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Skin in the Game

Exploring the concept of “engagement” in the Classroom and Enlight

All teachers want classrooms full of enthusiastically responsive students who are invested in the academic concepts and classroom activities. The rule of thumb is that these are the students who will meet or exceed the standards based on an assessment of their content knowledge. These students are “engaged” and thus are and will be “successful” in school.

Teachers in nearly any setting may assume that student engagement is a good thing and will lead to better student performance, but teachers are also often surprised by the performance of a student on a project or test who seemed to be disengaged during class. Similarly, the student who makes eye contact, smiles and nods throughout a lesson may demonstrate that they have not been paying attention at all when asked a simple question. Mismatches in observable student cues and actual learning highlights the difficulty of observing cognitive engagement (449).

Troy Frensley, B., Stern, M. J., & Powell, R. B. (2020). Does student enthusiasm equal learning? The mismatch between observed and self-reported student engagement and environmental literacy outcomes in a residential setting. The Journal of Environmental Education, 51(6), 449–461.

Student Engagement can be an indicator of academic success, but it is not a simple algorithm that is a universal truth. Much like the folly of Standardized Testing, student engagement does not line up with a single, proscribed paradigm of analysis and assessment. In the greater scheme of things, a supposedly more engaged student does not fare better in assessments any more than low student performance and low engagement can be linked. In fact emotional state is a bigger factor in an individual student’s assessment success than any other contributor, and most measures of assessment do not even account of any SEL, or wellness factors.

Student engagement is typically regarded as being a multidimensional construct, but there remains no clear consensus about its precise conceptualization.

Moreira, P., Cunha, D., & Inman, R. A. (2020). An integration of multiple student engagement dimensions into a single measure and validity-based studies. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 38(5), 564–580.

At Enlight we believe that data is important, but we think the education world focuses on the wrong kind of data. If data doesn’t have an impact on the genuine relationship between a teacher and a student, then the data isn’t going to improve student success, or assess student issues. Enlight is focused on nurturing the relationship between students and teachers. We want teachers to feel like they have a genuine insight into the lives of their students, and most importantly — we want students to feel seen, heard, and respected. This shared avenue of communication and mutual insight is the foundation for an engaged student. However, at Enlight, we look at the term “engagement” a bit differently. Engagement is more than a student’s interest in the lecture, or the care they put into their assignments, but rather the valorization of their ideas and creations as a response to the subject matter, in a holistic classroom environment where individuals are part of a supportive teacher and peer ecosystem. “Engaged” students are more than just successful test-takers. They are thought leaders, and empathetic community members. They are attuned to their own needs and the needs of the overall classroom environment. This kind of ‘engagement’ starts with teachers that have access to the information they need about their students to make more personalized curricular or community choices. What Enlight does is give teachers and students the tools to be more responsive and communicative with each other. This is the foundation of “engagement” and it is a process that is constantly evolving. Doing away with the conceits of academic success, Enlight defines engagement as:

the active participation of students in their own education, resulting in higher student agency and a more collaborative learning environment.

Build the student-teacher relationship, and the rest will follow.

This is the mission of Enlight.

Come join us.



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Beau Johnson

Beau Johnson

Progressive Education Pontification | Creator of Imagined Places