Overcoming the Winter Blues: Keeping Students Engaged

Overcoming the Winter Blues:  Keeping Students Engaged

Reflect – Appreciate the Good and Revise What Needs Fixing

At approximately the midpoint of the school year, find time to reflect on your current reality.  You care about your students and their academic success.  Your patience may have been tested during the 1st half of the school year, but you are flexible and an exceptional decision maker.  Stay positive – teaching sustains us as human beings and I think we all can agree that teaching is the most caring and impactful role in society.  As John Hattie (2012) eloquently said, “See learning through the eyes of students…then use this experience to become better teachers.”

How am I Going to Continue to Build Trust, Psychological Safety, and Teach?

Instead of thinking…“What am I going to say? What am I going to teach? What are they thinking of me? What should I do when my lesson plans tank?” focus on student engagement and a learner-friendly culture.  From Antonetti and Garver (2015), I present to you 8 strategies that engage students, promote active learning, and boost achievement.  And best of all, after you read each of the 8 qualities, I am confident that you will agree that they are doable!  The 8 different qualities that indicate student engagement are as follows:

  1. Does the activity, strategy, task, or idea allow for the student to personalize his or her response? Can they bring their life experiences into the activity and make it their own?
  2. Are there clear and modeled expectations?
  3. Is there a sense of audience above and beyond the teacher and the test? Does the activity have value to someone else?
  4. Is there social interaction? Do students have an opportunity to talk about the learning and interact?
  5. Is there a culture of emotional safety? Are mistakes valued because they are an opportunity to learn?
  6. Do students have opportunities to choose within the activity?
  7. Is it an authentic activity? This doesn’t mean it always must connect directly to the student’s world, but it should connect to reality.
  8. Is the task new and novel? If kids are bored, it’s hard to see engagement.

So, you are thinking…to incorporate multiple engagement strategies or even all 8 in a lesson appears to be a daunting task.  The good news, however, is that the research is favorable.  If you use on average 3 or more of the 8 characteristics, your students will be immersed in sustained cognitive engagement 84%-86% of the time (see chart).  You can do this!

Number of Engagement CharacteristicsSustained Cognitive Engagement From Students 
3 or more84% – 86% of the time
216% of the time
1 or fewer<4% of the time

Keep Building Your Community of Support

From Maia Heyck-Merlin’s, The Together Teacher, plan ahead to the extent you can right now.  Carefully prioritize the most important work first.  Be flexible and adaptable to a changing environment and circumstances.  And lastly, be organized enough to easily find materials, documents, and other supplies.  You are surrounded by a community of support within your building – lean on your peers, coaches, and administrators for advice.  You don’t have to be perfect.  It’s about being better than you were yesterday.  Best of luck engaging and inspiring your students in the 2nd half of the school year!


Todd Stephan, WCU


Antonetti, J. V. & Garver, J. R. (2015). 17000 Classroom visits can’t be wrong.    Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Hattie, J.A.C. (2012). Visible learning for teachers. New York, NY: Routledge.

Heyck-Merlin, M. (2021).  The Together Teacher. Jossey-Bass.

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