Kathy King-Dickman's picture

Engaging the Disengaged, Number 1

by Kathy King-Dickman

Research backs up the fact that too many students in our country are disengaged from school. Reasons range from poverty to boredom to poor teaching to lack of skills with numerous other factors woven in. Therefore when we find pockets of high engagement, we owe it to others to share exactly what got these students turned on to education. This series, Engaging the Disengaged, will attempt to highlight factors from research as well as individual case studies that shine the spotlight on how to motivate students to fall in love with learning and school.

Relationships Matter

Elena was one of those students who had multiple reasons to be disengaged. After four years of instruction with her, I received this letter in the mail the summer of her seventh-grade year:

At the beginning of summer I made a goal to read at least three books. I just completed my ninth book and have already started the tenth. There are still four weeks left of summer…Many people tell me the main character(s) in your favorite books is who you want to act like so you change your personality to be more like that character. I believe them 100%. For example, in The Hunger Games, Katniss was brave, and I started acting as brave as I could. Books have helped change the way I act towards people and the way I look at problems whether it’s educational wise or emotionally personal wise…Reading and writing has helped me get a hold of my life. For that I wanted to thank you for teaching me to write and read. If you never taught me as you did, I would have never been able to enjoy the wonderful stories these authors have to tell inside the covers of a book. I guess in my own way, I can say you have helped me walk two moons…(Walk Two Moons, the 1995 Newberry Award Winner by Sharon Creech, is Elena’s favorite book, one she has read multiple times discovering something new with each read.)

30 years ago, I heard a presenter share that teachers did not need to love their charges to teach well. I remember sneaking a peak at the audience and wondering if they knew my error: I was crazy about my students. Now, after 32 years of being delighted by children and adolescents I have the courage to say I vehemently disagree.

I learned quickly in my teaching career that kids must love their teacher and feel loved in return if learning is to be maximized. The more I loved and cared for them, the easier it was to get their attention. The easier it was to get their attention, the more they learned.

Because I worked hard to develop a relationship with Elena she was willing to read at home catching up on her much needed reading skills. Because I loved Elena she worked hard at revising her writing to make it more meaningful. Because I loved Elana she tried hard to attend to each of my lessons. Because I loved Elena she came to my class motivated to learn to read and write.

It is fall and school has just begun for most of us. Let’s fall in love with our new students and “do so quickly.” We haven’t a moment to waste.

Please respond to this blog post with any stories of your own about motivating and engaging students. Here are some quotes to inspire you:

Stevie Quate and John McDermott say that:

Because of the centrality of emotions, if students feel as if the teacher doesn’t like them, they often resist the role of learner. In contrast, those students who perceive that their teachers care about them as individuals are more likely to engage and are more likely to worry about letting the teacher down.

Clock Watchers, p 14

And 20 years ago Lucy Calkins said:

One of the challenges we as writing teachers face is that we must begin teaching writing before we’ve grown to love each child. Once we can look at loud, blustery Joel and know the vulnerability and earnestness just beneath the surface, it’s not hard to teach him. Once we have found that quiet Diana has so much to say if only we listen,…it’s not hard to teach them. But in September, when Joel seems loud, Diana withdrawn, and Marcella a stranger, it’s hard to help them write well. Our first objective, then, is to fall in love with our children, and to do so quickly.

The Art of Teaching Writing, p 11

Core Principles: