This month, the Grattan Institute released findings that 40% of school kids are unproductive and disengaged from their classes.
The big contributing factors to this disengagement are minor disruptions (like talking back or avoiding school work), lateness and boredom. We also need to watch the quiet ones: one-quarter of kids are compliant and quiet, yet completely disengaged.
Engagement, on the other hand, is the holy grail of the student experience. Why? Well, quite simply the report tells us, "When students are engaged in class, they learn more."
I spoke with Tim Heinecke, founder of Student Engagement, about what makes an engaged student. "Engagement occurs when children feel that they belong (that they are part of something bigger then themselves); they see the relevance in what they are being asked to do; they are surrounded by positive, success based dialogue and when they know that important adults in their lives are invested in their success," he says.
So whose responsibility is it to fix this problem?
The report focuses on the responsibilities of teachers and schools to create more engaging learning environments – and rightly so; teachers certainly need to create strategies that keep students learning and interested. However, I can't help but think there's another set of people being let off the hook far too easily.
To me, day-to-day schooling is a three-way street: there's the student, the school and teacher, and there are also parents.
We're often forgotten in the education puzzle, and no one is more to blame for this omission than ourselves. We can easily forget that our role in our children's education is greater than simply packing lunches, dropping them off and picking them up.
I, too, am often guilty of this. While it was easy to be more present at my daughter's school when I was working fewer hours, it's become harder now that I work more. But I'm learning that being at the school isn't the only way to encourage both a good relationship with her teachers and a strong learning ethic in my child.
If it's us, the parents, who set the scene for engaged learners sitting in those classrooms, then it's also up to us to find ways that work within our lifestyles to do just that.
Here are some ideas.
Get the kids to school on time
Lateness is described within the report as a behavioural issue that contributes to disengagement. School mornings are hard work but being in class on time is beneficial to our kids.
Speak positively about teachers
Kids listen very carefully to our words, so we should try to speak respectfully about the people who are educating our offspring. We tend to expect perfectionism from teachers, however we could practise using more tolerant language so our kids know everyone in their life is on a similar page.
Keep home life as stable as possible
Trouble at home is listed in the Grattan Institute report as an aggravator of behavioural issues and disengagement at school. Of course, there are some issues that are unavoidable, but trying our best to give our kids a positive home life will translate to a good school life.
When there are issues, it's a good idea to chat to your child's teacher about it so that they can provide some extra support.
Role model good behaviours
Role modelling is perhaps our most important tool as parents, so how can we do this to influence school engagement? Heinecke says it comes from places we might not expect: "Coming home and whinging about an unfulfilling job, one in which they feel undervalued and under-appreciated is only going to create an home environment that accepts that as normal."
Communicate with the teacher
Communication is the basis of supporting an engaged school life. Keep in touch with your child's teacher as much as you can; this will help you know what's going on in the classroom and establish a relationship where the teacher can chat to you if there are any issues.
Taking an interest in our kids' school lives can make a big difference to them. "Support the work happening at school by working alongside your child, asking questions about the bits that they feel are holding them, and taking interest in peer group dynamics," suggests Heinecke.