This blog is for school administrators and teacher leaders who are passionate about creating engaging work for students. It is intended to share ideas about how to advance the capacity of educators to provide engaging work to students in this twenty-first-century digital world.

To begin, this post of the Engagement Connection blog assumes that readers understand the foundations of engaging work, including the following:

  • The definition of engagement: According to Phil Schlechty, students are engaged when they are attentive, persistent, and committed, and when they find meaning and value in the work.
  • The 10 Design Qualities of engaging schoolwork
  • The process of designing engaging schoolwork

But suppose you get all this and you want to see it move forward, catch on, and become a norm. What can you do? How can you lead this work?

A very easy next step is to use the power of Dr. Phil Schlechty's "Trailblazer Saga" and some commonsense sharing activities.

Dr. Schlechty believed that in any successful change process, there would be trailblazers who would take great risks to lead the work forward, pioneers who would follow the trailblazers, and settlers who would move forward when they felt safe because the pioneers had shown it was safe. Yes, there would be "stay-at-homes" and even saboteurs who would never change, but once the trailblazers, pioneers, and settlers were up and running, these naysayers would be minimized and unable to stop forward progress.

What does trailblazing look like in a school? It is not that hard to identify. Most often, it is YOU! You are the one who has studied engagement. You are implementing the frameworks in your classroom or in your school. You are the principal who is modeling design by using the Design Qualities in your school professional development sessions. You are the teacher who is thinking about engagement and taking the risk of creating work that leverages the Design Qualities. So now it's time to attract some pioneers and settlers!

If you're a principal or other leader, you can continue to model, but it is also time to showcase your teacher trailblazers. Here are some ways:

Identify your trailblazers through observation or, better yet, invitation. Encourage them to invite you to observe on those occasions when they have made the effort to design engaging work. Take pictures and video for them as you observe. Talk to students and ask why they are working so hard. Record them! Then take 20 minutes in faculty meetings to allow those (willing) trailblazing teachers to share an activity, overview of a unit, or lesson that you saw. Coach them to use photos, video, and engagement terminology when they present. Be part of the presentation yourself by sharing your reflections and your artifacts (pics and video). Be affirming! Repeat this process as often as you can. As the pioneers and settlers join in, you may need to add time on your professional development days for multiple teachers to present.

If you are a teacher leader, invite your fellow teachers to come to your room and observe those times when you have designed engaging work. Take pictures and video of the work. Then meet with your colleagues later and ask for feedback. Have a conversation about the work. The next thing you know, teachers all around the building will be inviting you to observe and give feedback! The result of this good work is that sooner or later your building leaders will hear about it. When they ask, offer to share in faculty meetings and on PD days.

Simply put, a school that is not sharing the good, engaging work going on in classrooms will find it very difficult to build success schoolwide. So think about it. Identify your trailblazers. Provide opportunities for sharing. Watch the pioneers and settlers move in. Watch engagement grow!

Good luck on the trail!


The Engagement People

P.S. The Trailblazer Saga appears in Phil Schlechty's Inventing Better Schools, pages 210–219.