George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

From Management to Engagement

Andrew Miller

Instructional Coach at Shanghai American School
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

As educators, we are always looking for management strategies to try in the classroom. Note I said "strategies" -- not "solutions."

Many Edutopia bloggers have written about strategies and ideas for classroom management. I've also written a blog on PBL management strategies, but many of those same strategies can be used in non-PBL contexts.

When picking strategies, we have to know that because they are strategies, some may not work. But we can still build our toolkit so that we have something to try in any context.

However, there is a larger, more important issue to consider before venturing into management strategies to solve a problem in the classroom: engagement! I hinted at this in my PBL management post, but the best strategy for management issues is engaging curriculum and instruction. When I experience frequent management issues in my classroom, I first look to myself: "What is my role in creating this situation? Why are my students not engaged?" I ask.

It is crucial to focus on engagement rather than management. In fact, Daniel Pink articulates this point when he talks about the workforce. It still rings true: "Management is good if you want compliance, but if you want engagement, self-directed is better."

Here, Pink is talking about the three things that are needed for engagement, but they still hold true when we think about our classrooms and what we are asking of our students.


If you want your students to be engaged, facilitate self-directed activities and learning models. In PBL models, students are encouraged to take ownership of their work, but you can create self-direction through flipping the classroom, differentiating instruction and other best practices. Create spaces in your classroom where students direct their own learning. Use goal setting sheets, logs, reflection, and planning forms so you can hold students accountable to the learning, while still allowing autonomy.


Our students like getting better at stuff. This "stuff" is skills, knowledge of content, and the like. Obviously, we have important content our students need to master, but we have to let students see the process of improvement. To engage students in mastery, we have to create rubrics that show the progress from novice to master. We can also create quality indicators for those objectives that students can understand, and we have to reward students for their work with performance and public celebration.


Students need to find purpose in their work, and teachers need to create authentic contexts, tasks, and audiences for their students to display their work. Create units or projects that have an authentic purpose and audience. Students may or may not do things for me the teacher, but when experts are part of the process and product, they will engage in the work because it matters. Have students create products that have real impact. Use principles of the flat classroom to collaborate with classrooms across the world to solve problems together. The possibilities for purposeful work are endless.

Engage Students in the Classroom

As you start your new school year, find ways to create spaces where students have autonomy, pursue mastery, and engage in tasks that have meaning. Start small at first, because as it may be challenging for you as the teacher, it may be the same for students. Often, students are disempowered in their learning and do not have the opportunity to engage in these three strategies for engagement.

Empower your students by focusing on engagement, and the management issues will dissipate.

Was this useful? (3)

Comments (11) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Cathy Puett Miller's picture
Cathy Puett Miller
The Literacy Ambassador®

If you have not yet read Daniel's book DRIVE, I'd encourage you to do so. When I read it and wrote a book review ( I was quite impressed with how it aligned with the research of Dr. John Guthrie's work on student engagement. If no one has read his research on intrensic and extrensic motivation, I'd highly recommend it to go along with this article.

omar's picture
Sixth grade math teacher from Norfolk, Virginia

I really enjoyed this post! I am a firm believer of no management no engagement. I totally support the integration of technology in the classroom and transition of traditional teaching methods, however some things just can't change. There is no way the education process can take place if there is no management. The strategies addressed in this blog seem very beneficial.

Barbara Gruetzmacher's picture

As teachers, we all know the importance of effective classroom management. From sharpening pencils to redirecting behavior, we need to have a plan. That being said, I agree that management is just the first step to creating a learning environment, and that we should be more focused on increasing student engagement. Students that are engaged are learning and on task. You have offered excellent suggestions for increasing engagement. I really like the idea of collaborating with classrooms around the world to solve problems. I can see this a highly motivational, and it will broaden students' world perspective. Great way for them to challenge their ideas.

Nicolette's picture

I enjoyed this post. I feel that we should constantly be looking for ways to allow our students to work independently or with a partner to achieve goals within the classroom. As students master different tasks they feel a sense of ownership thus wanting to continue to strive for more.

Milton L Araujo's picture

Grouping students and let them change partners allowing them to visit everyone for different standard can be helpful when we try to engage them to share what they know.

Lynda Campbell's picture

As an educator, it is great to build a toolkit fill with strategies design to meet the needs of each student, who comes into your classroom.

SuperTeach's picture

I like to have more of a person trainer type role in my class room. I show how to do the exercise, and then have my students work the problems on their own while I guide them.

cynthia's picture

Adults need to know where they are heading and what is the purpose. Well, it is the same thing for students. It does not matter if they are 6 or 12 years old. Setting goals and having a reason why, will help student be engaged in what they are doing . It will certainly guide them towards the final objective.

hmaugustine's picture

I really like that this article emphasizes engagement of students. It makes so much sense that when students are interested, have some independence and voice they are more apt to be engaged. I love the idea of creating a purpose, something that will have meaning or give them an idea and the responsibilities of what non profit work or a career will entail in their futures.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.