On engagement (again)

I’ve read a lot on my TL about engagement so I thought I’d revisit the word. There have been a lot of tweets saying “Engagement means …” or “Engagement doesn’t mean …”. Not all of them agree each other. This illustrates my point rather well.

One problem with the word engagement is that it means different things to different people.

Another is that all views are not equal when it comes to defining “engaged”, “engaging” and “engagement”. It matters what an observer, Senior Leader or Ofsted Inspector means by those terms. They can affect your promotion prospects, your pay, your career. They can close schools. There’s isn’t  huge amount of mileage in engaging in philosophical debate about the meaning of “engaging” when your lesson’s being slaughtered. It doesn’t win you any friends among the powers that be in my experience. It doesn’t really matter what someone with no power or authority means by “engaging” in the grand scheme of things.

As I don’t know what the observer feeding back to me means by “engaged” I have to either make assumptions about what they mean or ask. Historically I have found that making assumptions about the meaning can lead to “a lack of improvement” when you get it wrong and they come back to observe you again. It’s no good making your lessons more entertaining if what they wanted was more compliance (or vice versa). Asking can also cause problems because the observer often feels that they shouldn’t have to explain and talks to you as if you are dense or as one said “If you don’t what engaging means you shouldn’t be teaching.”

Using the word engaging without explaining what is meant by engaging is bad feedback, lazy feedback and I think that’s why it’s so common. It’s the easiest thing in the world to throw “lack of engagement” or “pupils were not engaged” at a teacher. It requires little thought and less justification. It’s become a line observers use when they had issues with a lesson and they’re struggling to articulate why. It’s become a weasel word for entertaining.

In my experience it’s one of the most misused words in the education lexicon.

So I’d like to say to those of you saying “engaging doesn’t mean entertaining” that I agree that it SHOULDN’T mean that. Sadly to some people it does. I’d like to say to those of you saying “engaging doesn’t mean compliance” that to some people it does. This is the crux of the problem.

However if SLT and I disagree on this, if OFSTED and I disagree on this, then there’s only going  to be one winner. I am required to care what they think. I am required to do what they say. I might have thought my lesson was sufficiently “engaging” but I’m still screwed if THEY don’t.

My own opinion is that “engagement” is such a vague, ill-defined concept that it shouldn’t be used at all unless we have an agreed on universal definition along with an agreed on way of assessing it. I don’t see how a judgement about “engagement” can be anything other than subjective.

My own ideas about engagement and what it is are here:


Having done many observations I have come to the conclusion that it is easy to decide if a class is compliant. It is easy to assess if a class is entertained. It is easy to assess whether a class is doing the work. When people use “engaged” as a proxy for those things then assessing engagement is easy.

Assessing engagement as described today by some is REALLY hard, even for a very experienced observer. That is one of many reasons why it is not a useful term to use in my opinion.


2 thoughts on “On engagement (again)

  1. Pingback: 12 Blogposts About Engagement | Scenes From The Battleground

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