Student engagement runs on teacher innovation

Engaging students seems to be a fundamental aspect of teaching, yet, in their study of research about student engagement, Taylor and Parsons (2011) found that there are a wide range of definitions that educators use to identify engagement.  There were types of engagement such as “academic, cognitive, intellectual, institutional, emotional, behavioral, social, and psychological” (p. 4) that were referenced but not one commonly agreed upon definition.  Given all these ways that students may be engaged, it presents a challenge for teachers any way that you view it.  One on hand, there are a host of strategies and activities that can be used for each type of engagement and yet, on the other hand, the differentiation that is needed in the classroom can make it overwhelming for teachers to find a good mix of engagement strategies that will engage each learner appropriately.

Teachers must be innovative in continuously devising methods and strategies for engaging their learners.  Unlike a workshop or a conference where the energy and engagement can be ramped up over a day or a three-day weekend, classrooms typically have students for an entire semester or school year – that’s a long time to be seeing the same students on a daily or weekly basis.  It can be easy to quickly fall into a routine that is comfortable and effective for the teacher to facilitate but that simply does not equate to engagement for students.  Sztabnik (2015) insists that we need to start and end each lesson by making those moments matter.  “If we fail to engage students at the start, we may never get them back. If we don’t know the end result, we risk moving haphazardly from one activity to the next. Every moment in a lesson plan should tell” (Sztabnik, 2015, para 4).  He suggests a quick list of activities that not only engage students but enable the teacher to activate prior knowledge, create anticipation, and check for understanding.

Burgess (2012) shares his unique perspective and approach to student engagement through his Teach Like A Pirate system; he identifies aspects of this approach that are necessary for him to be effective in engaging his learners:

[P]assion for the content, as a professional, and on a personal level is key to staying engaged as a teacher;

[I]mmersion in the moment and being present and aware of the teachable moments helps us take advantage of the learning dynamics around us;

[R]apport with learners helps us build trusting relationships that allows them to be engaged and motivated to achieve and also helps teachers make deeper connections with students;

[A]sk & Analyze keeps us reflective and asking questions to drive our process;

[T]ransformation refers to making content relevant and meaningful for learners; and

[E]nthusiasm is a teacher’s demonstration of their passion and commitment to making learning engaging.

Finley (2014) shares some additional research about student engagement, but highlights the work of Dr. Kristy Cooper in studying the impact of teacher strategies for student engagement.  In her studies, Cooper found that teachers use: A) Lively Teaching – the fun, interactive, social activities and projects that emphasize students constructing knowledge; (B) Academic Rigor – when students work card to tackle “cognitively demanding tasks and environments”; and (C) Connective Instruction – where students are supported to make personalized connections with the content and learning process.  There is also emphasis in this strategy on the teacher developing high-quality relationships with students that have shown to be the most significant factor on student engagement because students want and need the personal connections to make learning meaningful.

While Burgess (2012) recognizes that content is important and each teacher has their own techniques and methods accumulated over time, it is in the presentation of lessons that he is able to engage and interact with students in a unique and innovative way.  His extensive list of presentation hooks to engage students demonstrates the unlimited ways that students can be connected and engaged to learning.

If you research students engagement strategies, undoubtedly you will find an enormous amount of information about resources, techniques, tools, etc., but each teacher needs to innovate in their own way.  Implementing someone else’s plan or methods won’t be as effective because they might not take into account your own unique approach to the PIRATE system.  We each have our passions, our processes and show enthusiasm in our own ways; innovating our own student engagement strategies is necessary for us to stay on top of our game!


Burgess, D. (2012). Teach like a Pirate: Increase student engagement, boost your creativity, and transform your life as an educator [Kindle version]. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting.  Retrieved from

Finley, T.  (September 9, 2015).  New Study:  Engage kids with 7x the effect.  George Lucas Educational Foundation.  Retrieved from:

Sztabnik, B.  (January 5, 2015).  The 8 minutes that matter most [weblog].  George Lucas Educational Foundation.  Retrieved from:

Taylor, L. & Parsons, J. (2011). Improving Student Engagement. Current Issues in Education, 14(1). Retrieved from:





This Burgess Pirate, man, he writes like a tidal wave!  I found myself flying through the book and feeling his voice and personality come through.  His overarching message is universal and can be applied to really any career field – that we must lead with passion and be intentional and reflective in our process.  We have to believe in the worth of our work and find any means necessary to engage others in that.  

Ali wrote about her passion for technology which allows her to innovate its use in her teaching practice.  I love how she doesn’t just throw in a bunch of cool tech but has a healthy mix of “let’s try this” and “i use this tech to…”; her formative assessment strategies really show her intention and innovation and how we and our students benefit from this approach.

Cherie shared some insecurities about incorporating art into her lessons and how her perceived lack of ability prevented her from trying it out.  I love the fact that she shared this early on and it demonstrates her willingness to learn, improve, and how much she cares about her work.  I responded that I think we and our students can easily fall into the trap of comparing our abilities, skills, and worth with our peers; as Burgess pointed out, this can prevent us from moving towards greatness but it can also keep us from realizing our potential.  When he equates “being safe” to mediocrity, it makes it sound terrible!!! What an uninspiring thing to play it safe and not be willing to go out on the limb and see what happens.

If we want bold students and bold learning, then we must be bold teachers!  Sam wrote about a similar theme in her blog, that as the teacher, we are the first student in the classroom.  By modeling the learning process for ourselves, we are then able to support students to do the same.  It sounds simple but it’s actually not.  If anything, Burgess reminds us that teaching is only for the bold and hard-working, if you don’t identify with that, then you probably should find something else to do!



Any thoughts, feelings, opinions, suggestions?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s