A Model for Student Engagement


Authentic smiles from engaged students

A tremendous amount of research has concluded that student engagement is one of the key contributors to academic (and life) success.

We also know that engagement is influenced by context.  Learners are more likely to engage if their learning environment is supportive, compassionate, attentive and responsive. Just as students need support to be engaged, classroom teachers may require support to be successful in the challenging work of cultivating and maintaining a high level of student engagement throughout the year and across years.


We asked students and staff all over our county what student engagement mean to them.   Students from Huron Valley, MI created a song to accompany the varied pictorial responses in a video you can view here. 


According to the Glossary of Education Reform ,

In education, student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education. Generally speaking, the concept of student engagement is predicated on the belief that learning improves when students are inquisitive, interested, or inspired, and that learning tends to suffer when students are bored, dispassionate, disaffected, or otherwise ‘disengaged.’ Stronger student engagement or improved student engagement are common instructional objectives expressed by educators.”

Model For Engagement


Members of the Culture/Climate Unit at Oakland Schools, including Karen Gomez, Dr. Jay B. Marks, Dr. Julie McDaniel and myself, created the model above to depict important features of student engagement.  Work out of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Archambault, et al (2009) facilitated our thinking.  Students (and staff) experience varying degrees of affective, behavioral and cognitive involvement.

  • Affective engagement:  the experience, feelings, attitudes, and perceptions a student has towards school, including their sense of belonging, interest, willingness to learn, and general sense of liking school.
  • Behavioral engagement: a student’s willingness  to follow rules and adhere to cultural norms and  involvement in the classroom and with extracurricular activities.
  • Cognitive engagement: cognitive functions involved in learning

Four other major contextual features were identified.  These either inhibit or support engagement for students and staff.  We must intentionally attend to these features,

  1. Culture Is the environment inclusive and learner-friendly?  Are cultural forces intentionally designed to support belonging, thinking and learning? Are there predictable routines that remove roadblocks and facilitate smooth transitions?  Does the physical environment provide access to resources; create an inviting backdrop for deep learning? Is the culture collaborative, void of unhealthy competition?
  2. Student Voice Are students stakeholders, articulating their perspectives and directing activities? Do they have a collaborative role, leading change and contributing to data sources?  Do adults share authority, demonstrate trust, protect against cooptation, learn from students and facilitate equitable conflict resolution?
  3. Relationships  Are adults and students able to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups?  Can they communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed?  Are interactions authentic and respectful?
  4. Social Emotional Learning  Can adults and students recognize and interpret emotions, understanding their causes and consequences? Do they have the ability to label and discuss emotions? Do they know when and how to express particular emotions?  Can they effectively regulate emotions when they are triggered, managing stress, maintaining impulses and staying motivated?

When the context is healthy, authentic, supportive, encouraging, compassionate,  attentive (and responsive) adults and students are more likely to be engaged and stay engaged.

You cannot build character and courage by taking away man’s initiative and independence.
                                  – Abraham Lincoln

Archambault, I., Janosz, M., Morizot, J., & Pagani, L. (2009). Adolescent behavioral, affective, and cognitive      engagement in school: Relationship to dropout. Journal of School Health, 79(9), 408-415; 415.

Next up:  The Engaged Classroom:  Current State


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