Engagement, Empowerment, Enthusiasm – Part 3


Maybe it’s a “chicken and egg” scenario with no real answer, but I have finally come to the personal conclusion that engagement trumps empowerment and enthusiasm in teaching and learning.  By this, I mean to say that without engaging students in the learning process, they will never become empowered to enthusiastically learn on their own.

As I wrote in the previous post, Chris Lehmann started me on this path with a post on his blog in which he argued that we should be empowering students, and not just engaging them.

Respectfully, I disagree.  My new opinion comes from reading Charlotte Danielson’s outstanding book Enhancing Professional Practice – A Framework for Teaching.  Every teacher and school administrator should read this book.  Danielson’s framework is comprised of four domains:

  1. Planning and Preparation;
  2. The Classroom Environment;
  3. Instruction; and
  4. Professional Responsibilities.

Danielson also provides a framework for specialists such as school social workers, psychologists, instructional coaches, and speech therapists.

Within each domain, Danielson includes rubrics for teachers to assess their levels of performance.  As a staff, the teachers in my school and I are working through this book as part of our professional development activities for this school year.  I think it has opened some eyes, and it has helped teachers re-asses their professional practices.  It also has given us some wonderful common language to use in the evaluation process.

This leads me to my argument that engaging students in learning is the single most important element of good teaching.   The following quote is from the section on Domain 3: Instruction:

“Domain 3 is the heart of the framework for teaching: it describes, after all, the critical interactive work that teachers undertake when they bring complex content to life for their students.  And the heart of Domain 3 is engaging students in learning:  all the other aspects of the framework serve the purpose of engagement, because it is engagement that ensures learning.”

That is powerful.  In my mind, that paragraph, and the ensuing chapter in the Danielson book, seals the deal.  The very best teachers engage their students through clear and concise communication, through the use of expert questioning and discussion techniques, through intellectual involvement with the content, and by helping students become mentally engaged in the content.

It is possible that Chris has written his post in the narrow context of educational technology.  That may be true, and if children are playing video games or goofing around on Facebook, then they may not be fully engaged in learning.  However, if used correctly, ed tech tools (including video games) may engage students more than any other teaching tool or technique available.

So which came first?  The engagement or the empowerment?  Maybe it does not really matter, as long as the students are passionate and self-directed about their learning.  If they are, then they are engaged, empowered, and totally enthusiastic about learning.

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2 thoughts on “Engagement, Empowerment, Enthusiasm – Part 3

  1. Wow! This is very thought provoking. Definitely putting this book on my must read list and considering staff-wide read and book study. Actually dealing with some of these issues and questions today.

  2. I am an assistant principal in a district that is moving to use the Danielson FFT as our evaluation tool. It is a real struggle to move from our old evaluation process, which seemed as if it was a process “done to” teachers, to the new evaluation process, which is a process “done with” teachers. And this idea brings me to my connection to the above post – I also believe that engagement is the key to empowerment and enthusiasm. I propose this concept be applied to improving teaching – teachers must be engaged in becoming better teachers before they become empowered to enthusiatically teach.

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