Over the past few years I feel like we have really started to nail this, but there has still been a niggling group of children, that despite our best efforts have remained not disengaged, but definitely not as engaged as everyone else. Now we could have accepted that we can't reach 100% of the children 100% of the time, but that wouldn't fit with who we are. These children were a conundrum, and there is nothing that sparks an inquiry more effectively then a nice conundrum.
These children, their behaviour and lack of buy in has caused us to dive deeper, to really look honestly at ourselves, our approaches, our relationships with children..the whole package. What has come out of all this hard work has been the realisation that engagement and motivation is a great goal...but there are elements that need to be in place, solid foundations, for it to be even possible for this goal to have an impact on some children.
What we have come to understand is that for some children, they are not even in the place that such grand goals can have an impact on them, they are just not ready to access the learning on offer, not in the right place to allow them to be fully engaged or motivated...their energy is elsewhere and in some cases this energy is on self-preservation.
These children can often be a real source of frustration in the classroom for us as teachers, we feel like we are almost standing on our head to engage them and keep them motivated, but still they stay on the periphery, avoid the learning on offer, opt out, appear disinterested...almost appear to have a learned helplessness. However the fact of the matter is these children are not ready for the tricks of the trade we are pedalling and no matter how exciting we wrap up the present that is learning, they are quite simply not able to, or ready to unwrap it. So we have a choice, we could blame the child "hey we are doing everything we can right?" Or we could accept that something is currently blocking their ability to engage and find out more.
As a school we are still early days into our learning in this area, but so far we have come up with four levels that children need to be able to pass through, or have in place first.
These levels fit with the brain development 'framework' that I have based largely on the work of Nathan Wallis, I made this to represent the phases of development children needed to go through to build their brain before we start to engage with what we can loosely call 'academic' learning.
The intention of these levels is to slightly expand on this and for us to be able to pinpoint a child's needs when they may be presenting as disengaged or have a lack of motivation. Because this usually presents as children move into a more 'teacher' directed environment it is seen as useful more for children older than seven/eight who we would expect to be in a good state of engagement given we have worked hard on the foundations.
These are my levels, based on what I have learned around this goal, they are not intended to be hard and fast and I am sure I will need to amend and add to them over time as I learn more about the brain.
Level One – Do I feel safe, am I attached or am I trauma affected (if a child is in here for development, this needs to be where we engage with them) I am currently working on the idea of a nurture room to help these children.
Link to a draft of this idea here.
Level Two – Do I feel connected to my school, family, community, culture and have a strong sense of self and who I am. The nurture room would also be of benefit here.
Level Three – Can I self-regulate, can I name my feelings, do I have emotional IQ, do I have empathy? Do I feel good about myself?
Level Five - I am ready and able to be engaged and motivated in the classroom.
Ultimately what I have come to realise is that for some of our children, there are barriers to being able to be motivated and engaged, no matter how amazing our teaching. It is then up to us to figure out these children, to have a good enough relationship with them, that we no at what point we need to engage and how to help them.
For us this is very much a work in progress, but my aim is that we can make school a place where 100% of the children are being catered for according to their needs and not being put in the too hard basket, or being blamed for their lack of engagement. A goal worthy of striving for in my opinion.
I like this quote, but would change interested, to able to....because in order to be interested, we have to be in the right place to be able to accept this learning and then in turn be interested in it. If all of my energy is going on just existing, and staying safe, then how an earth do I have the energy to be interested.