Understandably, many educators are focused on increasing student achievement. After all, teachers constantly strive to help students achieve their full potential. However, student engagement is just as essential as achievement, and it often has a tremendous impact on the likelihood of student success. Jim Knight’s latest article in The Learning Professional discusses the importance of coaching to increase engagement, and he shares several crucial concepts and tools for coaches to help teachers increase all types of student engagement.



Why Engagement Matters & How Instructional Coaching Can Help

The school experience can be extremely challenging and lonely for students, especially for those who are living on the margins and at-risk for failure. To help teachers move these students back into the heart of schools and ensure their success, coaching needs to address student engagement in addition to and as part of student achievement. Productive learners engage in learning activities, and students who stay in school do so because they are engaged. So, to improve schools, we must ensure students are fully engaged in learning.

Instructional coaches influence student experience through their partnership with teachers, and they do so through strategic knowledge and an intentional process. Use of the Impact Cycle’s three stage process (Identify, Learn, Improve) helps coaches partner with teachers to create and achieve PEERS goals:

  • P – Powerful
  • E – Easy to implement
  • E – Emotionally compelling for teachers
  • R – Reachable (involving a measurable outcome and an identified strategy teachers can use to reach their goal)
  • S – Student-focused


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Categories of Engagement & How to Measure Them

There are three major categories of engagement: behavioral, cognitive, and social-emotional. Each category is equally important and requires unique methods for measurement.


Behavioral Engagement

When students are on task – doing what they are supposed to be doing – they are behaviorally engaged. Though behavioral engagement does not indicate whether students are learning, it is often a necessary starting point when many students are off task in the classroom. Luckily, it is objective and easily measurable. Coaches and teachers can use at least four simple measure to assess behavioral engagement:

  • Time on task: Measure whether students appear to be doing the task that is set before them
  • Instructional time: Subtract transition time from the total length of a lesson
  • Student disruptions: Count the number of times students interrupt the teacher’s instruction or other students’ learning
  • Number of questions: Count the number of student responses and the number of different students responding to the teacher’s questions.

Improving behavioral engagement can be achieved through three widely-referenced strategies: expectations to clarify how students are expected to behave, reinforcements to communicate that teachers see students acting appropriately, and corrections to address inappropriate behavior before it spreads in the classroom.


Cognitive Engagement

When students experience what their teacher intended them to experience from an activity, they are cognitively engaged. They find meaning and value in learning tasks and are attentive, committed, and persistent to complete them. Since this kind of engagement happens internally for students, the best way to measure it is by asking students about their engagement in specific activities. This may involve the coach interviewing students, asking students to respond to exit tickets, or using what we refer to as experience sampling, which prompts students to report their level of engagement at different times during a lesson on a form such as the one below.

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Increasing cognitive engagement usually involves at least three teaching strategies. For example: a clear description of learning outcomes, formative assessment, and feedback.


Emotional Engagement

If a student feels alone, afraid, or hopeless, it is essential to address those challenges before they can engage deeply in academic learning. Once students feel they belong in their school and they feel physically and psychologically safe, they are emotionally engaged and their experiences are more positive and meaningful. One way to measure emotional engagement is by asking students to complete informal weekly assessments about their emotional state and to provide suggestions for what could make their experience more positive. Simple surveys like the one below (for elementary students) can help coaches and teachers sets goals for their students’ emotional engagement. Formal surveys, such as the Gallup student success survey, and interactive journals with their teacher also help measure this type of engagement.

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To improve emotional engagement, coaches can help teachers deepen their relationships with students. Through watching video recordings of their lessons, teachers can reflect on how they demonstrate empathy, and coaches can also help them demonstrate collaborative power instead of coercive power by communicating respect, affirming all students, giving their full attention, etc. Coaches can also partner with teachers to build connections through students’ unique interests and developing student autonomy.


Bringing It All Together with the Impact Cycle

The Impact Cycle’s three stages provide the structure for the measurements and teaching strategies to help increase student engagement. In the Identify stage, coaches and teachers can set goals based on the measures of engagement and discuss strategies to use. The creation of an instructional playbook containing checklists and other tools prepares coaches to support teachers and clearly communicate their explanations and strategies. (For more on instructional playbooks, pre-order The Instructional Playbook: The Missing Link for Translating Research into Practice!)

During the Learn stage, the coach and teacher determine how the teacher will implement the new strategies. This can be done through modeling the practices, sharing videos, or visiting other classrooms to observe the strategy in action. Finally, in the Improve stage, the coach and teacher explore various adaptations, including changing the goal, measurement, teaching strategies, or how the teacher learns the strategies.

Engagement and achievement go hand in hand, and a focus on one should not turn a blind eye on the other. Through the use of the Impact Cycle and the tools and strategies described in Jim Knight’s article, coaches can partner with teachers to address each type of student engagement. Because students learn best when they are behaviorally, cognitively, and emotionally engaged, educators who seek to improve engagement will make an unmistakably positive impact in students’ lives.

Read Jim Knight’s full article on student engagement in The Learning Professional!