Be Aware!

It is up to us to break the cycle

A fairly old study* (and which I have also referenced here) investigating the reciprocal effect of teacher behaviour and student engagement had two clear outcomes. The first is fairly obvious, teacher behaviour affects student engagement. By now we know a lot about what behaviours stimulate student engagement and those that don’t.  At heart, the behaviours that hold a student in the blue zone lead to higher engagement and learning.

The second is more surprising.  As stated in the research, teachers “unknowingly magnify initial conditions” which means that if a student was engaged at the beginning of the research period, they were more engaged at the end and if a student was disengaged at the beginning of the period they were more disengaged at the end.

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With a little reflection what is happening becomes clear.  A student who is engaged stimulates a teacher to respond in a way that further supports the student’s autonomous motivation and development and the student becomes more engaged.

A student who is disengaged stimulates a teacher to use controlled motivation – reward and punishment – to try and get the student to do the work, the net effect being to further disengage the student.

Teacher behaviour affects student behaviour and, conversely, student behaviour affects teacher behaviour.

It is up to the adult to break the cycle and reduce the use of controlled motivation.

*Motivation in the classroom - Reciprocal Effects of teacher behaviour and student engagement across the school year – 1993 – Ellen Skinner and Michael Belmont, University of Rochester.  14 teachers and 144 students grade 3-5.  Surveys face-to-face of every student and of every teacher about every student in Fall and then Spring.


John Corrigan is an expert in helping individuals to bring their whole of mind to their daily life and increase their effectiveness and the effectiveness of those around them. This expertise scales from the individual to the team to the organisation. At the core of this work is the practice of encounter.  Earlier blogs can be found here.

John Corrigan