Simple Truth: Engagement isn’t Something You Do TO Students.

No single thought has roiled its way through my mind or my network more than the notion that engaging and empowering students are NOT the same thing.

(See here, here and here.)

I’m at the point where the suggestion that it’s a teacher’s responsibility to “engage their students” actually rankles me a bit.  It’s not that I think teachers can’t play a role in creating engaging learning experiences for students or that I think teachers who are passionate about engaging their students are inherently evil in any way.

It’s just that all too often, “I need to engage my students” becomes code for “I have to find a way to make the boring crap I’m required to teach interesting” or “How can I sucker my kids into liking the lesson that I’m planning on teaching?”

(download slide on Flickr here)

I’m settling on the notion that engagement isn’t something that you do TO students.  Instead, it’s something that we should all be working to do FOR our students.  “I need to engage my students” needs to be reframed as “I need to help my students to find reasons to be excited about learning.”

To put it another way, kids don’t depend on us to “engage them.”  Instead, they depend on us to help them discover the content and questions that are inherently engaging.

Does any of this make sense?




Related Radical Reads:

Should We Be Engaging or Empowering Learners?

Turning the Vegetables You Want to Serve into the Vegetables Kids Want to Eat

Doing Work that Matters

2 thoughts on “Simple Truth: Engagement isn’t Something You Do TO Students.

  1. boadams1

    Bill, what about the “relational” meaning of the word? As in — getting engaged (like before marriage). I trust you know me well enough to know that I am with you — I totally agree about empowerment vs engagement. At the same time, I’ve been kicking around your sketch notes from EduCon, and I built a mind map on an idea wall at home. From that I explored into this relational, partnership connotation and denotation of “engagement,” and I’m liking this path of thinking. Was hoping to get your riff on this improv collaboration of thinking.

    Miss you, man!

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Bo,

      First, no kidding: It’s been awhile! I hope you’re well, too — and I hope we cross paths in person sooner rather than later.

      Second, this line of thinking has been fun for me, too. I think guys like you and I can see the appropriate place for engagement in the classroom, but I really worry that there are vast swaths of people involved in education — from policymakers all the way down to classroom teachers — who are uninterested in empowerment at all and see engagement as something done TO instead of FOR kids.

      So I’m in one of those positions where I’m pushing empowerment almost exclusively as a way to try to attack those preconceived notions head on. Nuance is often lost on policy wonks who haven’t been in a classroom in years!

      I want to see your mind map! Is it posted on your blog? Looking forward to checking it out…

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