that if we want to increase engagement (and hopefully as a result, achievement) then we need to begin (or continue) to look at providing authentic learning activities and experiences to our students that they can relate to in real life. Continuing to allow learner-centred learning will help also.