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Increasing engagement of disaffected learners

Posted by Bernie Callanan on Saturday, 1 September 2018
Bernie Callanan
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Almost every parent/carer wants the best for their young person, and the same could be said for teachers wanting the best for their students. This is a commonality between parents/carers and teachers which often gets overlooked. Regardless of how parents/carers engage, we are on the same page as them and therefore should be working together as a team to ensure the young person is make the best progress possible.

"One way to help build positive relationships with parents/carers is to try and put yourself in their shoes."  

All teachers are able to recall families who look physically uncomfortable in the school building at parents' evening. These people may have had a negative experience of school as a student. A generation on, the issue can become a stumbling block to effective teamwork in supporting their young person.
Taking time to be friendly and understanding shows them that things don't have to be the same as they once were.
All teachers work with students who struggle to engage. Perhaps it is a personality clash, or maybe the student has no interest in the subject. Whatever the reason, these students need to become a priority
I've had more than a few situations where I have mishandled students who are disinterested (for many students maths is not their favourite subject!). They have quickly received sanctions from me and in turn their engagement has worsened.
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Before realising it, I had become embroiled in a battle of my ego and their will- all the while my stress levels have increased and the impact on both the student and the class has been negative! 
These situations call for calm reflection and mutuality.
I now try to approach these situations differently. When a student is having an off day I get down to their level and quietly check in. Depending on how this goes I may leave it there, or perhaps i'll call home as a supportive measure so the family can explore the issue further. 
Some students may find it difficult to verbalise the issue. Maybe they struggle with expressing themselves verbally, or maybe they have never been asked that type of question. Whatever the reason, students should be encouraged to express the problem in different forms if necessary, for example writing it down often helps, or drawing a picture. 
"...keeping parents/carers in the loop early on helps them to support their young person at home, and it sends a message to the of care and consideration."

Another method is to have 2 post-its. Yes and No. Then ask questions which you think may relate. For example- Is the work too hard? No. Has someone upset you? Yes. Is it a member of staff? No. Is it a student? Yes. Is it a student in this class? Yes. Would it help if they were sat away from you?
The important point to remember is that parents/carers need to be made aware of these interaction (unless the safeguarding lead recommends otherwise). The underlying message we're trying to convey is about making things better and helping, not judging or being punitive in our approach. 
On some occasions I have asked for the family to discuss the concerns at home and then meet myself in school to address the issue. 
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Running effective meetings with students and their family is key to ensuring the situation doesn't escalate. If the family would like to complain, letting them start (without defensiveness on my part) is preferable.
Whilst I might not always agree with the comments being made, I can always see how the problem has arisen and how I might have approached things differently. It helps that the family have been heard and from there problems can be addressed properly.
Every member of the meeting has a part to play: student, family member and teacher. It's useful to close the meeting with agreed actions. These can then be referred to later on if necessary.

"Working collaboratively with parents and carers of students who are hard to reach is essential to improving sustained engagement."

Please note that some meetings can potentially become quite tense so check with the Head of Year or Head of Faculty to see if it would make more sense for them to also be present (particularly if it is your first meeting of this type!). 
As teachers we must never underestimate the valuable input we can gain from a student's family. Trying to put ourselves in the place of the family member can help us to be empathetic, and it can also give us an indication of how the situation has come to be.
Effective links with home reduce workload in the long run and more importantly create a consistent climate for the student at home and in class.  


About our Community Expert


Bernie Callanan


Over 10 years of SEN experience in a number of settings. Developed whole-school approaches to ensure students with SEN are catered with the support they need.

Placing the student with SEN at the heart of all decisions made regarding their education, whilst liaising with all stakeholders involved.

Bernie is our education expert who provides SEN related content

Topics: #developmenttuesday


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