Houston, I think We have a (Disengagement) Problem

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It takes a great deal of hard work and support for people to venture forth and try new things. In my last post I discussed my own experiences with rejection in light of the work done by Jia Jiang and The 100 Days of Rejection. In his vlog, Jia post videos of his encounters with rejection. The entry on day 3 is quite amazing. In this encounter, Jia asks the manager, Jackie, of Krispy Kreme to make a set of doughnuts in the shape of the Olympic rings expecting to be rejected. Instead, she goes to work and fulfills his request. Take a moment to watch the clip.

Jia Jiang, in his interview with Jeff Brown on ReadtoLead podcast states that this encounter made him wonder how many opportunities he had missed because of his fear. How often do we pass on asking, trying, doing, seeing because of our own fear?

Fear Keeps Us from Exploring

In Multipliers Lis Wiseman explores how certain people, whom she calls Multipliers, get more from the people around them, multiplying the effect of their efforts.

They don’t see a world where just a few people deserve to do the thinking; Multipliers see intelligence as continually developing. This observation is consistent with what Dweck calls a “growth mindset,” which is a belief that basic qualities like intelligence and ability can be cultivate through effort. They assume: people are smart and will figure it out. They see their organization as full of talented people who are capable of contributing at much higher levels.

Yet most people end up not using most of their capabilities, stuck in a situation where their talent is not being used to its full capacity, they are unhappy with what they are doing but fear making a change to do something else. In a recent study Gallup Study, 63% of employees were disengaged in their workplace. This has many implications

People spend a substantial part of their lives working, whether in a high-tech startup in Singapore, a financial institution in Australia, or a garment factory in the Dominican Republic. As a result, the quality of their workplace experience is inevitably reflected in the quality of their lives. Gallup’s finding that the vast majority of employees worldwide report an overall negative experience at work — and just one in eight are fully involved in and enthusiastic about their jobs — is important when considering why the global recovery remains sluggish, while social unrest abounds in many countries.

There are many reasons given for this happening in the workplace with a number of different ideas of how to address the situation. Similarly, recent studies of teachers showed that up to 70% of teachers are not engaged at their work while studies of students show a significant portion of students in high school are disengaged. It would appear we have an engagement problem that spans more than just students in schools – it is impacting all aspects of society.

 Student Engagement

I often hear that if teachers were to employ particular strategies or methods or tools, they would be able to engage their students more fully in the learning experience. As the list below shows, there is plenty of advice on how to engage students in the classroom!

How to Keep Kids Engaged in Class

Golden Rules for Engaging Students in Learning Activities

Engaging Students in Learning

Using the Pomodoro Method to Engage your students  

5 Proven Ways to Engage Students in Class

How I’ll Engage My Students as Learners: Six Ways to Make Connections

How To Engage Students in Learning

Actively Engage Students Using Hands-on and Minds-on Instruction 

Best Teaching Practices to Engage Your Students

Class Motivation from A to Z

Engage Your Students with these Open Educational Resources

R U Engaging Your Students? Strategies and Tools for the Texting Generation 

11 Rules for Engaging Students’ Brains

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Lightbulbs and Laughter 

These are just a sampling of the  articles about engaging students.

Student engagement is a major topic of discussion on twitter with a number of chats dedicated to this topic. From my PLN @MrH and @MrEhRon are leading #2k15reads, exploring Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz and Pure Genius by Don Wettrick this summer.

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The @SKmiddleyears with @MrALongstaff and @BrettReis is also having a #smyatlap to discuss the bookTeach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess on Thursday, July 3oth.
But is Our Trajectory Wrong
There are many different ideas about what engages students. But what do we mean by “engaging students”?
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 As an administrator for 10plus years, I can attest that many teachers do in fact work to have these in their classroom. But do these lead to engagement? More importantly, is engagement really what we are looking for from students? In another article, An Acronym Leading to Empowerment in Schools , George explores how the SAMR model can be used as a guide to empower students in their own learning. Bill Ferriter also explores this topic Should we be engaging or empowering students?  In the same way, many teachers that I know are seeking ways to do more than just engage their students in learning – they want to help them become self-sufficient learners and seekers.
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I Wonder …..
It would seem not only is there an engagement problem with students in classrooms but there is a wider issue with engagement in the workplace and, maybe, in many aspect of society generally. From the little research I’ve done, engagement is an issue in many different areas of society, not just schools. Vast amounts of people are going to places where they are not engaged in what they are doing and are beginning to question how this needs to change.
…. is it an engagement problem?
…. is there something more to people being disengaged than just not liking what they are doing?
…. as George Couros, Bill Ferriter, Liz Wiseman, Seth Godin, Jeff Goins and others suggest, is this about empowering people to use their abilities, skills and talents to their fullest potential and NOT about engaging them? Should schools help teachers to become Multipliers instead of guides at the side?
… as Jeff Goins suggests in The Art of Work, “The way to meaningful work doesn’t always look like a carefully crafted plan. Sometimes the route to our purpose is a chaotic experience, and how we respondmatters more than what happens to us.” Are schools, with their focus on accountability, system-wide structures, and linear timelines contributing to the disengagement by not allow students to explore and search?
…. as society and the economy shift from a factory worker focus, is empowering people to find their calling through learning as exploration an idea that needs to be discussed and explored more deeply?


  1. willrich45


    Hey Kelly…important questions, but I just don’t think this is rocket science. What engages you? What engages 5 year olds on the playground? What engages any great athlete or writer or scientist? Or blogger? ;0)

    Engagement is a mix of interest, passion, agency, and authenticity. Schools generally allow students little or none of that. As Dave Cormier says in this post: “We have not built an education system that encourages people to be engaged. The system is not designed to do it.”

    So why, when Gallup reports that over half our high school kids are disengaged, are we surprised?

    • Reply

      Will, thank you for your comment, observations and question. I agree it isn’t rocket science nor am I surprised that high school kids report they aren’t engaged or that teachers aren’t engaged. One of my points is that engagement seems to be an issue not only in schools. Although it isn’t rocket science there seems, at least to me, to be part of a conversation outside of education as well as within education circles. Not only is the education system not built to encourage engagement, as Dave Cormier suggests, but from what little I have read, other areas as well seem to be dealing with an issue of people who are not engaged. If, as you state, “Engagement is a mix of interest, passion, agency, and authenticity.” it would seem that there are many people who are experiencing this not just students.

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