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Where Have All the Students Gone?

by Patty Freedman

Are you having a hard time getting back into the workplace? So are your students. There’s a lot of noise right now about low attendance at school. Why is this happening? In this month’s newsletter we explore low student engagement, bringing you research and ideas so you can have important conversations with your team. Keep reading for EQ research and resources you can use for you, your faculty and students.


What’s in this edition:

🔴 Thinking About: Student (dis)Engagement 

🟡 Research says: Middle School engagement crashes

🟢 Try it Yourself: I am someone who…

🔵 Mark your calendar: Events for Educators – will you join us?

🔴 Thinking About: Student (dis)Engagement

As another school year gets underway (in many parts of the world) there’s been a flurry of doom and gloom in the media about school attendance rates plummeting;

More Pandemic fallout: The chronically absent student and Making sense of decline in student attendance and Student absenteeism skyrocketed in pandemic as test scores dropped.

Why are students reluctant to come to school? Some of the answers are easy– students (like many adults) don’t want to return to the workplace after the disruption of the pandemic. Some people say kids are “lazy” and prefer the freedom, autonomy, flexibility, and low level of accountability of virtual classrooms. But I think the answer is harder and just under the surface of the headlines. 

School is the workplace for students. If it’s boring and stressful (school violence, bullying, isolation) to be in the building, they won’t engage. It’s double jeopardy because at the same time students are suffering from record levels of anxiety and loneliness with not enough resources to support them. Some students are disengaging because schools are not working for them.

How can teachers help student engagement level? SEL is a key part of the solution. Maurice Elias explains,“When students are disengaged from school and learning, we need to strategically reach inside them and rekindle the natural motivation to learn that all young people have.”

Teachers play a crucial role in the student engagement puzzle. Researchers found that, “caring and supportive teacher behaviors predicted a community of connectedness,” and fostered a greater sense of belonging in schools. 

By seeing the bright light inside each student, increasing connectedness in classroom communities, and kindling student meaning making/ sense of purpose we can help students get back to school. 

🟡 RESEARCH SAYS: Middle schoolers drop off the engagement chart

In a study published by Six Seconds, researchers analyzed data from over 20 schools globally, and from more than 6000 participants, to understand middle school students’ experience in school. 

They found profound differences between elementary and middle school students’ level of engagement. While 49% of elementary students are actively engaged, 0% of middle school students are in the “engaged” category.

Instead, middle schoolers are disengaged (47%) and neutral (53%). In addition, they found a 12.7% dropoff in trust between elementary and middle school. Middle school students say they, “crave a feeling of belonging, a sense of connection to the school and a way to feel proud of the school community.” These are opportunities for educators to re-engage students.

This study suggests that something catastrophic happens when students transition from elementary to middle school. Students go from liking school to loathing it. The emotional needs of middle school and the structural constraints of secondary education (more impersonal, bigger class sizes, increased academic pressure), are a perfect tsunami for student disengagement. Schools urgently need to bring more SEL content and SEL training to educators. 

🟢 TRY IT YOURSELF: I am someone who…

One way to support engagement is to help students feel a stronger sense of belonging. Being seen and appreciated is central to feeling belonging. Here’s a writing prompt you can adapt. In this exercise, students can share more details about themselves and give educators an opening for deeper conversations. More ideas about building belonging

I am someone who… (have students complete the sentences about themselves or make up your own prompts)

I am someone who loves ______________

I am someone who hates ______________

I am someone who can’t ______________

I am someone who can ______________

I am someone who who never ______________

I am someone who has ______________

I am someone who can’t wait to ______________

I am someone who would rather ______________

I am someone who wishes ______________

I am someone who tries to ______________

I am someone who nobody seems to ______________

I am someone who everybody seems to ______________ 

I am someone who usually forgets ______________

I am someone who is thankful for ______________

I am someone who will probably end up ______________

I am someone who will be known for ______________

🔵 MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Events for Educators – will you join us?

Learn about the EdD with SEL Specialization, free info session – Sept 19 

Share delightful free SEL activities with POP-UP Festival in partnership with UNICEF World Children’s Day – multiple dates 

Get started on your EQ Educator Certification — starting Sept 19 with our team in Dubai— or Sept 25 with our team in North America 

Discover strategies for navigating the global ‘emotional recession’ – Oct 6 

Connect & learn together with Six Seconds certification holders around the globe – multiple dates 

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For more on EQ and Education, I recommend:

Michael Miller