Teacher Engagement – Leaders – and the Netgens

As educators, we so often talk about student engagement and what it really means to be engaged.

According to Wikipedia – Student engagement occurs when “students make a psychological investment in learning. They try hard to learn what school offers. They take pride not simply in earning the formal indicators of success (grades), but in understanding the material and incorporating or internalizing it in their lives.” (Link)

In a classroom with kids, engagement requires a rich inquiry based learning environment. Every students needs a purpose and every student needs to to feel safe to make mistakes. Collaboration is essential in discovery and learning as is presenting to an authentic audience.

As an educator, teacher engagement has become essential to my practice. In fact, If I am not fully and authentically engaged in what I am doing, my performance in the classroom becomes dull, tedious and lacking in richness – similar to what happens to my students, when they aren’t fully engaged.

What if we changed the word “student” to “teacher” in the above definition? Would the research, and arguments also prove true?

After reflecting on this myself and, addressing this issue (teacher engagement) with friends, colleagues and my PLN, I discovered that the expectations of professional development, teacher training, staff meetings and committee meetings differ greatly – not depending just on age and generations, but also on one’s involvement with learning outside their immediate organization.

Overwhelming, teachers want choice, freedom, integrity and openness, entertainment and play, collaboration and relationship building and to be innovators themselves. Sound familiar? These characteristics are what Don Tapscott presents in his book, “Growing Up Digital” as the eight common attributes pertaining to the “Netgens”.

I am not a “Netgen”. I am considered, “Generation X”. However, I am immersed in a ‘Netgen’ culture and the attributes I listed above are applicable to how I life my life both professionally and personally.

I believe strongly that if teacher professional development and training were aligned with the characteristics presented by Tapscott, teacher engagement would increase, resulting in overwhelming openness and willingness to embrace new methods of teaching.

It is my hope that principals and leaders across our districts assess their own level of engagement and recognize that they will benefit greatly by democratizing their staff and embracing the 21st Century as it pertains to teacher training.

As an adult instructor myself this year, I am going to make it a priority to use the NETS*t as my guidelines. I do have an advantage, however. I am coming from what I would consider a 21st Century fluent classroom – student centered, differentiated, collaborative and one which prioritizes a universal learning environment. So I offer these suggestions to my fellow instructional leaders:

1) Do not start the first staff meeting of the year with a Power Point Of course, you have ‘house keeping’ business to take care of and your due diligence with informing staff is priority. Model new strategies, new skills, new fluencies. Inspire and Engage your staff from the beginning.

– Create a Wikispace and show staff how to sign in. You can call this the “Staff Room Wiki”. Staff can sign in at any time, any place and view the house keeping business, rules, timelimes.


– Like kids, your staff wants to enjoy what the are doing. Consider creating a COLLABORATIVE google doc, or form for staff to work on during the staff meeting. MAKE IT FUN.

– Consider starting a backhannel – http://www.todaysmeet.com/ – Pick one or two of your staff to ask questions throughout the meeting. Shy teachers or those who don’t participate often may be more willing to use a backchannel.

– Invite an expert to SKYPE into your staff meeting. There are MANY amazing leaders out there. JUST ASK.

2) Think – is there a better way to provide your staff information that is quick and to the point then through EMAIL?

– Open a SECURE school TWITTER account. Only your staff is approved to see posts. Again, this method of communication is quick, easy and collaborative. Learn how to use a #TAG. Promote ongoing, sustainable discussions.

3) Start the first staff meeting by showing your staff YOUR NEW BLOG. Even if it is the first, “Welcome” entry- Your staff wants authenticity, integrity and openness. Show them how it is done. Guaranteed, they will connect this to their own teaching practice. Be a model.

4) Survey your staff – find out who they are. As a classroom teacher, differentiated instruction DEPENDS on knowing the students. Do the same with your teachers. Ask them what kind of PD they want – ask for their input. You can use a Google Form for this.

5) Be willing to ask an expert – even if that expert happens to be a first year teacher. Many companies have had huge successes after using new staff as part of their leadership and decision making structures. These teachers are also coming with an advantage. They are the digital genaration.