Engaging Students From The Start

Buzz words and fads in education come and go through the years. There are few that remain constant overtime and one of those is engagement. It’s the focus of numerous books, articles, workshops, and initiatives in our ever demanding quest for real-world learning opportunities in schools.

*I’ll go ahead and put a disclaimer out here for this post: I’m mainly sharing my thoughts and ideas based on my experiences with middle and high school students in which I taught classes that changed every hour throughout the school day. *

As you know, there are many pieces of a lesson in which you can incorporate or design activities to target engagement. I believe, however, we often miss or overlook a key opportunity to spark high engagement and it happens everyday at the beginning of your class or lesson. There is no judgement here, but how many of you are like me in that you typically use your first 10 minutes of class to check homework, take attendance, get everyone settled, and share announcements? There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but I would like to argue that this might be the most critical time of your class period for establishing context and engagement. I want to share two ways I changed up my classroom routine that allowed me to engage students from the start.

#1) Daily Agenda On Display

Students are like us in that they need purpose and clarity about the work we’re doing. I found that students were more likely to engage with my class and content if they knew what was expected and was coming. I also found that having a daily agenda on display each day cut down on the number of the distractions at the start of class that usually sounded like this: “What are we doing today? Are we turning in our homework? Are we going to finish the video clip from yesterday?” You get the point. These questions are the start of class can rob you of critical time engaging the students with today’s lesson. You can display your agenda in many ways. Mine were simple and usually looked like this:

  • Homework review from last night / corrections & will turn in
  • Finish notes on The Great Depression
  • Great Depression banking activity-you will need your calculators!
  • Reminder: Test on Friday

One year, I wrote the daily agenda on the board with a list of upcoming due dates as well. I also have included it as a follow up in my “before the bell” slideshows (see below) and students came to expect this after completing whatever the task was for the day.

#2: “Before The Bell” Slideshow of Daily Tasks

In my last year of full-time teaching before moving into administration, I used a daily “before the bell” slideshow that had a task for students as they entered the room. This was by far my most organized year in the classroom, and this method greatly helped me with classroom management and engagement at the beginning of class. Most of the days had tasks for students to complete in the first 5 or 10 minutes. There were some days where it was something simple like “get ready for CNN 10” or “review for your test,” but, for the most part, students knew when they came in there was a task and it was usually timed. I tried to pick activities that would either review content from the day before, pull an idea or concept from their homework, and/or allow for student collaboration on topics. Sometimes, the tasks would be turned in and other times it would result in a quick 5 minute discussion. I would have this displayed on the SmartBoard as students entered, and I would remind them to check the “before the bell” on the board and get started as I greeted them at the door. You can see a sampling of my slideshow below, and you’ll also notice that the second slide after each “before the bell” featured a daily agenda. I loved this part of my daily routine, and I found HUGE success in engaging students from the start with this method.


Want to try this in your classroom? Shoot me a message and I can help!

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Teachers Teaching Teachers

Too often, we sit through professional development workshops that are not aligned to our interests or designed to actually meet the needs of OUR students. I’m not talking about the workshops that are required by law or the district. I get it, those have to have happen. I’m talking about the professional development workshops and sessions that are required for faculty to attend but are narrowly focused on one topic that does not pertain to all. It may be important, but if it isn’t relevant for the attendees, it becomes another session in which participants walk away feeling as though their time was wasted.

How do we fix this? How do we intentionally create learning experiences that our teachers YEARN for instead of dread? I believe the answer starts with allowing our teachers to experience what they do so often for their students-personalized learning. In this case, I believe personalized learning should drive professional development planning in schools. Administrators should build relationships with their faculty that allows for a safe space to collaborate on personalized professional development plans. In addition, a culture of teachers giving feedback, sharing best practices, and being open to observation are a must. The more comfortable your faculty is with others watching them and learning from them, the more likely you are to have your faculty volunteer to lead things and be the experts on certain topics not tied to evaluations.

I would like to share two ways I’ve tried to implement personalized professional development :

Monthly Personalized PD

When I was assistant principal at a start-up charter school, I had the privilege of overseeing the academic programs of the school, including the supervision of teaching and learning. I met with my faculty at the beginning of each year and asked for THEIR goals and areas of growth. I did not choose this for them. I also surveyed our faculty at the beginning of the year and asked them to list things they would like to learn more about or see offered in workshops during the school year. Every Thursday, our school released an hour early for professional development. At least once a month, it was my mission to have personalized PD during that hour in which I asked faculty members to sponsor sessions on a topic of interest or expertise. I would then allow our entire faculty to sign up for the session they would attend based on their interests. Additionally, I checked in with my faculty throughout the school year, and when I did learning walks or stumbled upon resources, I shared ideas and specific actions with teachers when it applied to them.

Teacher-Led, In-House Conference Day

At my current school, I lead the Innovation Team for the Upper School, and the team implemented an Upper School Conference Day last year that was met with overwhelming success. This year, we knew we wanted to do this again, and the team spent the fall using design thinking to understand the needs of the faculty while planning for this day. Every so often, we have late start days that allow our faculty to collaborate from 8:00-10:00 am before students arrive. Our conference was held in January on a late start day, and we had over 20 people sign up to present on a topic-without being bribed! Teachers picked 3 sessions to attend, and each session was 25 minutes. This was a tremendous success again this year, and now we are planning deeper dives because we’ve had great feedback from our faculty that indicates they are yearning for more.

Check out these resources below to see how I planned our personalized PD days at my charter school and our conference day at my current school. I’m happy to answer any questions and help you get this up and running at your school! I believe in the power of teachers teaching teachers.


Monthly Personalized PD Survey


Conference Day Proposal Form