Although there’s a lot a talk about student engagement at schools, disengagement is of equal concern for middle and high school students. Unlike engagement, disengagement happens slowly, over a matter of weeks or months. At first, it may seem like a phase. A test is blown, a homework assignment forgotten. But soon these small details start to add up and, before you know it, there’s a problem.
Signs of kids disengaging may be subtle. Disengaged students can perform well, academically. They can slip by, putting in minimal effort and earning sub-optimal grades. But soon a gulf opens between affected students and their success.
Roots of Student Disengagement
If you’re worried that your child might be disengaging at school, you’ll want to keep a sharp eye out and spot patterns. Then you’ll want to help. Disengaged kids tend to have problems in one or more of these three areas:
1. Family issues. For many students, disengagement can begin at home. If there's been one particularly traumatic incident, such as a divorce or loss of a family member, children can start to withdraw socially and academically. Even smaller changes, such as moving to a new city or adding a new family member can cause some kids to question their place or act out inappropriately.
2. Personal issues. When students experience a personal social setback such as a painful breakup, loss of friendship, or bullying they can begin to develop a low self-worth. Such events can start a student down a spiral toward disengagement.
3. School issues. Some students have trouble with their classmates, their school schedule, and even certain triggering classes. Solid academic students who find themselves struggling in a vocational class can start to doubt their abilities. Students who fear or distrust their teachers may become preoccupied with other thoughts during class instead of concentrating on the lesson. A cliquish school or a homogenous student body can lead some students to feel like outsiders who don't fit in.
If your child is dealing with anything in these three areas, it’s not necessarily time to sound the alarm. Many kids can deal with issues like these and come out stronger for it. But, if these life events are happening in your home or to your child, it may be a good idea to start keeping a closer watch.
How Kids Signal Disengagement
Is your child increasingly negative, especially around his or her peers? Have they become more aggressive or are they starting to withdraw from a previously full social life?
Further, a lack of interest in school or favored subjects can signal that something is wrong. Do they suddenly stop going to school or skip more classes? A significant swing in academic performance can also be an indicator that disengagement has started. If your child brings home an unexpectedly low grade on a test or in class, there may be cause for real concern.
Supporting Your Child as a Parent
If you’re on the fence about your kid’s behavior, a talk with his or her teachers can be invaluable. Teachers can provide information about changes in your child’s behavior that you may not be able to see. What’s more, teachers can be key allies on the front lines of reforming behavior. The best defense against disengagement is a good offense and parent involvement is key. If you can spot the signs of disengagement at the earliest sprouting, you have a better chance of working with your kid toward overcoming the underlying issues.
Disengagement is the phantom thief of potential. It sneaks up slowly and leaves its victims in dire straits. Keep a watchful eye for the signs and be sure to build healthy habits with and for your child. Young adults are less likely to disengage when they have stable familial and social relationships, attend a good school, and hold high self-esteem. Keeping those things in their life can help put them on the road to success in high school and beyond.
Experiential Learning Can Help Fight Disengagement
If your student is checked out at school and seems to have lost interest in learning, it may be helpful to understand what kind of learning they are doing.
Is their time in class mostly passive? Are they lectured to and then tested in a never ending cycle?
Experiential, place-based, and project-based learning draws your student into the present moment of their education. Discussion based classrooms, frequent excursions, and collaborative projects can all help keep your student fully engaged with the learning process and their peers.
Experiential learning examples include things like community service projects, performative readings of literature, dissections, and excursions to museums and local sites.
Research suggests, and anecdotal evidence confirms, that what adolescent minds crave is learning through experience. In fact, neuroscientists now know that the onset of puberty coincides with a dramatic increase in brain development, making adolescence a sensitive period for social, emotional, and experiential learning. This is why we are so passionate about individualized, experience-based education here at Blyth-Templeton Academy.
Want to learn more about how to combat adolescent disengagement? Check out our full resource, Beyond the Desk: Why Experiential Learning is Crucial at the Middle and High School Level.