*For more insights from education leaders on classroom engagement, head over to the Edthena blog.

Watch this #PLtogether Lounge Talk with Doug Reeves about how teachers and schools can enable stronger student learning with 5 key elements of improving student engagement.

You can find the full transcript below:

– Welcome to another “PL Together Lounge Talk”. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena, where we build video and AI powered tools for teacher professional learning. Today we’re talking with Doug Reeves. He’s the bestselling author of more than 40 books on education leadership, and student achievement, and he’s shared his research in all 50 states and more than 40 countries. He’s also the founder of an organization called Creative Leadership Solutions. They focus on education opportunities for all students. Doug, thanks so much for joining us.

– It’s my pleasure. Good to be with you.

– Well, I want us to start with your book, “Confronting the Crisis of Engagement Creating Focus and Resilience For Students, Staff, and Communities” and I think the best place to start is by asking you, you know, what are the five Cs that you talk about in that book?

– Well, I wanna begin by acknowledging my co-authors, Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey, who truly are just giants in our field and they’ve made significant contributions. Engagement is something that is really problematic because a lot of people have a misunderstanding of what student engagement is. They think it’s students who are pretending to pay attention to the teacher. Their eyes are front, the teacher’s doing a great presentation. But honestly, that is just the illusion of engagement. What we tried to say in this book is that real engagement involves deep communication and relationship between student and teacher. And so you ask the question about the five Cs, it begins with connections and that means do I trust my teacher and does my teacher trust me to actually engage in a real dialogue, which means I might make mistakes, I might have problems, I might give the wrong answer. But that’s a sort of connection that really shows high levels of trust in which students can be there. I always ask people who are instructional coaches or administrators who come in and observe classrooms, “What do you expect to see? “If all you expect to see is perfection, “that’s not engagement. “You’re just seeing the illusion of engagement. “What you want to be looking for, for example, “are teacher who use equity sticks who are willing to call “on people randomly, they might have the wrong answer. “That’s where the learning happens. “Learning doesn’t happen when you only call “on people with their hands in the air. “Learning happens when you call “on people who don’t know the right answer.” And as Nancy Frey so thoughtfully says, “The worst mistake we make is to turn away from the mistake, “go to somebody else who’s reliably got the right answer. “What we ought to be doing is lingering a while “with that student who made a mistake “and let the observers see learning happen “from a misunderstanding to an understanding.” So connections are number one. Conditions are number two, you have to create a condition of the classroom that I’ve described as fearless. That means a high level of emotional safety. Many people are reluctant to do random calling but if you’ve got emotional safety, that means every student knows that if I call on you and you don’t know the right answer, it’s not a source of shame or embarrassment. Hey, you can phone a friend. You can answer a question with a question. You can gimme a partial answer. You can ask for a minute of think time. What you can’t do is disengage from my class. So, the condition means you’ve gotta have a high level of psychological safety. The third C is collaboration. It’s really important that students know that they can collaborate with one another and learn together, but that requires a degree of structure. I bet everybody who’s watching has seen false collaboration where there’s a group, and as we all know, groups must be rectangular because that’s the way our desks are shaped. And one kid does all the work and the other other students watch. Real collaboration is structured so that everybody has a role, everybody is engaged, everybody is able to participate and it’s up to teachers to establish those norms very early on in the process. Collaboration doesn’t come easily. And by the way, I might add that the same is true for adults. I’ve been in plenty of adult meetings where they’re supposed to be collaborating and you see the same thing there as you do in a third grade classroom. One person does all the work, all the others watch. So, real collaboration involves established norms of role setting. The next C is challenge. One of the great things that Nancy and Doug did as my colleagues in this book was to say that we have to stop thinking that engagement means everybody gets a juice box because everybody gets the right answer. We have to have an appropriate level of challenge and rigor. And what I’ve been encouraging teachers to do is to distinguish clearly between what is B level work and A level work. Here’s the way that I would concisely explain this. It’s performance not points. You don’t go from a B to an A or depending if you’re using numbers from a three to a four by extra points or extra credit, you get there with advancements in rigor and complexity. Let me illustrate with an example. In almost all 50 states, the academic standards require the process of claim, evidence, reasoning. It starts in third grade, it continues all the way through high school. It’s not just in persuasive essays. In English, you see claim, evidence, reasoning, in social studies, in science and mathematics, it’s all over the place. So to achieve that standard, you have a claim, you have three arguments each supported by evidence. And by the way, I’ve seen third graders provide citations and evidence to support their arguments and then you have a compelling conclusion. That’s a B or a three. You wanna get to an A. Please do not talk to me about extra credit points or more pages or more problems. Here’s an example. You go to claim and counterclaim, evidence and contrasting evidence, and then you evaluate the credibility of the alternative evidence and come to a conclusion. In other words, when we say say challenge, we don’t mean more stuff, a quantitative difference, more pages, more problems. We mean a difference qualitatively in rigor and complexity. And then we talked about control. Now that may strike a lot of people as a counterintuitive notion, oh no, a good classroom is free, it’s, you know, let a thousand flowers bloom. On the contrary, my colleague Howard Gardner, who is just a prince among men, we did a public library event in Boston and my best quote from Professor Gardner is, “You can’t think outside the box “until you first understand the box.” And Howard Gardner, who is the leading advocate for the last 50 years of creativity by students, still understands that you have to have a degree of control. I will quote him again. He says, “Some people align me “with the anti standards movement.” He says, “That is maligning me.” He says, “I’m a demon for high standards. “You want to have creativity. “You want to be able to think outside the box “but you gotta understand the box.” And so I think the balance that we all seek when it comes to engagement is an understanding of the degree of control that must happen. Let me just add one footnote to this and then I’ll stop talking. The fundamental issue of engagement is a great frustration among teachers. This is being broadcast in the fall of 2023. And I can tell you after the pandemic, there’s a lot of kids that are disengaged, that have checked out. The Gallup organization says that in elementary school, we’ve got about 75% of kids engaged. By the time they’re in high school, it’s 32%. They sit there bored to tears and if we wanna get them engaged, we need to consider the five Cs that I’ve just discussed to get them out of their chairs, engaged, not only with the teacher, but with one another, so that they demonstrate this sort of enthusiasm and love of learning that used to happen but has really been dimmed in the last several years.

– Well, Doug, we need to take a short break. If you are listening to this or watching this somewhere on the internet or on social media and want to find out what we talk about next, head to PLtogether.org for the rest of this conversation, as well as many more.