The Key to Getting Student Engagement

Student Engagement Teaser

There are countless books on the market aimed at teachers. However, some of the best teaching advice comes from books aimed at business professionals, coaches, and even hostage negotiators.

In his book, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if your life depended on it, Chris Voss lays out some tools that will perfectly fit in any teacher’s toolbox. No matter what grade or subject you teach, everything starts with getting your students engaged in their own learning.

“Whether you call it ‘buy-in’ or ‘engagement’ or something else, good negotiators know that their job isn’t to put on a great performance but to gently guide their counterpart to discover their goal as his own.”

That ultimately is the goal of a good teacher as well. I am going to edit the rest of the quotes I took from this book to highlight how they relate to education.

I have heard a few students say that they did well in a specific class because of the teacher. Just last week, a high school student told me that was the case about her current math class. She insisted that she hated math and admitted to failing a class the previous year. I tried to tell her that she was doing well in math because she had improved and was actually good at it, but she seemed to place all the credit on the teacher.

Voss writes, “They should be congratulating themselves . . . They don’t need to be congratulating you. That tells me you did too much. If they think you did it–if you were the guy who killed it–how is he going to help himself?”

I must admit that I like getting praise from students. I know students like to hear it too, but that should not be our goal as students or educators.

We need to empower our students, “to have them own the conversation, to believe that they were coming to these conclusions, to these necessary steps, and that the [teacher] was simply a medium for those realizations.”

Of course, this is easier said than done. But having this goal in mind is and using some of the skills we already employ will help.

“Using all your skills to create rapport, agreement, and connection with [students] is useful, but ultimately useless unless [your students] feel that they are equally as responsible, if not solely responsible, for creating the connection and the new ideas they have.”

How can we do that?

We need to start with our students most basic wants. We can’t impose anything on them.

“Instead of getting inside with logic or feigned smiles, then, we get there by asking for, ‘No.” . . . Saying ‘No’ gives [a student] the feeling of safety, security, and control. You use a question that prompts a ‘No’ answer and your [student] feels that by turning you down he has proved that he is in the driver’s seat. Good negotiators welcome–even invite–a solid ‘No’ to start, as a sign that the other party if engaged and thinking.”

So, how can you get a ‘No’ from your students?

Think about it and try it out tomorrow in your class. You probably do this whenever you plan a new unit of study. I’ll bet that you start off with some form of diagnostic assessment to see what your students don’t know. You then work to fill in those gaps and cover the curriculum expectations in a way that your students can demonstrate their learning.

I highly recommend reading this book. Life is all about negotiating. I never thought about that from a teacher perspective before, but it applies perfectly.

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