This section will explore the concept of engagement. In the literature this concept is unclear and is related with terms like affiliation, involvement, school attachment, school commitment, bonding, belonging, motivation, or with the opposite terms like disengagement, alienation, etc.  

It is a fact that schools and teachers are dealing with a complex continuum of learner motivation, so schools have to looking for ways to enhance engagement, because motivation underpins engagement (Martin, 2012), and motivation has to do with task involvement.

There is diversity in the understandings of the term “student engagement”. Engagement can be understood as students’ attitudes towards schooling and their participation in school activities: attendance, school attitudes, disciplinary issues, and achievement. It can be defined as the extent to which students are connecting to what they are learning, how they are learning it, and who they are learning it with” (Suárez-Orozco et al., 2008, p. 42).

Researchers have recently used the term engagement to refer to the extent to which students identify with and value schooling outcomes, and participate in academic and non-academic school activities. Its definition usually comprises a psychological component pertaining to students’ sense of belonging at school and their acceptance of school values, and a behavioral component pertaining to participation in school activities (Douglas, 2003, p. 8).

Improvement should focus on how to motivate all students: the ones who performed well, ones who are hard to engage, and re-engage those who are very disaffected with school learning and culture.

Questions for reflection on Engaement and Motivation:

What keeps students engaged in school? Here are some of the school factors that relate to engagement.

A shared leadership that fosters the collaboration between staff and students supports engagement. Schools could use the “best practices” compilation by Kezar (2005) below:

  • To develop a shared understanding of institutional mission and philosophy
  • To use celebrations to engage the community 
  • To advocate for shared governance
  • To ensure that students have a voice in governance
  • To alter structures to encourage cross-function activities focused on student success
  • To tighten the philosophical and operational links between academic and student affairs
  • To empower and support staff leadership;

Another example is Footscray Primary School Student Engagement and Wellbeing Policy (2010) which highlights:

  • Creating a positive school culture that is fair and respectful 
  • Building a safe and supportive school environment
  • Expecting positive, supportive and respectful relationships that value diversity 
  • Promoting pro-social values and behaviours
  • Encouraging student participation and student voice 
  • Proactively engaging with parents/ carers
  • Implementing preventative and early intervention approaches 
  • Responding to individual students
  • Linking to the local community.

Conditions that are likely to lead to educational difficulties and disengagement from school include negative experiences (bullying), physical factors, lecturing to students, unsafe or unfair environments for learning, and inconsistent enforcement or nonenforcement of school rules. (Lippman & Rivers,2008).

Schools have to find the way to promote: positive relationships with peers, teachers support, and  improve the quality of family relations.

How does your school consider the above ideas and do they impact on practice?


This section of this website will explore the issue of engagement. The value of engagement is no longer questioned.  Student engagement can improve outcomes but the responsibility for engagement is shared. (Trowler &Trowler, 2010).

Learning and succeeding in school requires active engagement. The core principles that underlie engagement are applicable to all types of schools. Engaging adolescents, including those who have become disengaged and alienated from school, is not an easy task. Academic motivation decreases steadily from the early grades of elementary school into high school. Furthermore, adolescents are too old and too independent to follow teachers’ demands out of obedience, and many are too young, inexperienced, or uninformed to fully appreciate the value of succeeding in school (National Academy of Science’s Research Council, 2004)

There are several authors (Lippman & Rivers, 2008; Fredricks et al., 2004; Jimerson et al. 2003 ) that described school engagement as a phenomenon with a multifaceted nature that encompass three areas: behavioral, emotional, and cognitive:

Behavioral engagement is connected with participation; it includes student observation actions or performance such as involvement in academic and social, extracurricular activities (sports, clubs), completion of homework and is considered crucial for achieving positive academic outcomes and preventing dropping out.

Emotional/affective engagement includes student feeling about the school, teachers, classmates, academics, and school and is presumed to create ties to an institution and influences willingness to do the work.

Cognitive engagement draws on the idea of student`s perceptions and beliefs related to self, school, teachers, and other students (e.g., self-efficacy, motivation, expectations). It incorporates thoughtfulness and willingness to exert the effort necessary to comprehend complex ideas and master difficult skills.

As we can see student engagement with school has both behavioral and affective components. Extent of students' participation in school activities, both inside and outside of the classroom, is the behavioral component. The affective component is the extent to which students identify with school and feel they belong (Leithwood & Jantzi, 2000, p. 117).

Engagement is important for 3 main reasons (Lippman & Rivers, 2008¸ Trowler & Trowler, 2010):

1. Improve students’ academic performance. School engagement is critical for improving the academic outcomes of students (positive autcomes)

2. Promote school attendance. Engagement is also linked with lower dropout rates and higher resiliency (persistence and graduation)

3. Inhibit risky youth behaviors. When students are not using their out-of-school time doing school work, it can lead to negative behaviors such as delinquency

The question that emerges now is: Who is responsible for the student’s engagement?

Relevance to leadership

We have to be aware that the process of engagement or disengagement are not separate from other dynamics that operate in schools such as: teacher’s relations, the curriculum, etc.  Student engagement is thus a dynamic, malleable and multidimensional process, resulting from the interaction between the student and their context (school environment) and it responds to variations in environments (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004; Finn & Rock, 1997). To understand school engagement we have to widen our consideration and pay attention not only to the student behaviour but also to the school and  its context. If the context changes, student engagement should change as well.  School leadership has huge significance in terms of this change process. 

Leithwood & Jantzi, (2000) demonstrate the strong effects of  leadership on organisational conditions, and the moderate but still significant  effects on student engagement. The influence of leadership on student engagement with school is mediated by both school and classroom level conditions (Leithwood & Jantzi, 2000,p.113). Purposes and goals, planning, organisational culture, structure and organisation and classroom conditions have an impact on student engagement as well as individual efforts and external factors.

To foster engagement is not something that is down to students themselves but involves the whole institution (Coates ,2005:26)

The concept of student engagement is based on the constructivist assumption that learning is influenced by how an individual participates in educationally purposeful activities. Learning is a ‘joint proposition’ which  depends on institutions and staff providing students with the conditions, opportunities and expectations to become involved. However, individual learners are ultimately responsible for their engagement.

Leadership has a very important role to play in student engagement.



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