Byron's Babbles

Disengaged Students

Posted in Education, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 6, 2010

I was asked today by one of my doctoral professors to define disengaged students, where the problem is, and how do we begin to deal with it. Here is the answer that I posited: A disengaged student is one through some external source does not see the relevance of school. WE have in so many ways let our children in this country down, and that is why they have become disengaged. Rafe Esquith (2007) said it best, “I am sad when I see so many good teachers and parents surrender to forces that sap their potential excellence. The demons are everywhere. Those who care deeply often fall outgunned by apathetic or incompetent administrators and politicians. Expectations for children are often ridiculously low. Racism, poverty, and ignorance often reign supreme on campus. Add to this mix ungrateful students, and even mean-spirited people in the teaching profession itself, and the hardiest of souls can be crushed. Each defeat usually means that a child’s true potential will not be developed” (p. x), There is no simple solution to education’s complex problems, but I am so encouraged when I listen and observe my cohort developing research based solutions, not just simple band-aid fixes.

As to how do we help the unengaged student achieve; again, I believe we must continue to create learning organizations where our teacher leaders are constantly learning and improving. Our traditional professional development practices focus only on acquisition of new information (Weinbum, Allen, Blythe, Simon, Seidel, & Rubin, 2004). We must create an environment where deeper learning is occurring and our teachers have multiple best practices, the appropriate pedagogy, and an understanding of how students learn (Weinbaum, et al., 2004).

We must also remember that a focus on rigor, relevance and relationships works. It costs nothing for us all to be an appropriate role model and form positive relationships with our students – which in turn helps in them become engaged. Relevance is also so very important for student engagement in learning. In regard to my own research proposal our nation must improve the way our students learn science, and the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) communities must work together to achieve this goal (STEM Education Coalition, 2010). Complex science systems must be presented to our students in a relevant context in which students can understand their importance (National Research Council of the National Academies, 2009). By providing a context that is relevant to the student (in my case agricultural science), there should be improvement in student performance and achievement in science. The model of science and agriculture has the potential to improve the content knowledge skills and professional development of the teacher workforce and improve the resources available in science classrooms and other learning environments.



Esquith, R. (2007). Teach like your hair’s on fire. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

National Research Council of the National Academies (2009). Transforming agricultural education for a changing world. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

STEM Education Coalition (2010). Objectives. Retrieved on October 13, 2010, from:

Weinbaum, A., Allen, D., Blythe, T., Simon, K., Seidel, S., Rubin, C. (2004). Teaching as inquiry: Asking hard questions to improve practice and student achievement. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

One Response

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  1. Kevin Eikenberry said, on November 7, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Byron – this is great stuff. Teachers, adminstrators and PARENTS should all read this – if they are interested in nurturing more engaged students. Your model of rigor, relevance and relationships is fantastic, and I believe hits the nail on the head.

    Each of those pieces can be impacted by all of these groups – working together as a coordinated resource, the challenges of disengaged students can, without a doubt, be reduced substantially.


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