It is December. December 2020. We look behind us at a Spring emergency closure and then look to the present fluid educational situation of hybrid, remote and this rollercoaster ride we are on in education. I've said several times this is a fluid situation. It's hard to predict what will happen, especially with surges of the virus and exposures leading to quarantines and the rearrangement of schools either moving classes around to provide supervision or the decision to go fully remote.
During this time we hear a lot about engagement. How do you engage students remotely? I just don't feel my students are engaged, and even if they are I don't know unless their cameras are on. More and more you see the word engage in professional learning titles, and on faculty meeting agendas.
Don't get me wrong, engagement has always been important in education. But I want us to make sure we aren't getting engagement and complaince mixed up.
I have found myself asking this question a lot during my coaching sessions. 'What did engagement look like before Covid in your classroom?' Of course as teachers are all different, this answer is often very different. Some talk about the wonderful problem based learning they did, having students explore concepts with hands-on, minds-on wonder. Some talk about walking around their classroom monitoring students in groups talking through a lesson/activity. Some talk about looking up and seeing students working on whatever they gave them to do that day.
I will argue that we have to be careful of not confusing the two... In face to face teaching it is easy to see compliance, and easy to get most students to comply. You give directions, hand out the assignment and students work on it then hand it in. Many students understand how to 'play school' they know that this is how it works to get through. When students are in front of us it is easier to get them to 'engage' with the work. To comply.
Enter remote and hybrid learning where you don't see students, they aren't in front of you so you can talk them through work. They aren't right there for you to redirect them when their mind wonders off, looking outside the window.
Let's not forget, our goal is minds-on engagement, working towards something that is worth learning, that the student believes is relevant and interesting to them. Compliancy is not enough. I don't want complaincy, I want eyes wide-open wonder. I want excitement that comes when students figure out something they didn't know before, come up with a solution to a real-world problem, or publish their writing to an authentic audience.
There are many smart people out there having these same conversations. Now is the time for us to break out of our past old thinking of what school looks like. Now is the time to think about what engagement looks like. Barbara Bray interviewed Chris McNutt in November and talked about Humanized Pandemic Teaching. I highly recommend you listen to this podcast. They talked about the difference between compliant and engaged.
How do we create this engaged, human-centered classroom? As an educator start by asking yourself: 'What does engagement look like to you?' What are the students doing? What are you doing? Are you giving students a voice? Are they invested in the learning? How might this look like in your content area?
Let's start with these questions, and then we'll be able to start the conversations with our colleagues. I don't believe any teacher just wants compliance. So, how will you engage your students?
More to come as we look further into what we want our 'new normal' or 'new now' to look like.
Another article worth reading:
- School wasn't so great before COVID, either (challenging us all to rethink what we want the 'new normal' to be)