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How a more engaged staff translates to more engaged students

We all wish there was a magic bullet to close the achievement gap. There’s not.

That’s why districts need to understand their students, staff, and communities, and create strategies built specifically for them.

No matter what approach your district takes to ratcheting up student achievement—be it  through new literacy programs, a laser focus on core curricula, or something else—there’s one factor every educator agrees is vital: engagement.

But better student engagement doesn’t happen simply because it needs to. It requires a well-engaged staff, who understands the district’s vision and has a strategy for how to implement it in schools.

Prioritizing engagement
When Matt Renwick, principal of Howe Elementary in Wisconsin, wanted to improve student engagement in his Title I school, he first decided to get faculty on board.

Renwick developed a strategy for working with teachers to give students a louder say in how they wanted to learn.

Writing for his blog, Reading by Example, Renwick outlines three important steps for getting faculty to take ownership of student engagement.

Prepare staff for the change process
Change is hard. But when it’s necessary, it’s best to make it as smooth as possible.

Writes Renwick: “I have found it to be helpful to actually teach the staff about the process of change…This leads into a conversation about why people resist change, and how colleagues can support one another to ferry through the expected changes.”

When his school, which serves a large population of at-risk students, set the goal of increasing literacy engagement, Renwick ensured faculty fully understood how the strategy might affect their work and he held regular check-ins with faculty to make sure everyone was on the same page.

Spread optimism
Enthusiasm is contagious.

That’s why it’s so important to get students excited about learning. The easy way to generate that excitement is for teachers to exhibit genuine excitement themselves.

But preparing staff for major change isn’t just about communicating next steps, it means energizing educators to embrace new challenges.

“The happiest students learn best in classrooms with the happiest teachers,” says Renwick. Get staff and faculty excited for the possibility of change and what it might bring. Think about creating a rewards program to increase participation or host a staff retreat as a precursor to new initiatives.

Get staff involved early and often, so they feel a sense of ownership and collaboration when taking on new projects.

Provide continuous support
Optimism is great—but can you maintain that momentum?

Regular staff check-ins are key.

Renwick recommends creating a “collaborative learning cycle” to keep staff focused and engaged toward common goals.

Here’s how that works:

Renwick’s staff first connects to set strategic goals. They then collaborate at grade levels or at the department level to complete tasks. Next, representatives from each grade level or department calibrate with other departments to ensure different groups are all on the same page. Finally, the departments meet again to reach consensus on the best steps moving forward.

Such a process won’t work for every situation or for every school. But creating opportunities for regular check-ins with staff can go a long way towards keeping everyone on the team focused on the end goal: student success.

How do you work with staff to drive student engagement in your school or district? Tell us in the comments.

Looking for a few ways to keep students engaged in school? You might want to start by giving them a louder voice in what they learn.