Engagement Matters: An Introduction

Erik EllefsenInnovation, Webinars3 Comments

jarmoluk / Pixabay

jarmoluk / Pixabay

According to Gallup’s weekly survey only 33% of employees are actively engaged in their work while another 25% are actively disengaged. The data regarding teacher and student engagement is equally as discouraging with engagement rates that have plummeted in the past ten years to levels not seen since the early 1980s. As I work in a school, work with other schools, and read about workplace, teacher, or student engagement there are four areas over the next few months I’d like to explicate further and for us as educators to consider with greater focus as we prepare for the 2016-17 school year.

Leaders Matter

In Harvard Business Review’s annual report on the Top 50 CEOs I found there to be a couple portions of the research to be revealing for schools to consider. First, these top CEOs had an average tenure of 15 years; whereas, according to recent school leadership averages that are closer to 5 years. Unfortunately, this turnover leads to disengagement because of consistent change and strategic confusion.

Second, 86% of these top CEOs grew up through the organization and were internal hires. Too often we seek outsiders to change our schools, and I’m more convinced that schools need to place a greater focus on internal leadership development. Internal leadership development must be considered in the context of seeking leadership qualities and fostering them within the organization that will engage more high quality people in the school’s development.

Managers Matter

Management has become overlooked in our current culture as we have placed a greater focus on leadership. Likewise, schools have been terrible at fostering meaningful management positions that will increase engagement and utilize the talent within the organization. I’ll share more thoughts on how to do this structurally in the future, but I believe private schools in particular have the opportunity to create meaningful managerial roles that are hybrid leadership and teaching positions.

This matters as Gallup has shown that employees who work for engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged in their work. I hope that we can discuss high quality management habits that promote engagement rather than stifle it.


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Teachers Matter

Recently, I was surprised to see data that showed satisfaction with the teaching profession has plummeted from a high of about 65% in the early 2000s to around 31% today. Honestly though, I’m not completely surprised as the educational policies over the past fifteen years disempowered teachers and placed power into the hands of philanthropists, federal bureaucracy, policy wonks, and judicial courts. There is great hope that the recent ESSA legislation will return more power to teachers, but I think it is more of a return to the status quo of the 1990s that won’t generate greater teacher engagement or satisfaction within the profession. I’m excited that our April 21 “Innovation Lab” webinar will be with Dr. Jonathan Eckert who has recently written a piece for Education Week entitled “Bringing Joy Back to the Classroom” where he says, “A teacher’s satisfaction is a precondition for student engagement.”

Students Matter

I put students last on this list because I do believe that student engagement or disengagement has more to do with the prior three factors than with them as students. For too long I’ve been around educators that lament the lack of student engagement because of outside factors rather than taking a look internally at the school to determine how the school itself disincentivizes learning and engagement.

My opinion is that the first thing teachers and schools should do to rethink learning and reengage students is to end homework. My friend Dave Mulder has written a great blog called “No More Crappy Homework” where he shows how little impact homework has on learning and how it over time leads to less student engagement in the real fun of learning. The Innovation Lab will also address issues of engaging students in meaningful, joyful, and playful learning experiences throughout the spring and summer with innovative educators.

Conclusion and Invitation

Engagement matters, and I hope over the next few months you will enter into conversation and learning with us on how to create, lead, and manage dynamic learning environments for not only students but also the adults who work for and with us. Let’s have more fun as we are part of a great profession!

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  • Erik Ellefsen

    Erik Ellefsen is a CACE Senior Fellow and the Director of Networks and Improvement at the Baylor University’s Center for School Leadership. He also serves as Senior Fellow for Cardus, hosts Digital Education (a podcast providing engaging conversations with some of the most innovative education leaders), and is a leading collaborator and author of the Mindshift and Future Ready projects.

3 Comments on “Engagement Matters: An Introduction”

  1. Wow! Great piece! We older administrators in smaller Christian schools had little choice but to be leaders/managers but maybe more managers. The graduate schools generally focused on leaders and little on managing. I like the research on engagement. Thanks!

  2. Grateful you shared my blog in this piece, my friend. Glad it rings true for you! I totally agree with you about the different stakeholders you mention here–we can do better!

  3. I really like the approach that does not start with students but focuses on other factors that lead to student disengagement. The engagement and enthusiasm of the teacher is obviously critical in exciting students about school work. I think we need to step back and review our approach to teaching and learning to ensure we are really clear on the ultimate goals and then work back to the strategies and practices that will really engage students (and teachers) in the process.

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