Five Lessons About Student Engagement

Since 2002, I’ve been facilitating activities in schools across North America. Different groups of students need different approaches to get work done, but here are five lessons about student engagement I’ve learned along the way.

We’re all learning from student voice and about student voice.

In a growing number of schools across the nation, educators are striving for more than better test scores. Instead they are betting on student engagement, the idyllic notion of investment, engagement, and ownership in learning. But student engagement does not just happen. Instead, it is a deliberate and intentional process teachers, administrators, support staff, parents and students must embark on together in order to affect sustainable transformation in a school.

The following are lessons I have learned over the last five years as I have worked with more than 50 schools across the US and Canada in their quests to engage students. Use my experience to benefit your work!

Lesson #1: Every school should engage every student in every classroom.

Learning ability, grade level, interest tracking… none of these should be seen or addressed as barriers to student engagement. Instead, these are point to build upon and learn from. Student engagement is an active, intentional process whereupon young people become purposefully compelled as learners.

Lesson #2: Student engagement does not end at the schoolhouse door.

Students must be active within their families and throughout their communities. This goes far beyond classroom assignments and community service. Providing learners with active student voice in democratic governance, powerful opportunities for cultural expression, and meaningful experiences of freedom of speech throughout their community can open the doors for students. Authentic student engagement can also occur at home, in play, through positive relationships with adults, and throughout our communities.

Lesson #3: Every adult in every student’s life should feel responsible for engaging that student in learning.

Only through the constant encouragement and focus of parents, teachers, youth workers, principals, religious leaders, counselors, and other supportive adults will students feel there is a real investment in their education that extends beyond their own interests. Every student should feel that educational success is their responsibility; likewise, every adult should feel that student engagement is theirs.

Lesson #4: Give a student a lesson and they’ll think for an hour; teach them how to learn and they will learn a lifetime.

Learning to learn is a task that many educators aspire to impart without every being explicit in their intentions. Every student must have a constructivist understanding of the nature of learning, the purpose of schooling, the course of the education system, and the arch of lifelong learning. From kindergarten through graduation educators have more than the opportunity to teach students about learning; they have an obligation.

Lesson #5: Engaging students is a living, breathing goal that must continuously evolve.

Will Rogers once said, “Even if you’re on the right track you’ll get run over if you don’t move.” We live in a world of transition and change; students change with the times, and often with the days. Do the same old thing and we’ll get the same old outcomes we’ve always had. As technology constantly changes, so do our students, as many educators have told me that students have changed more in the last 5 years than schools have in the last 25 years. This makes opportunities for real learning through meaningful student involvement.

These are lessons I’ve learned about student engagement. What have you learned about student engagement? Leave your comments in the section below.

Related Content


Student Voice Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook written by Adam Fletcher published by CommonAction Publishing in 2017.