Engaging Students: Teachers’ and Principals’ Work

In last week’s blog I shared ideas from Phillip Schlechty’s book Engaging Students: The Next Level of Working on the Work. Here is some additional thinking as I finished the book.

The primary task of the teacher is not to motivate students. It is to design work they provide to students or encourage students to undertake in ways that maximize the likelihood that the motives students bring to the work will be responded to and satisfied. The task is also to design the work in a way that minimizes the likelihood that student motives will be frustrated or need to be suppressed”. (pg 81)

Schletchy’s focus on the teacher as designer aligns with the coaching work that I have been doing using a backwards approach ….. moving from the desired student achievement outcome to deciding what the student needs to do and then moving to what the teacher does. I often find that teachers are planning instruction without a clear picture of the student behaviors (actions) that would produce the desired learning outcome.

The emphasis on designing rather than planning could provide teachers a clearer understanding that it is “what the student does” that produces the learning.

Some of Schlechty’s distinctions between designing and planning: (pg 48)

Design begins with the needs of customers.
Plans begin with goals, objectives, activities.

Design assumes divergence, disruption, and chaos.
Planning assumes convergence, linearity, and order.

Design is expressive and embraces values and emotion.
Planning is instrumental and embraces deductive logic and rational analysis.

Design seeks alternatives and invites invention.
Planning seeks to limit alternatives and encourages conformance.

Designers synthesize and unify.
Planners analyze and segment.

For teachers to be designers they need to know about their students….what motives they bring to the classroom.

This kind of work would suggest to me a high need for collaboration. Teachers collaborating in knowing students and informing each other about what they know. The creative process of design should be enhanced by teams/collaboration.

Teachers focused more on designing than planning will need reinforcement from principals. The questions that principals ask teachers can communicate the importance placed on student engagement. Here are some from Schlecty: (pg 133)

Describe a successful unit of schoolwork that you provided your students.

What portion of the students were engaged— demonstrated attention and persistence and commitment? How did you determine the level of engagement?

To what extent did the students learn what you wanted them to? How did you assess the results?

What about the learning experience made it as engaging or discouraging engagement as it seemed to be?

If you were to redesign this unit for the same group of students, what would you change? Why?

One of my favorite post conferencing questions is “What did you learn during this lesson?”. Each student learning activity should be a teacher learning activity. The teacher should be learning about his/her students and altering the next design based on that learning.

As an administrator or coach you might consider the same question following an observation and teacher conference. “What did I learn about the students and the teacher?” How will that learning impact the design of my next interaction with the teacher and staff?”

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One Response to “ Engaging Students: Teachers’ and Principals’ Work ”

  1. Monica Says:

    Thanks for this post. I really like the idea of teachers as designers instead of teachers as planners!

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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