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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Do Engaged Teachers Produce Better Students?

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?”


photo credit: cybrarian77 via photopin cc

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.

Your thoughts?


  1. Antone on February 6, 2013 at 8:18 am

    I would totally agree with Tim on this issue. Our students today have more information being thrown at them than at any other time before. In addition, they have more relationships (real and artificial) than can often be managed. But my concern lies with a topic Tim has addressed in previous posts: where is the mentoring coming from? Who is providing a compass? If student’s feedback is primarily coming from peers, there is some benefit to that, but it can often become a “pooled ignorance” effect. In other words, life becomes more about reactions than thought out responses. I am an adult, but key interactions with those who are older or have more experience challenge my thinking and assumptions. And I truly need that if I am going to be pushed forward into new growth.

    • Tim Elmore on February 11, 2013 at 4:10 pm

      Great thoughts, Antone. Thanks for sharing. I am concerned about students only receiving input from other students. The importance of quality mentors can not be overstated at any stage of life, but especially young students.

  2. heimerjm on February 11, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    This was an interesting article! I was specifically impressed with the suggestions of how teachers can help students, such as increasing the meaningful face-to-face time with adults. It’s very thought provoking.

  3. Janeysong on February 26, 2013 at 1:04 am

    Face to face time with adults with whom the child has a connection is critical. I was so glad to read this in your blog!

  4. […] I applaud how engaged today’s parents and teachers are, it’s important to recognize the unintended consequences of our engagement. We want the best […]

  5. […] I applaud how engaged today’s parents and teachers are, it’s important to recognize the unintended consequences of our engagement. We want the […]

  6. […] I applaud how engaged today’s parents and teachers are, it’s important to recognize the unintended consequences of our engagement. We want the best […]

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Do Engaged Teachers Produce Better Students?