What I'm Thinking

What Engagement Really Is

I write this post on a Saturday night, a time when I should be away from my computer and enjoying the weekend. Ok, let’s retract – I am enjoying my weekend. Just not like you might imagine the typical someone enjoying their weekend.

See, I’m a writer. I’m also an educator, an elementary principal to be exact. When I write, I find joy. It’s as simple as that. This “writing thing” has been a part of my life since 2012, when I first started my blog. That small online space has grown to almost 900 subscribers and is now a collaborative forum for literacy leaders to share their ideas.

So when I write, I have this twin set of feelings. First, I enjoy writing (I’ve already said this, I know). I can put down my thoughts, insights, and questions in an online space for others to read and maybe even respond to in the comments. Second, I also know that when I am writing, I am not attending to all of the other responsibilities and activities that I might otherwise. I’m not talking and listening with my family. I’m not watching television or engaging in recreational activities. I’m not present, at least with the world beyond my computer.

There is guilt with this reality. As a writer, I feel this to some degree anytime I open up my laptop. What could/should I be doing if I were not writing?

Enough of the self-involvement; let’s get to the point of this post. Engagement is not merely a passion for something that is of interest to an individual. Passion is only the half of it. To be truly engaged, a person has to not only have a strong interest in a topic or skill; they also have to dedicate themselves to this effort. Both elements have to be present in order for engagement to be realized.

Is this definition not clear enough? Then consider one of the oldest definitions of engagement. It comes from the agreement two people take when they elect to become married. Consider the typical vow one might hear at a wedding.

I promise to be true to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honour you all the days of my life.

This is engagement. It’s not all rose petals and open bar. These experiences are wonderful, but they are offset by driving your kids to urgent care at two in the morning and forgetting to take the garbage out on Friday. The celebrations benefit from the perspective provided through our challenges.

When we talk about engagement in the classroom or in our lives, it isn’t merely the presence of motivation or attention-grabbing activities. Engagement is much more than that. Engagement is when we decide to pursue a passion or a dream, experience setbacks and hardships, and in spite of these situations, we choose to continue to move forward toward our goals.

My third book is coming out in August through ASCD on digital portfolios in the classroom. The process was nothing if not incredibly challenging. I had to rewrite one chapter twice. Figures for the book did not resemble what I had initially proposed. The title changed, which forced me to go back through the manuscript, line by line, to redact one word to make sure there was consistency in the language.

Did I do this out of passion alone? Heck no. At this point, I was emotionally ready to drop this project like a bad habit. Commitment? To the project…to a point, knowing that I was under contract to finish it. No, it was the combination of passion and commitment that helped me get to the finish line. This might be defined as “love”.

So…the question remains as to how true engagement relates to an educator’s position. Here are some initial thoughts.

  • If you are a teacher, do/will your students have time to explore their passions and interests during class time? Will they be given the resources, support, and feedback to become engaged in authentic and meaningful learning experiences?
  • If you are a school leader, do/will your teachers have time to investigate better practices on behalf of their students? Will they be given the resources, support, and feedback to become the teacher they have always wanted to be?

For the latter, I know I have not always lived up to this promise. No matter. Guilt is retroactive; it is always about the past, never the future. We have to move forward. Engagement is the key factor in student and teacher success. Passion and commitment are the twin roads to follow.

What I'm Thinking

How Technology Can Drive Your Beliefs and Practices

Integrating technology into education is a subtle process. It may seem like a big deal at first, especially when that interactive whiteboard goes up on the wall, or every student now has a Chromebook at their desks. But the process of technology becoming a part of a teacher’s practice is slow and indistinct.

It often appears at our doorstep for free. Either the operating system, such as Google Chrome, or the tools themselves, paid for by some district department, is made available. We think, “Okay, how can I use this technology in school?” So we look to our current practices and assess how they might fit into this new paradigm.

If our current practices do not fit, a couple things might happen.

  • We ignore the technology for some aspects of our instruction and continue as normal. This can be a good or not-so-good thing, depending on how effective our instruction was in the first place.
  • The technology and our practice make a nice pair, and we start using them in concert. Again, can be good or bad. Studies have found that this situation is what happens most often. The technology accentuates the practice for better or worse.
  • Teachers bend their practice so it can fit within the confines of the technology’s ecosystem. Accelerated Reader is a prime example. We stop conferring with kids because we start to depend on low-level quizzes to tease out understanding.

Technology companies know this. They realize that they won’t get every teacher to become a convert to their platform (see the first example). They also realize that the majority of educators, when presented with technology that is easy to implement, will adopt it. Easy to implement…this is a strong indicator that the technology is a) not improving practice, and b) is likely driving instruction. Nevermind that professional educators may have had zero input into the production of these digital tools. Technology becomes a solution to a problem we did not know existed until now.

So what are the problems? Likely, they were invented by the companies themselves. “Bogged down by grades? Try our platform to save you time and give your students better feedback!” Maybe this is a problem. Yet we can get rid of grades and provide more qualitative feedback on student work without a significant integration of technology. This work starts by examining our beliefs about teaching and learning, for today and for tomorrow. Our collective thinking then leads us to reassess our current practices, which finally leads to searching for tools that help us in our mission.

Through this process, will we arrive at the very technologies that were initially introduced to us? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s hard to say unless we have examined our beliefs about what good teaching and learning should be in practice to guide our way.

 

7691519996_162e98b0ec_b.jpg
Image Source: Mike Cogh, Flickr