"Engagement in schools... often times we think of that as mythical like unicorns, but it's alive and real and out there but probably not very common."
Scott , R. (n.d.). Episode 40: Dr. Heather Lyon Engagement is Not a Unicorn (It’s a Narwhal) . other. Retrieved from https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/bigedidea/episodes/Episode-40-with-Dr--Heather-Lyon-Engagement-is-NOT-a-Unicorn--its-a-Narwal-e167fdh/a-a6ctjjv.
What does engagement truly mean? Take a moment to reflect and define engagement for yourself before we delve into the quote. Dr. Heather Lyon, an esteemed educator and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, and Technology, has gained recognition in the education community through her authored books on engagement and her forthcoming co-authored work. In her book "Engagement is Not a Unicorn (It's a Narwhal)" published in 2020, Lyon introduces the Engagement Continuum—a thoughtful framework comprising four stages: non-compliance, compliance, interested, and absorbed. Each stage represents a unique level of involvement, and defines the relationship to the task.
During a podcast discussion with Ryan Scott, Lyon shares a quote that carries subtle yet profound meaning: "Engagement in schools... often we think of that as mythical like unicorns, but it's alive and real, just not common." This statement challenges our preconceived notions and calls for a critical examination of our understanding of engagement. The word "engagement" echoes through the halls and even our teacher evaluations, being as frequently uttered as "diagnosis" in the medical field or "headline" in the realm of journalism.
Now, let's revisit your personal definition of engagement and evaluate it with discernment. Does your definition encompass the true essence of engagement, or does it inadvertently describe compliance? Consider the deep qualities of curiosity, interest, and absorption that genuine engagement entails. Compliance is centered around obedience, while engagement involves emotional and relational involvement. By drawing captivating parallels between engagement and mythical creatures, Lyon prompts us to reconsider our own definitions. Are we settling for mere compliance, or are we actively fostering meaningful student involvement? This quote serves as a powerful catalyst, urging us to reevaluate our beliefs and strive for authentic engagement that goes beyond surface-level participation.
THE CHEESE (Added Depth)
As an educational administrator, one of my additional responsibilities was that of an evaluator. I can still vividly recall the nervousness I felt as a teacher when an administrator would enter my classroom to observe and assess my teaching. These evaluations were often based on well-established frameworks, such as the renowned "Danielson Framework" or simply known as "Danielson," which has become widely used in education. Charlotte Danielson, a prominent educator, conducted a comprehensive meta-analysis that synthesized a vast array of research on effective teaching. The result of her work is a robust framework that now serves as an evaluation tool for teachers, consisting of four domains, 22 components, and 76 elements.
Within the expansive framework of Danielson, one domain holds particular significance: 3c, which centers on engaging students in the learning process. It is worth noting that engagement is not only emphasized in one component but is referenced in a total of 26 instances throughout the framework. From my experience, and it's an opinion that would be challenging to dispute, domain 3c acts as the foundation or heart of the entire framework. It calls upon teachers to engage in deep reflection on what they are teaching and how their students are responding to the instruction. Danielson further explores the concept of engagement, specifically highlighting the notion of "intellectual engagement."
Put yourself in the evaluator's shoes for a moment. How would you evaluate if a child is truly "intellectually engaged"? It's not an easy task, as Lyon and Danielson both suggest. However, Lyon reminds us that while engagement may seem elusive, it is not impossible to discern and foster. Let's look deeper into the connection between the Danielson Framework and Lyon's quote. Danielson asserts that when students are engaged in learning, they are not merely busy or merely on task. Instead, they are intellectually active, grappling with important and challenging content. They engage in meaningful discussions, debates, answer thought-provoking "what if?" questions, discover patterns, and actively contribute to the intellectual life of the class. They may have opportunities to select their work from a range of choices, carefully arranged by the teacher.
In my role as an evaluator, I have assessed a significant number of teacher lessons, easily surpassing a thousand. Regrettably, only a fraction of these lessons exhibited the kind of deep engagement described by Danielson. This highlights the urgency and importance of Lyon's quote. We must strive to cultivate and nurture intellectual engagement among our students, as it is a fundamental aspect of effective teaching and learning. And here's the best news of all... IT IS POSSIBLE! Once we have a clear understanding and definition of engagement and can describe its characteristics, we can strategically plan for it. The beauty lies in the fact that engagement is not an intangible concept or an elusive myth. It is a tangible and attainable goal that we can actively work towards. Truth be told, of the thousands of lessons I have observed, I have noticed an intriguing pattern. When students are truly engaged, the dynamic shifts. The teacher's role becomes less burdensome as the students take charge and become active participants in their own learning. They willingly and eagerly shoulder the responsibility, doing the heavy lifting themselves. It is a transformative sight to witness students who are genuinely engaged, as they become the drivers of their own educational journey.
THE OLIVES (A Surprising Element)
I recently watched the Netflix series "Lidia Poet," which centers around the character Lidia Poet, a brilliant and determined female lawyer inspired by the real-life 19th-century Italian lawyer Matilda's Lidia Poët. Lidia's story unfolds in a time when women were banned from practicing law, and she faces immense societal barriers and discrimination.
However, Lidia's deep engagement in the pursuit of justice drives her to challenge the oppressive status quo and fight for the rights of marginalized individuals. Lidia's passion for the law goes beyond personal recognition or financial gain. She becomes fully absorbed in her work, immersing herself in uncovering the truth and seeking justice for the oppressed.
Lidia's journey resonates with Dr. Heather Lyon's concept of absorption in engagement. Lyon emphasizes that true engagement is not about attempting the impossible; rather, it involves shifting our perception of what is possible. Lidia embodies this idea as she defies societal norms and challenges the limitations imposed upon her gender. Her unwavering dedication to justice reflects Lyon's notion that authentic engagement entails a profound change in one's beliefs about what can be achieved.
Nothing about Lidia Poet reads or says compliance. She does not choose the path of least resistance; rather, she wholeheartedly embraces the path of justice. Lidia's unwavering commitment to her work mirrors the dedication of exceptional teachers who refuse to settle for mere compliance. These teachers, like Lidia, dig deep and resist the temptation to provide easy answers. Instead, they challenge their students to stretch and grow, encouraging them to think critically and reach for answers on their own. Lidia's story reminds us that true engagement in education requires educators who are willing to push boundaries, ignite curiosity, and empower students to become active participants in their own learning journeys.