Terms and tools for engagement

Terms and tools of engagement

Andy Hargreaves has an ambivalent attitude to technology. He doesn’t own a smart phone (because he might use it!) and he talked about being critical thinkers about engagement and dis-engagement. ‘We need to be where our kids are’ (he said, sans mobile phone) He aimed to disturb our preconceptions, but this was a strong session, the third time (I think) that I’ve heard Hargreaves.

He argued that historically …

2000-2015 – The age of achievement (of testing, NAPLAN, a sense of urgency around achievement, literacy and numeracy) ‘Beating the odds’

2015-2025 – The age of engagement and wellbeing. To ‘changing the odds’.

This was a call for more engagement: 43% of students at high school are, to some degree, disengaged from their learning and showed the challenges of an ‘average’ class (mental disorder, bullying, parent separations, self-harm …)

Engagement is a challenge, especially now. (He talked about the needs of refugees). The job of educators is to take the kids where they are now, and move them forward. Before achievement comes engagement. Engage the kids as they are, not how we’d like them to be.

Six ways to improve engagement

  1. Architecture / School design (validating students through symbols)
    1. Curriculum
    2. Student voice
    3. Pedagogy – The future teacher will have less authority (around content) and more authority (the narratives from the ‘Ken Robinsons’ of the classroom: this seemed a weaker point)
    4. Technology – The Chromeboook and the climbing wall
    5. We have to stop disengagement – much of which comes about because of assessment.

Hargreaves ended by talking about teacher engagement; ‘A school that is good for a kid to be, has to be good for a teacher to be as well’

Session Details

Terms of Engagement

There is no genuine achievement without engagement. Too often, we have overlooked the importance of engagement as a condition and a companion for achievement. This presentation describes the need to pay more attention to student engagement, to understand what engagement actually means, to address its importance for adult as well as students, and to learn how to enhance engagement for all, with and without technology. Drawing on his current and development work, award winning author Andy Hargreaves will, in his characteristic fashion, get us thinking harder and differently about the role of engagement in our schools. 

Andy Hargreaves, Thomas More Brennan Chair, Lynch School of Education, Boston College (USA) 



Re-imagining engagement

This week I attended a workshop meeting looking at student engagement, organised by AITSL under the Learning Frontiers banner and the headline: ‘Imagine a world where kids are as eager to learn throughout school as they were when they arrived.’

The session was opened by David Jackson (innovation unit, UK) who argued for spaces where principals, schools and teachers had  ‘a licence to do different’.

He made the case for change and the problem: many students are disengaged, and many more are un-engaged. I think the latter is most true in my experience. And he gave some facts that claimed that the further students go through school the lower engagement levels are in terms of:

  •  Participation
  • Belonging
  • Attendance
  • Cognitive engagement

Significantly, and the reason for this was not explored, the lower the SES, the lower the levels of engagement, although it wasn’t clear what ‘engagement’ actually meant either. I think it was in terms of the first three dot-points above, which are blunt measurement instruments to me. However, this issue does seem to matter; engagement influences prospects of success 20 years later according to Australian research, but then you also think – ‘chicken or egg’?

One fact was blunt and quite shocking: 1.2 million American students drop out of school each year  Over ninety per cent said they wanted more ‘real life’ experiences.

So, What is engagement?

 It’s clearly more than attendance, conformity, behaviour and IS about energy and enthusiasm for learning, beyond school, including taking responsibility. One way of seeing engagement learning is the 4P model below:

4P Learning is engaging

  • Purposeful
  • Placed
  • Pervasive
  • Passion-led

I really liked Jackson’s image of ‘school is the base-camp for learning – where you get charged up, and extend from’.

AITSL intend moving beyond a community of practice, to a community of engagement, and beyond that, a community of interest. They are creating ‘Lab sites’ and ‘Developer Sites’ (we used to call these schools, and I have reservations about the idea of school as an experimental lab). AITSL’s aim in this project:  to increase the proportion of Australian students who are deeply engaged in their learning, through the development of teaching and learning practices that promote engagement, beginning with professional practices.

I was concerned that in the new ‘hubs’ and ‘labs’ they intend creating that AITSL seems very much in favour of ‘new players in education’, ‘inside and outside the system’.  That raises alarm bells named ‘Pearson’ et. al.  for me, and I asked them about that over coffee. I was told that they were aware of some these reservations and were working on framing some appropriate boundaries around the commercialization of education in this space.


Much of the thinking AITSL were presenting on engagement was based on work from the Innovation Unit, presented in Re-Designing Education Systems.though interestingly they have moved away from the key elements of ‘collaboration’ and ‘technology in that work, arguing that those elements should be universal and implicit. The four elements they agreed on were:

 Co-created – adults and students as powerful resources for design of learning

Connected – real world contexts, contemporary

Personal –  build from student passions and capabilities, personalised

Integrated – Integration of subjects, students and contexts

We then spent some times in groups, plotting out imaginary sample networks and hubs that might develop out of this project. A really interesting morning and it will be fascinating to see where this goes, and whether they do avoid the sharks that are circling around education.

Schools involved in 2014 will be announced before Christmas. You can follow the conversation on the Twittisphere at #learningfrontiers

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The New Rules of Engagement

I just finished reading The New Rules of Engagement (A Guide to Understanding and Connecting with Generation Y) by Michael McQueen, an easy and enjoyable read that pretty simply sets up the differences and potentials of the new gen.

I have to say that I’m not entirely convinced by all this demographic driven new-gen stuff, It”s a bit like reading your star sign in the paper, I look at my Year 12 class and the kind of generalisations and conclusions people like McQueen et. al. make apply to some of them, but not to others.

Nevertheless, McQueen is a good story teller, communicates well and make some good points. I like that he’s not alarmist and is positive about the emerging generation.  It’s a good book to give to your mum maybe, and he does highlight sections that he thinks are particularly relevant  for parents and teachers.

I did like the third section of the book where, after he’d talked about the paradigm shift in this generation, outlined his new rules of engagement as:

  • Put relationship before role
  • Use matrix learning (connected)
  • Focus on outcomes over process
  • Adopt a facilitator role
  • Give regular positive feedback
  • Set short-term challenging goals
  • Use stories to make your point
  • Go for commitment, not compliance.

Rules of Engagement

This week I’ve attended a couple of functions with Ron Ritchhart of Project Zero (Harvard Graduate School of Education) talking about some of his most recent thinking on thinking, teaching and learning.

Ron has been working with some of the teachers at my school, and others, for several years now and always seems to connect with teachers on some level. Tonight, I was at a joint-schools meeting which opened up with a ‘see-think-wonder’ routine around a painting of children’s games, which generated good discussion and opened up his discussion about the ‘rules of engagement’ and what we might learn from games in terms of accessibility, ownership and purpose.


He talked about accessibility in terms of ‘inviting the students to the learning’, about making complex ideas accessible. He questioned whether the concept of ‘wonder’ was prevalent enough in our learning opportunities; ‘when, where and how are students invited to pose questions, puzzles and ponderings about the topic?’ and asked whether the entry points were appropriate: ‘how can students enter into the topic?’.  Finally, he talked about where is the ‘edge’, the controversy or urgency in the topic?

We watched a video of a teacher opening up a study of the text, Good Night Mister Tom  using narrative and physical action and drama as well as interpersonal skills involving interactive collaboration. These are entry points that Gardner as developed, along with others such as numerical/logical, the aesthetic and existential/foundational entry points.  He emphasised that Gardner did not develop his theory of intelligences as a guide to ‘teaching’ although many have tried to use them in this way.


This is about to what extent we allow students to shape and direct their own learning; how much meaningful choice they do actually have about things that shape their learning? When and where do students experience the power of their own ideas and thinking in their learning?  When and where do students act as assessors and evaluators of their own learning? He summed up these as ‘choice, power and reflection’.  The video we saw here showed a teacher using virtual reality games (in this case the Myst series) to generate an immersive, inspiring environment for creative writing which seemed to work well although I had some questions as to how much student ownership there actually was, with the teacher’s hand pretty firmly on the mouse.


This was to do with how learning is contextualised and connected to the students’ lives and how authentic is it in the sense that does the activity of students mirror what is done in the real world and within that discipline? It’s what David Perkins calls the ‘junior version’ of what people do in the real world. He also talked about the audience and asked what is the audience for students’ learning? Where and when is the learning shared?

The feedback from  other teachers there was very positive. As someone said a while ago, ‘It’s not rocket science: it’s more complex than that’. And more important.