Yesterday, I responded to the question of whether engaged parents produce better children. The research and the answer may have been a little surprising. Today, my question is: do engaged teachers produce better students?
Again, one might respond to this question with: “Duh? Isn’t the answer obvious?”
Not so fast. According to the numbers, engagement is good, but usually not good enough. Po Bronsen and Ashley Merryman report on today’s average middle school students. They assumed that students’ aggressiveness or “acting out” was due to peer rejection. So, they labored to remove peer rejection from the equation at schools to see what would happen. In its place, they orchestrated peer interaction with age-graded dates, after-school activities and team activities. Surely this was the key to better, less aggressive, happier kids. Right?
That’s when they realized they had unwittingly placed kids in an echo chamber.
Today’s average middle school student has a phenomenal 299 peer interactions each day. In contrast, those same kids have only a fraction of that time with adults. The students average 60 hours a week surrounded by their peer group but only 16 hours a week surrounded by adults. Middle school and high school are now “social silos” where kids are growing up savvy about how to connect with peers, but not so much with adults. Kids are aggressive and “act out” not because of peer rejection but due to peer saturation. It’s all about climbing the social status ladder and reacting to peer pressure, even more than when you and I were in school. And social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and texting) has only increased that peer pressure.
So What Do We Need to Do?
Let me suggest three items to discuss at your next faculty meeting:
1. Balanced Adult/Student Time. For teens ages 12-18, find ways to increase adult to student interactions, with mentoring communities, work projects and job training.
2. Balanced Screen/Face Time. For every hour students spend looking at a screen (i.e. video games, phone, computers), balance it with face-to-face interactions.
3. Balance Discipline/Affirmation Time. Consistency is key—be sure that you are balanced in expressing affirmation with discipline and correction for kids’ growth.
As I’ve said, engaged teachers are always better—but it isn’t enough to merely be engaged. We must be enabling students to experience enough adult interaction, face to face time, and then offer what they need to mature in a healthy way.