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.

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