Who is responsible for engagement, teachers or children?


Whenever I bring this topic up I get an anti response which is based around the idea that some children, because of some feature of the child, can’t be held responsible for engaging. I don’t believe, even if this were true, that the few should determine what we do for the majority. My work with EBD schools has further convinced me that nearly all children can behave properly in class and can learn effectively. The numbers that seem unable are a very tiny fraction and it might be that we need to work even harder on that tiny number.


What I am going to propose is based on the view that we lose something by thinking the teacher is responsible for generating lessons that are engaging. Let me deal with the opposite end of that spectrum. I am not saying that teachers should try to plan lesson that are devoid of engaging stuff. I don’t want lessons to be planned to be boring. Give me a little more credit than that.


Let’s think about what lessons might be like of children can be expected to engage rather than the current, widely held view that teachers provide the engagement. How would the planning teachers did change? How would misbehaviour now appear to the teacher, other children and school leaders if a child was responsible for engaging in the learning?


My thoughts are that we lose the opportunity to teach children how to engage if we hold teachers responsible for providing engagement.


So what would we need to teach children?


Listening skills: Children know how to listen but do they know how to listen carefully and how to begin to place what they hear into their thought processes so that learning can take place. I guess the title would be ‘Listening for Thinking’ to try to define what I mean.


Trust: Children should trust the teacher to provide appropriate learning opportunities. They should be willing to listen for as long as is needed. I can hear the sharp intakes of breath from some. This does not mean that the teacher should simply talk for England (or Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland). I would be very critical of a teacher who was continuing to talk when children were clearly not in learning need of the talk. I also would be very supportive of a teacher who was talking a lot if that was what was needed. Perhaps I hold teachers in too high regard? Perhaps I trust them to do what is best for their children in terms of learning? I think not.


Whenever I said to my mother that I was bored she told me to go and read something. She made it very clear that my feeling bored was a consequence of my own action/inaction. I was very rarely bored as a child and that was when the telly began sometime in the afternoon and never seemed to even begin on a Sunday. It was also black and white. Bored is a feeling the child needs to act on not something that the teacher needs to feel responsible for.


Learning is hard: It is. It needs hard work. We need to think and we are not primarily built for thinking. We have to put aside our genetic dispositions for scanning the environment for possible threats and focus for a long time so that we can learn. Children need to be told it is ok to feel lost, as though they are not understanding but with continued focus and application learning will happen. Teacher also need to ensure that they understand learning and how it is most likely to happen.


I think there are other things we would need but, for the moment, that is enough.


Perhaps more, later.

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2 thoughts on “Who is responsible for engagement, teachers or children?

  1. “Learning is hard: It is. It needs hard work.”

    Learning can be hard. Sometimes it’s automatic. Sometimes it’s effortless. Sometimes it’s enormously entertaining.

    “We need to think and we are not primarily built for thinking.”
    So why do we have large frontal lobes?

    “We have to put aside our genetic dispositions for scanning the environment for possible threats and focus for a long time so that we can learn.”

    We have a genetic predisposition for problem-solving too, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to do it.

    I don't subscribe to the view that teachers are solely responsible for student engagement, but the system doesn't give students much room for manoeuvre these days, so there's a limit to what they can do.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment. We are primarily predisposed for keeping ourselves safe from threats. Clearly we can learn but the need, that we can't really control, to check for threats in our environment will impact on our ability to engage in learning.

    I don't know about a genetic disposition to problem solve. That seems to complex a disposition. Do you have a link I can use to check that out, please?

    And in the end of your comment who are the 'they'? Children or teachers?

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