Busy or Engaged?

I have recently hit a wall. It’s the beginning of May and I’m realizing how busy I have been for the last 4 months. Since January 1, 2019 I have taken 7 plane trips, attended at least four musicals or concerts, finished a year of weekend classes, signed my book contract, and worked my full-time job!

Being “busy” doesn’t necessarily mean that what I was doing was good or bad, it was just time-consuming. Obviously there is a lot on my abbreviated list above that was fun for me (see some pictures above from my trip to Grenada!). But returning from an international trip on a Monday, unpacking, doing laundry, worked 45 hours in four days, and repacking for a trip on Friday was exhausting to say the least.

This made me think about the difference between our students being busy versus being engaged. I visit hundreds of classrooms each year (412 so far this year!) and see students in many stages of learning. Some days students spend a large portion of their day listening to teachers, other days students spend their time talking to and collaborating with peers, and still on other days students are completing written tasks silently. Each of these can contribute to students’ learning.

My wondering today is whether we plan lessons to keep students busy or to engage them in their own learning. I know that as a teacher myself, I have been guilty of “busy work” as well as thoughtfully-planned engaging tasks that pushed students’ thinking. When I am coaching leaders after classrooms visits these days, I hear leaders step out of a classroom and comment on how “the students were engaged”. I also push back, asking the leader what exactly the students were doing. I think we use the word “engaged” a lot in education, but I don’t believe we all have a common definition of what it means.

To me, when a student is engaged, he or she is doing the thinking work, taking on the cognitive load by writing or talking about their thinking.

What does engagement look like in a classroom to you? 

About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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