Tag Archives: Empowerment

Engaged Learning? Why? Our future is at stake!

Can anyone seriously argue that potential learners do not need to be engaged, or that engagement is not a contributing factor to learning? Have you ever been in a classroom full of energetic, eager learners who aren’t engaged? It can get pretty hectic. Not a lot of learning going on… at least not the kind that’s typically focused on national, state, district or school learning goals! Contrast that with those same learners, actively engaged in work that they are curious about AND that happens to be relevant and meaningful (in terms of academic preparation for the 21st century).

If we all agree that engagement is more than just a good idea, it’s necessary… why do we find so many dis-engaged potential learners?

Are we making room for questioning? Do students get the opportunity to really benefit from inquiry by ‘going deep’? Is Project-Based Learning a fantasy? I find it interesting (there were so many other words I could have used here!) that many of us (educators) feel confounded by the new generation of ‘instant information’, and complain that kids can not stay engaged in ANYTHING for more than a few minutes. Really!? Let’s look at two, somewhat fictitious, Middle School classrooms:

Mr. Enthusiastic is well known amongst students and parents as a good teacher. He has great rapport with his students, has established a positive climate with clear expectations, rules and disciplinary procedures and he LOVES the current MS History textbook. He also LOVES to lecture. He knows that students have a variety of learning styles so he throws in visuals, graphic organizers and the occasional group activity (answering questions from the text). However, most of class time is spent going through the textbook, answering questions and copying his notes while he tells (somewhat) related stories. Being a Middle School teacher, Mr. Enthusiastic recognizes that he should try to vary activity in the classroom to keep students from losing interest, so, every 20 minutes he has his students stand up, jump in place and rotate seats to keep the blood flowing. He makes sure to have one major group project each semester, usually a PowerPoint presentation that requires each student to do research, write and present. Student assessment results are above average. Yet, whenever another teacher covers his class, students are somewhat disengaged, but usually kept in line by his consistent routines. Sometimes, students complain that class is boring and that Mr. Enthusiastic isn’t as funny as he thinks he is but most students still say that the class is better than many of their other classes.

Ms. Reflective is a quieter teacher. She certainly has the respect and admiration of parents who have had children enrolled in her classes. She also teaches Middle School History. She established the rules and disciplinary procedure, collaboratively, with her students. She has taught the students questioning techniques and she uses them, often, as they do research and read important background information. She also works collaboratively with the other grade level teachers, trying to develop meaningful, relevant cross-curricular projects. This has meant that there are times when she and another teacher co-teach a combined class (twice as large as the 33 students she has in most of her classes) when they share back-to-back instructional periods. She will normally have students work on 4-6 cross-curricular projects per year. Her students also do a lot of writing and peer editing in class and occasional debates. Typically (unless they are writing or doing research), her classroom is much noisier than Mr. Enthusiastic’s, yet, she doesn’t have more discipline issues. In fact, when someone else covers her classes they find that the students are very much self-directed, focused and engaged in their work for extended periods of time. Her students’ assessment results are consistently very high. Students report that they not only learned a lot about history, they also learned a lot about themselves, as learners. Quite a few also complain about the amount of reading and writing they have to do (but… will admit it was probably worth it).

Which teacher do you want for your children?


Engaged, meaningful, learning is important. There’s some simple ways to engage and there are more complex (and, initially, work intensive) ways to engage but the fact is… kids are worth it! They are OUR future! Let’s make it a promising one.

Here are some resources that may help engage students, more:


REPOST – What “School Reformers” — And All Of Us — Can Learn From Pope Francis About Creating Change

What “School Reformers” — And All Of Us — Can Learn From Pope Francis About Creating Change.

I actually first saw this article in the Washington Post blog by Valerie Strauss (unfortunately, the Post doesn’t have a WordPress share button but Larry Ferlazzo’s blog does!).  As I browsed Ferlazzo’s blog I came across another post that resonated with me, “Important Advice For Anyone Who Wants To Be Effective At Making Change“…

The fact is, leaders who listen make a huge impact. Along with that, humility goes a long way. Pope Francis has certainly been a good model of those characteristics (“Who am I to judge?“). Being a good listener and a humble person are signs that you are truly open to other perspectives. However, beyond that a leader must have the acumen and powers of observation to be able to know who is who, what is what and be able to read the climate of the place they are in to best decide which leadership tools will be most effective as they create change. Some techniques are effective in many places but will not work all the time for all situations.

From: Harvard Business Review Twitter at https://twitter.com/HarvardBiz/status /354329065299271681/photo/1

From: Harvard Business Review Twitter at https://twitter.com/HarvardBiz/status /354329065299271681/photo/1

Building relationships and making connections is often understimated. Again, this seems to be something Pope Francis understands and does well. After all, what could help build relationships better than genuine caring, compassion and the passionate belief that each of us can make a difference? Business, social science and conventional wisdom have converged (“The Network Secrets of Great Change Agents”)… Building that interpersonal network, establishing strong relationships, is important anywhere!

More than just leading by example…

Long time, no write… enjoying the California summer and catching up on some reading. I came across a parable that really resonated with me.

I’m not always a great fan of parables. Many are great… short, meaningful and clearly an example of a bigger idea. Some, I find, don’t clearly articulate the intended idea (or, I could just be a bit slow in that area… ). See what you think about this one:

A student assigned to write an essay about an effective leader wrote this story:

“I’ve been taking a bus to school for years. Most passengers keep to themselves and no one ever talks to anyone else.

“About a year ago, an elderly man got on the bus and said loudly to the driver, ‘Good morning!’ Most people looked up, annoyed, and the bus driver just grunted. The next day the man got on at the same stop and again he said loudly, ‘Good morning!’ to the driver. Another grunt. By the fifth day, the driver relented and greeted the man with a semi-cheerful ‘Good morning!’ The man announced, ‘My name is Benny,’ and asked the driver, ‘What’s yours?’ The driver said his name was Ralph.

“That was the first time any of us heard the driver’s name and soon people began to talk to each other and say hello to Ralph and Benny. Soon Benny extended his cheerful ‘Good morning!’ to the whole bus. Within a few days his ‘Good morning!’ was returned by a whole bunch of ‘Good mornings’ and the entire bus seemed to be friendlier. People got to know each other.

“If a leader is someone who makes something happen, Benny was our leader in friendliness.

“A month ago, Benny didn’t get on the bus and we haven’t seen him since. Everyone began to ask about Benny and lots of people said he may have died. No one knew what to do and the bus got awful quiet again.

“So last week, I started to act like Benny and say, ‘Good morning!’ to everyone and they cheered up again. I guess I’m the leader now. I hope Benny comes back to see what he started.”

(From Michael Josephson and the Josephson Institute of Ethics – original page: Commentary 838.4: A Parable About Leadership)

It’s not just walking the talk. This was a clear example of that. It also says that a leader must be persistent, confident and caring. Someone who knows he or she can make a positive change and then takes steps to do so. Finally, it says, empower others to keep the ball rolling… Good Morning!


Age Old problem solved, the Zen way…How a glass is both half full, half empty and completely full at the same time. Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gothunkyourself/; used under the http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/ license

Teachers ARE Leaders!

The fact is, (supported by research provided by Robert Marzano, John Hattie, William Sanders, Sandra Horn and S. Paul Wright)  individual teachers can have a profound impact on student learning. For me, the operative word here is “can”. I’ve been reflecting recently on how to link this possibility with a concrete reality. How can we empower our teachers to develop the traits that will have a positive impact on learning? What are the key traits? Marzano (2003, What Works in Schools: Translating Research Into Action) identifies three key, interdependent, areas that, when employed effectively by teachers, have a positive impact on learning:

  • Instructional Strategies
  • Classroom Management
  • Classroom Curriculum Design

All three “teacher-level factors” must be effectively combined to improve student learning. Think about the expert teachers you have known (and, I distinguish ‘expert’ from ‘experienced’ – they’re not the same)… they are highly committed to improving themselves, seeking and offering feedback and helping fellow teachers. They are also thinkers! They model problem-solving and risk-taking, trying new assessment, instructional and behavioral strategies as needed.  They are, typically, recognized as informal leaders amongst fellow faculty.

These teacher-leaders model the traits that most agree education is supposed to develop in students: lifelong learning, tolerance, responsibility, and effective communication. Teachers ARE leaders! So… how do we empower ALL teachers to develop these traits? How can we build teacher leadership?

I read an article recently that highlighted the importance of having dynamic administrators or other role models during a teacher’s early ‘formative’ career years demonstrate those traits. It has a huge impact on whether they develop as teacher leaders. It made me think back to the role models, mentors and occasional excellent principals that I had when I first started teaching.

It’s simple, really…

Encourage and actively model the traits of teacher leadership that are so important for schools to develop and focus on those teachers who are still in their ‘formative’ years. Encourage the risk-taking, reflection, commitment to being involved and help teachers refine any areas of curriculum design, classroom management or instructional strategies that can be improved. Feedback, the number one factor influencing student learning… also can have an amazing impact on teacher learning and empowering teachers as leaders!