Don't Give Away Engagement

Don't Give Away Engagement

"Every student in the class was engaged."

I have heard statements like this a number of times and my immediate thought has always been one filled with skepticism. In most cases, educators utilizing the term engagement have really been seeing compliance. While compliance is certainly a positive trait, it is just a starting point. Engagement is much more than students paying attention and following directions.

I think back to a time a few years ago when we were doing weekly learning walks focused on student engagement and the discussions we had around coming to a common understanding of what we meant by engagement. During walkthroughs, Teachers tended to want to check off the box for engagement for their hard-working colleagues who had created thoughtful lesson plans. But in order to truly raise levels of engagement, we had to make sure that we were not just giving away that designation too easily.

We utilized the following prompt in an attempt to hold the line on engagement:

Does the work assigned to students incorporate engaging qualities? Check all that apply. (3=engaged)

  • Personal Response
  • Clear Modeled Expectations
  • Emotional/Intellectual Safety
  • Learning with Others
  • Sense of Audience
  • Choice
  • Novelty/Variety
  • Authenticity

If we could check off three or more of the boxes above, we came to the conclusion that students were engaged. If you would like to see our short walkthrough form, you can access it here.

I saw another great scale to measure classroom engagement in a post by George Couros last week. I love the fact that this scale raised the stakes even higher by adding empowerment.

cross-posted at

Patrick Larkin is the Assistant Superintendent for Learning of Burlington Public Schools in Burlington, MA and the former principal of Burlington High. He blogs about education at