Being Better

Being better in education has traditionally been tied to numbers:

Numbers Have Their Place – But, Not as Our Focus
  • Student attendance rates
  • Grade-to-grade transition rates
  • Graduation rates
  • Literacy and Numeracy results
  • Post-secondary transition rates

Numbers are useful but they are not our focus.

That may not sit well with some folks — if we’re not focused on the numbers how can we possibly get better? Numbers are not always what we think they represent — they can be misinterpreted, filled with statistical anomalies and, most importantly, they never capture the robust educational story they are trying to describe. They miss the narrative that is critical to a comprehensive and meaningful understanding. Numbers don’t talk about the efforts needed to improve student engagement levels which is the key to student success.

Numbers are a potential indicator of success, but they are not success itself.

STUDENT ENGAGEMENT: The degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught — which extends to their level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.

The Glossary of Education Reform (2016)

Enhancing student engagement can be compared to the training one needs to run a successful race. To get a better race result, one doesn’t focus on the finish line, but instead the successful runner focuses on the training that will get them there.

In education, the actions we take to engage students are what ultimately make the difference in student success. So, what are they? What are the most important conditions that engage students?

A 2021 meta-analysis from the University of Calgary synthesized conclusions from over 130 studies to determine what 5 factors mattered the most when looking at student engagement, student achievement and high-school completion.

Here is their list:

  • Explicit Inclusivity
    • Have a school climate that is inclusive, especially for those students who have historically been marginalized — including those who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) and 2SLGBTQ+ (two spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning).
    • Celebrating diversity in our schools is not enough. Be active with your voice and actions in addressing things like intolerance, bigotry and racism.
  • Strong Relationships
    • Balance high expectations for students with an equally high level of empathy towards them.
    • Be a compassionate listener, use humour, and foster dialogue and interest with all students.
  • Comprehensive Learning Opportunities
    • Prioritize instruction that promotes complex thinking over simple memorization.
    • Take a learning approach that is collaborative, interdisciplinary, active and problem-based.
  • Tracking & Transitions
    • Monitor student attendance and achievement over time, using multiple measures to capture as much meaningful information as is reasonable.
  • Flexible Systems
    • Design courses, programs and other learning opportunities that allow for various completion options.

These are the conditions that make the biggest difference. Focus on the ‘how’ we get there — not the end result or finish line.

Here is my own list of ‘must haves’:

  • Ensure Emotionally Safe Learning and working spaces by Celebrating Failure as much as you celebrate success;
  • Make the life changing Personal Connections that we know are critical;
  • Encourage Innovation and Creativity in teaching and learning;
  • Provide various Entry Points to the Learning Journey;
  • Honour Diversity by Tackling the tough issues like Discrimination and Racism which results in more Equitable Learning for all.

Reap the student success rewards by capitalizing on what really matters — safe, personalized and meaningful learning spaces that focus on the positive human spirit. Being better means building these strong learning conditions.

This is what takes us successfully across the finish line.

2 thoughts on “Being Better

  1. Yes, numbers do not always count! The lists you give are great but need more than lip service or in-service sessions for teachers. I propose that our first step is to encourage teacher engagement. Does our system include checks against all the listed factors for our teachers? Are our teachers engaged and passionate about what they are teaching or are their assignments based on being handed a package to which they have had little or no input? We all know the theory but what are teachers experiencing in their day to day lives? Do they experience these precursors to engagement? If not how can we expect them to lay the groundwork for student engagement? Being where you are is OK so long as we strive towards growth, yes, and practical attentions towards engagement (and mental health) for students AND teachers starts at upper admin and percolates through all levels


    • Thanks for commenting, Sheila. Teacher engagement in our schools is also extremely important. Certainly, building a culture of safety and risk taking for students also creates some of the necessary impetus for staff engagement. While this particular post was focused on student engagement as the important precursor to their own success, you have provided me with some ideas that might translate into a future post on how we support teacher engagement.


Leave a Reply

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 )

Connecting to %s