Keeping educators fully engaged throughout the school year is crucial for a successful and productive learning environment. The need to encourage teachers and students to stay fully involved in learning cannot be overstated. When educators and learners are fully engaged, the benefits are far-reaching and contribute to a positive and valuable educational experience.
Engaged educators are more likely to provide high-quality instruction. They are enthusiastic, creative, and committed to their students’ success. This contagious enthusiasm motivates students to participate actively in their learning. Educators fully engaged in their work are more likely to go the extra mile to adapt their teaching methods to meet students’ needs, fostering a more inclusive and responsive learning environment.
4 Ways to Increase and Sustain Educator Engagement
1. Customize professional development. Tailor all professional development (PD) to individual needs by understanding what is needed and wanted. Then, provide multiple ways to access learning in a flexible environment.
If there is a new set of instructional strategies that teachers want to learn, provide videos of teachers using these methods, along with time to practice and observe their colleagues using them. Loom videos work great on multiple levels when you use them to demonstrate new technology or provide guidance on a process.
Keep teachers engaged by enlisting their colleagues to run various workshops. We accomplished this by holding an in-house (PD) conference where the workshops were selected and run by teachers. Administrators take a step back in this model and adjust the schedule so it can happen.
Another way to offer choice is by using Padlet to create a menu of content or articles and videos. This can even be done by department or area of interest.
Encourage groups of teachers to find an outside workshop, and have them attend it as a group on a PD day. The leader has to understand needs and provide educators the space and time to let it occur. Engaged educators are more likely to invest in their PD. They seek opportunities for ongoing learning and growth to keep their knowledge and skills current, which ultimately benefits their students.
2. Support autonomy and collaboration. It’s well known that improved practice comes through the support received by collaborating with colleagues, but that support also creates more engagement in the process. Create a schedule for teachers to have time to discuss trends and successful lessons, and then capture those ideas in a shared folder or digital document to create a schoolwide resource.
Leaders must strive to provide large blocks of uninterrupted time for teachers to collaborate. There’s time to be found by adjusting your schedule. We did this and now have multiple three-hour blocks set aside for collaboration, curriculum writing, small PD workshops, and data analysis. Stay away from providing substitutes and in-house field trips. This only adds to stress and anxiety as teachers become responsible for substitute plans and spend more hours making up for missed time.
Be creative by condensing small amounts of time through early releases and half days that allow teachers to select what they need at that moment in time. Tools such as Wakelet and OneDrive/Microsoft 365 will create online platforms for ongoing collaboration once live sessions are complete, providing asynchronous opportunities to continue learning.
3. Recognize and reward good work. Teachers work hard. Make sure that you are taking every opportunity to recognize and praise the work they are doing authentically.
Utilize newsletters and memos, not just to shout out the specific positive actions you notice but also to check in on how teachers are doing in taking care of themselves. The former should always be done in a manner that the person being recognized is comfortable with, while the latter is as easy as a Google Form checking in about boundaries, sleep, stress level, and more.
Consider small rewards based on a teacher’s interest. I have teachers complete a survey each year that asks for small pieces of personal information; one is their favorite snack. A coffee, bag of chips, or pint of ice cream delivered in class, with an explanation of why, not only puts a smile on their face but increases their engagement in staying positive on difficult days.
Want that feeling to last? They have many names, but a “feel good” folder is a location where all of the emails and personal notes that compliment them can be placed for easy access on those tough days. Help them set up one, and be the first person to contribute to it.
4. Acknowledge work-life balance. It’s nearly impossible to balance the responsibilities of educators. Realizing that it’s more of a negotiation allows you to help those you serve to monitor themselves to ensure that negotiation is happening. You can do this by providing an open survey to teachers that lets them rank themselves on boundaries, sleep, nutrition, saying no, and other categories. This allows them to see that they are supported in prioritizing themselves.
Once you follow up and make specific comments or provide the support they ask for, teachers become very engaged in monitoring and continuing the practice. Publicly and repeatedly let them know that emails are not to be answered or phone calls returned after a certain hour in the afternoon or on weekends, and then support them in doing that. Even more important, model that behavior by not emailing them during those hours and holding to this schedule yourself.
Recognize teachers for taking time for themselves on outside activities. Another way to accomplish this on a smaller scale is to start every meeting sharing and discussing personal “wins” that they had since the previous meeting.
Remember that shallow discussions and action only address climate in the short term. There must be meaningful action to create long-term success that builds a continuous culture of 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 more likely to be engaged and motivated to learn.