Last summer, my colleagues and I identified a set of questions commonly asked as schools consider, adopt and/or adapt student engagement as a school-wide strategy and commitment. In the recently released Weaving Student Engagement Into the Core Practices of Schools report by the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network we respond to the questions and offer strategies and resources to assist schools to integrate and sustain student engagement.
Student engagement occurs when young people have invested themselves, their energy, and their commitment to the learning environment, both within and outside the classroom. They willingly put forth the required effort to find a level of personal success academically, socially, and emotionally. They care about others’ successes as well, including both their peers and the adults around them. They contribute meaningfully to the school and classroom climate. They internally understand that their presence matters.
We purposely focused on student engagement as a strategy woven into the fabric of schools as each of us experienced schools where student engagement was a strategy for some students, in some classes, with some teachers and in some activities – in essence a practice common to some but not an expected and supported experience of each student. We argue that in order to move student engagement from the margin to the mainstream of schools we need to focus on the school’s climate.
School climate is the quality and character of schools with a focus on ensuring each youth and adult in the school experiences:
- Physical and social safety
- Positive trusting relationships
- Effective teaching and learning strategies
- Healthy physical environment
You can see the logic of successfully integrating and sustaining student engagement requires a school climate that meets the criteria above and is supported by all education stakeholders. I understand that not every stakeholder understands the various dimensions of school climate and thus there is a need for each school to (1) accurately and adequately define school climate, (2) conduct regular assessments of school climate and implement corresponding continuous improvement strategies, (3) integrate school climate into professional development so that individuals increase their understanding and skills to successfully implement a school climate supportive of student engagement and (4) include school climate and student engagement as essential elements of the school’s accountability system.
Student engagement has many positive impacts on a student’s positive development, which we review in the report, however for each student to be frequently and consistently engaged requires a corresponding supporting school climate. If we ignore school climate we run the risk of student engagement being a marginal experience for too few students rather than the common experience of every student.