Monthly Archives: February 2013

Engagement with students matters

The key to the success of our students is engagement – engagement of the students themselves in their learning and broad school life; the engagement of parents and the staff of the school.

When we demonstrate our commitment and co-operation in our work – whatever that is – it is a powerful message to our students that we care.

We are all working with a shared vision and mission: we are preparing our students to become adults equipped in all dimensions – academic, social emotional and spiritual -to make a positive contribution to the world. Some ways in which we support our students in achieving this:
• The quality of our interactions with them
• The environment that we create and share –physical, learning, spiritual
• The resources we bring, introduce and produce
• The quality of teaching and learning

Respectful, caring interactions with students are vital. At school we’ve been taking some advice from a child psychiatrist – in the context of gaining a better understanding of self- harm. He believes that anyone who deals with the students has a responsibility to get to know the person: “self- harm is evidence of failure of relational connection.” In all our interactions – as colleagues working together and with students- we should model and live care, respect. Students need us to take an interest in them and recognise them as individuals. Every student should have five adults they feel they could go to if they needed support.

As teachers we have a professional duty to students. Every child in our classes needs to be known and understood.To use a medical analogy, a doctor treats a patient regardless of the issues and poor habits the patient brings. We cannot renounce our obligation to our students of finding the way into engaging them in their learning; it’s not good enough to say a child is always away/is lazy/not bright and accept under-performance. We must avoid complacency and expect the best from all students, foster the best in them.

My plea is that we all think about the students “in the middle.” Who are the students you know? Is it the high achievers; the students needing support; those who nominate/are picked for special roles? What about all the students in “grey” in the middle? How successfully have we engaged them? Indeed how do we know that all of our students are engaged?

Relationships are vital to engagement. Cornelius-White wrote “in classes with person-centred teachers there is more engagement…and higher achievement outcomes.” He notes that most students who do not wish to come to school or who dislike school do so primarily because they dislike their teacher. His claim is that “to improve teacher-student relationships and reap their benefits, teachers should learn to facilitate the students’ development by demonstrating that they care for the learning of each student as a person. (cited by John Hattie in Visible Learning 2008).

As we prepare for the start of term our students are out there waiting to meet us – in various frames of mind, but certainly with high expectation. At his conference in Boston last July Alan November announced the “First Five Days” project that aims to prompt thinking about how to make the start of the school year the best it can be. I issue the challenge to teachers: what will be your students’ experience not only of the first five days of school, but every day?