Engaging Students

Friday 24 Apr 2020

Living Faith adopts the philosophy that student learning can only take place to its full potential when students are engaged. This concept can be embraced by parents as they facilitate learning in the family home.

The philosophy is underpinned by neuroscience, which shows a direct correlation between engagement and achievement. Specifically, the limbic system assesses everything that enters the brain as either a threat or a reward. When the brain perceives a threat, the sympathetic nervous system is activated and initiates what is often referred to as a ‘fight or flight’ response. Threats can be physical and psychological, eg hunger, thirst, intimidation (eg the work is too hard, I can’t perform to others’ expectations), and boredom (eg the work is too easy). A reward state comes not only from the physical requirements for survival such as air, food and water, but also from psychological factors such as unconditional love, certainty and autonomy. Both threat and reward are primary motivators; by nature, we typically approach rewards and avoid threats. Students’ brains must be in the reward state (eg engaged in their environment) for the most effective learning to take place.

‘When we engage students from the onset, we reduce negative classroom behaviours while creating experiences that are action-packed, drive curiosity, and deliver brain states of anticipation and intrigue.’ Lori Desautels

Engagement and entitlement are two very different concepts and should not be confused. Engagement comes from an environment that guides children to appreciate the value of resilience, grit and effort in academic rigour, whereas entitlement is a result of incessantly surrendering to the wants of a child.

So what can engagement look like when learning from home?

  • Give your child a sense of agency (engagement) but not full decision-making authority (entitlement). This means showing your child what the parameters are: in which areas are decisions made by adults, and in which areas does your child have the ability to choose or make decisions? A good example of this can be found in the Living Faith Online Parent Pack under ‘Tips for Parents’. In the second clip, you will see Mrs Amanda Champ role-playing a parent and Miss Natasha Konners role-playing a child. Amanda’s language demonstrates that the completion of school work is not negotiable, but she gives Natasha agency in terms of organising the day.
  • Ask questions - not so much about the subject matter, but about your child’s thinking processes. You don’t need to constantly be in the same room, but the mere act of occasionally swinging by and asking questions shows you are interested in how your child is going. Genuine interest shown by an adult who matters to a child, typically keeps a child’s brain in the reward state, thereby maintaining engagement. Simple open-ended questions could include: What skills are you learning? How do you think this learning will benefit you when you’re older? How do you know if you’re on track? What questions do you ask yourself when you get stuck? What obstacles did you have to overcome to accomplish that? What are you most proud of? What can you teach me from this? What would you do differently next time? What could you do to take it to the next level?
  • Allow time for brain breaks. Authentic learning can be hard work. Sometimes children will find themselves in a zone and, at other times, they need a brain break in order to refocus. Examples of brain breaks are provided in the third ‘Tips for Parents’ clip at Living Faith Online.

Most importantly, be kind. Be kind to your child and be kind to yourself. Holding yourself to a standard of perfection can move your own brain to the threat state and can lead to anxiety. Recognise that what works today may not work tomorrow or the next day… and that’s okay. Trust us – we know! Encourage and offer praise to yourself for even the smallest accomplishments. Be incessantly forgiving towards yourself. The calm that comes from your own mindset will be reflected in your child’s engagement, temperament and outlook.

- Jane Mueller, Principal