image of student with hand raised

Engagement is defined as strong relationships between students, teachers, families, and schools, and strong connections between schools and the broader community.

Student engagement is a key element of a positive school climate, with a large body of research linking it to academic achievement. The term student engagement can provide an overarching framework for many positive individual student processes, relationships within the school, and contextual qualities.

Student engagement is multi-faceted, characterized by behavioral, emotional, and cognitive engagement.

Students demonstrate behavioral engagement through actions such as good attendance, following rules, completing assignments and coming to class prepared, and participating in class and in school activities.

Students are emotionally engaged when they like school, and are interested and identify with school. Students are cognitively engaged when they exert extra effort to do well in school, when they self-regulate, have high academic self-concept, and set goals for their academic success.

Engagement at the level of the school includes student connectedness or bonding.

Students’ feelings of connectedness refer to students’ sense of belonging at school, which is fostered through relationships with other students and staff that are respectful, trusting, supportive, and caring. Connectedness, particularly between students and teachers, has been significantly related to engagement and academic outcomes, including school attendance, grade point average (GPA), rate of suspension, and test scores. Students consistently report feeling more motivated and more confident in completing their schoolwork when they feel that their teachers care about and support them.

Conversely, students who fail several courses or drop out of high school often feel disconnected from their teachers and their academically engaged peers and demonstrate a lack of participation in school. Nearly half the dropouts surveyed in a national poll said the main reason they left school was because classes were not interesting.

A recent study of Chicago Public Schools found that connectedness between teachers and students was a stronger predictor of students feeling safe within school than the poverty level of students or the crime rate of the neighborhoods where students live.9 Research using nationally representative data also suggests that positive student-teacher relationships predict fewer incidences of misbehavior and violence in school.

Student participation in class, completion of coursework, and participation in extra-curricular activities also have strong, proven links to attendance, test scores, and graduation.

In particular, service learning programs and other types of experiential learning can help disengaged students connect to learning. Students are much more likely to participate in school when they are actively supported by parents and staff members.


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