Building and Maintaining Teacher Engagement

It is essential to maintain the full engagement of educators throughout the school year in order to create a successful and productive learning environment. Emphasizing the importance of active participation in learning for both teachers and students cannot be overstated. When educators and learners are fully engaged, the benefits are extensive and contribute to a positive and valuable educational experience.

Engaged educators are more inclined to provide high-quality instruction. They demonstrate enthusiasm, creativity, and dedication to the success of their students. This contagious enthusiasm motivates students to actively participate in their own learning. Educators who are fully engaged in their work are more likely to go above and beyond to adapt their teaching methods to meet the needs of their students, creating a more inclusive and responsive learning environment.

Four Methods to Increase and Sustain Educator Engagement

1. Personalize professional development. Customize all professional development (PD) opportunities to suit the individual needs and preferences of educators. Provide multiple options for accessing learning in a flexible environment.

If teachers express an interest in learning new instructional strategies, provide them with videos demonstrating these methods, along with opportunities to practice and observe their colleagues using them. Loom videos are effective for demonstrating new technology or providing guidance on a process.

Maintain teacher engagement by involving their colleagues in running various workshops. One approach is to hold an in-house PD conference where teachers select and lead the workshops. Administrators can step back in this model and adjust the schedule to accommodate it.

Another way to offer choice is by using Padlet to create a menu of content, articles, and videos, potentially organized by department or area of interest.

Encourage groups of teachers to attend an external workshop together on a PD day. The facilitator should have a good understanding of the teachers’ needs and provide them with the necessary time and space. Engaged educators are more likely to invest in their professional development, actively seeking opportunities for ongoing learning and growth to keep their knowledge and skills up to date, ultimately benefiting their students.

2. Foster autonomy and collaboration. Collaborating with colleagues is known to enhance teaching practices, and this support also increases engagement in the process. Establish a schedule that allows teachers time to discuss trends and share successful lessons, and create a shared folder or digital document to compile these ideas as a schoolwide resource.

Leaders should strive to provide extended blocks of uninterrupted time for teachers to collaborate. By adjusting schedules, it is possible to allocate multiple three-hour blocks specifically for collaboration, curriculum writing, small-scale PD workshops, and data analysis. Avoid relying on substitutes and in-house field trips, as these can add stress and anxiety for teachers who become responsible for substitute plans and have to make up for lost time.

Be creative and condense small amounts of time through early releases and half days, allowing teachers to choose activities that meet their immediate needs. Tools such as Wakelet and OneDrive/Microsoft 365 can be used to create online platforms for ongoing collaboration once live sessions are completed, offering opportunities for asynchronous learning.

3. Acknowledge and reward exemplary work. Teachers put in a lot of effort, and it is important to seize every opportunity to genuinely recognize and commend the work they do.

Utilize newsletters and memos not only to acknowledge specific positive actions but also to check in on teachers’ well-being. Recognition should always be done in a manner that respects the individual’s comfort level, while checking in about boundaries, sleep, stress levels, and more can be as simple as using a Google Form.

Consider providing small rewards based on a teacher’s personal interests. Every year, I have teachers complete a survey that asks for small pieces of personal information, such as their favorite snack. Delivering a cup of coffee, bag of chips, or pint of ice cream to their classroom along with an explanation of why they are being rewarded not only brings a smile to their face but also increases their engagement in maintaining a positive attitude on challenging days.

Want that positive feeling to linger? Encourage teachers to create a “feel good” folder where they can store all emails and personal notes that commend them for easy access on tough days. Help them set up this folder, and be the first person to contribute to it.

4. Prioritize work-life balance. Balancing the responsibilities of educators is nearly impossible. Recognizing that it is more of a negotiation allows you to help educators monitor themselves and ensure they are finding a balance. You can do this by providing an open survey that allows teachers to rank themselves on boundaries, sleep, nutrition, saying no, and other relevant categories. This shows them that they are supported in prioritizing their own well-being.

Follow up with specific comments or provide the support requested by teachers, which will greatly engage them in monitoring and continuing these practices. Publicly and repeatedly communicate that emails should not be answered and phone calls should not be returned after a certain hour in the afternoon or on weekends, and then support teachers in adhering to this schedule. Furthermore, model this behavior by refraining from sending emails during those hours and sticking to the schedule yourself.

Acknowledge teachers for taking time for themselves and engaging in activities outside of work. As a smaller-scale approach, begin each meeting by sharing and discussing personal “wins” that have occurred since the previous meeting.

Remember that superficial discussions and action only create short-term improvements in the learning climate. Meaningful action is necessary to achieve long-term success and establish a culture of continuous engagement. Engaged educators are more likely to create a positive and productive learning environment. When teachers are enthusiastic, motivated, and passionate about their subject matter, students are also more likely to be engaged and motivated to learn.

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