Best of the Best: Engagement

By: Leah Kirkman , Isabella Wallace


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Products specifications
Attribute name Attribute value
Size: 150 x 125mm
Pages : 192
ISBN : 9781785832475
Format: Paperback
Published: February 2018

Isabella Wallace and Leah Kirkman’s Engagement is a carefully curated collection of experts’ insights on the theme of teacher and learner engagement, which – as they ably demonstrate – can be facilitated and encouraged in a number of ways.

The Best of the Best series brings together – for the first time – the most influential voices in education in a format that is concise, insightful and accessible for teachers. Keeping up with the latest and best ideas in education can be a challenge – as can putting them into practice – but this highly acclaimed series is here to help. Each title features a comprehensive collection of brief and accessible contributions from some of the most eminent names in education from around the world.

In this third volume, Wallace and Kirkman explore the core concept of engagement – an essential facet of effective learning both for learners and for teachers – and share practical, realistic, cross-curricular and cross-phase strategies to make the most of these important insights.

Engagement, whether of the teacher or the learners, can’t be compelled and will always be contingent on the complexities of motivation. Indeed, it could be argued that it is teacher engagement which is the key to successful learning. Such engagement can be facilitated by encouraging professional dialogue between staff, or it may be that the school’s high expectations alone could encourage in its teachers a sense of professional empowerment. But how do we recognise learner engagement, and what can we do to encourage it? From this compendium of expert voices emerge three important themes: that teachers’ engagement and positive example should be seen as a prerequisite for establishing learner motivation; that learners’ interest needs to be actively engaged, whether by meaningful challenge or by tapping into their natural curiosity; and that an expectation of appropriate behaviour must precede expectations of engagement. In this volume you will find many practical suggestions of ways to apply these ideas both in the classroom and in the staffroom.

Each contributor has provided a list of further reading so you can dig deeper into the topic and, in addition, the Teacher Development Trust offer their advice on how to plan effective CPD and responsive changes to practice based on the contributors’ suggestions.

Contributions include:

Sir Tim Brighouse argues that it is teacher engagement – specifically their collaborative evaluation, dialogue and planning – which is the key to successful learning.

Dr Bill Rogers advocates a non-confrontational approach and illustrates how the teacher’s verbal communications can be more effective when they are descriptive and assertive rather than imperative and confrontational.

Vic Goddard suggests that a bottom-up, staff-led approach to CPD can be a more motivating catalyst for teacher engagement than that which is top-down and senior leadership team-led.

Sue Cowley urges teachers to be responsive, adaptable, creative and flexible in the classroom and, instead of focusing on what students need to change, to take control of their teaching and decide what they need to change about themselves.

Richard Gerver discusses his passionate belief that teachers and school leaders should trust in their profession and their children more and build a culture that shouts about an assumption of excellence.

Andy Cope advises that teachers should focus on how they wish ‘to be’ in order to achieve the energy and empowerment to engage more effectively with their ‘to do’ list.

Professor Bill Lucas focuses on the numerous ways that schools can encourage parental engagement in their children’s learning.

Ian Gilbert points out that in order to encourage engaged behaviour we need first to banish classroom boredom, and that the opposite of ‘boring’ in a learning context should be ‘challenging’.

Professor Susan Wallace focuses on teacher behaviour, suggesting that one of the most powerful ways of encouraging engagement is for the teacher to model the desired attitude by presenting themselves as enthusiastic and highly motivated.

Andy Griffith makes the case that the learning challenge must be one which learners feel is achievable if they are to become properly involved and absorbed in the state of ‘flow’.

Dr Debra Kidd argues that the motivation to remain engaged will always be contingent on learners being able to see the relevance, purpose and value of what they are being asked to do.

Conrad Wolfram – writing specifically about motivation in maths – suggests that, in addition to being achievable, the challenge must be carefully chosen: not any old abstract problem but one which learners feel motivated to solve.

Paul Dix illustrates the importance of finding ways with which to engage learners’ natural curiosity with an element of anticipation, surprise or even some mild jeopardy.

John Davitt encourages the idea of engagement as ‘doing’, where learners are asked to demonstrate understanding in a variety of ways and through means other than simply writing.

Phil Beadle raises the question of whether levels of engagement are largely contingent on geography and environment, suggesting that inner city schools may be facing the problem of learner disengagement on a scale not experienced elsewhere.

Mike Gershon suggests that engagement in written work can be better stimulated by using discussion to help learners refine and articulate their ideas before they engage in a writing task.

Professor Mick Waters argues that a gentle ‘nudging’ towards improved behaviour – for example, through the awarding of points – proves more effective than the use of sanctions or shaming.

Teacher Development Trust – Next steps …

Suitable for all educationalists, including teachers and school leaders.

Best of the Best: Engagement has been named the Silver Winner in the education category of the 2018 INDIES Book of the Year Awards.

Picture for author Leah Kirkman

Leah Kirkman

Leah Kirkman is co-author of the bestselling teaching guides Pimp Your Lesson! and Talk-Less Teaching, and is an experienced AST and trainer. Keeping the needs of both the busy teacher and the discerning learner at the heart of all her training, Leah works with teachers both across the UK and abroad developing outstanding teaching and learning.

Picture for author Isabella Wallace

Isabella Wallace

Isabella Wallace is co-author of the bestselling teaching guides Pimp Your Lesson! and Talk-Less Teaching, and has worked for many years as an AST, curriculum coordinator and governor. She is a consultant for and contributor to the Oxford Dictionary of Education and presents nationally and internationally on outstanding learning and teaching.

Listen in on Isabella's podcasts with Pivotal Education - click here to listen to Isabella on NQT issues and here discussing the pedagogy of talk-less teaching'.

Click here to view Isabella's Pinterest.

Click here to read Isabella  Wallace’s blog.


  1. -‹“The best advice I ever received on how to improve teaching, and therefore schools, came from the American educator Judith Little, whose research concluded that you knew you were in a good school when the following four characteristics were present:

    Teachers talk about teaching.

    Teachers observe each other teach.

    Teachers plan, organise and evaluate together.

    Teachers teach each other.

    My reason for liking these findings is because you can easily see how you can increase or decrease the likelihood of these four things happening. For example, if the agendas of meetings are packed with administrative imperatives rather than discussion of pedagogy or curricular subtleties to aid learning, then meetings are wasted time. Conversely, starting primary staff meetings in different classrooms, with the host analysing where they are with optimising the environment for learning, will promote valuable debate - as would an agenda item where, in turns (one member per meeting), staff outline the book they are reading with their class and why it works for that age group.

    Or, at secondary level, the senior leadership team (SLT) taking over the teaching of a department for a day could enable the staff to be released to visit a department in another school.

    My advice, therefore, would be to have a session where all staff look at the four characteristics outlined by Judith Little and share ideas of how, with minimal effort, school practices could be adjusted to make them happen more often.”

    Click here to read the review on Humanising Language Teaching website.
  2. Many educators expect that all students in the classroom will be engaged in the teaching and learning on offer. However, there are often a plethora of internal or external factors that play havoc with such expectations, resulting in many teachers being disillusioned after the efforts of planning and preparing a lesson.

    Engagement is an art demanding creativity, practice, absorption - indeed, it might even involve throwing away well-developed plans and going along with whatever unexpected strand of learning is capturing students imaginations or attention, which deserves exploration. Indeed, engagement may involve tinkering with elements of teaching practice, running with activities that capture the imagination, and re-thinking other elements that lose interest. Essentially, pedagogy should, at its best, be about what teachers do that not only help students to learn but actively strengthens their capacity to learn (Hargreaves, Learning for Life, 2004, p.27).

    Student engagement has primarily and historically focused on increasing achievement, positive behaviours, and a sense of belonging in students so they might invest in school life and their own learning journey. Researchers have previously noted that targeted intervention often happens in secondary school, where disengagement typically becomes a concern. Developing engaged pupils needs to start a lot earlier in their educational experience.

    The latest book in the Best of the Best #BOTB series (a previous title explored -˜Progress', whereas the next book promises to explore -˜Differentiation') Isabella Wallace and Leah Kirkman explore the engagement panacea, which can sometimes seem just out of reach. The format of these books offers a guest contribution from a list of esteemed educationalists, followed by a brief discussion by the authors, alongside practical strategy suggestions which can easily be implemented in whole-school improvement initiatives, or for individual teachers to follow to improve the teaching and learning process in their classroom.

    For example, Richard Gerver shares how Google considers their staff to be the best of the best: highly skilled, intelligent and creative people who feel trusted and empowered. In an education system that appears to be designed from the opposing view, the practical strategies offered encourage that school leaders trust and empower teachers, who can then trust and empower learners. Now, this can look very different in individual settings, but the idea of allowing students to play an integral part in reporting their progress and attainment alongside encouraging reflections about how young people have involved themselves in a particular learning activity is easily achievable. It's all about believing and trusting in ourselves and empowering our students to take pride and a belief in their abilities.

    In a later chapter, Andy Griffith advocates that a high level of challenge, alongside a high learning attitude and skill, will result in -˜flow', a place we go to challenge ourselves whilst being absorbed in a meaningful struggle. Furthermore, Phil Beadle writes how Engagement is not an issue, it is the issue, comparing how different teaching strategies are needed in different locations, inviting readers to put away Pedagogical snobbery and get real about the people we teach-¦”Being innovative in the way information is presented or consolidated is not about -˜entertaining' or sugar coating the learning process, but rather a means of ensuring that learners are willing and able to do what comes next'. It's not rocket science and any spirited strategy can be used to give even the driest topic an irresistible feel.

    Essentially, we're teachers - not childminders or entertainers. But what this book shows is that a little creativity, trust and innovative thinking by school leaders and teachers can go a long way in building a community of engaged learners where everyone can succeed in a positive and supportive environment.


    The format of these books offers a guest contribution from a list of educationalists.
    Offers practical strategy suggestions which can easily be implemented in whole-school improvement initiatives.
    Book shows is that a little creativity, trust and innovative thinking by school leaders and teachers can go a long way.
    Great for individual teachers to follow to improve the teaching and learning process in their classroom.

    Click here to read the review online.
  3. Engagement explores the somewhat neglected topic of learner engagement from a holistic perspective, and Isabella Wallace and Leah Kirkman set the scene exquisitely from the outset by reinforcing the notion that teachers are our most powerful resource in driving forward the teaching and learning.

    The book's contributors then build on this secure foundation by exploring topics such as discipline and over-work, as well as important aspects of learner motivation, attitudes, challenge, reward, progression and the assumption of excellence. There is also some consideration of the responsibilities of the wider educational community in which parents and stakeholders can play an active role. A variety of teaching activities are provided throughout, and the book concludes with a contribution from the Teacher Development Trust - who present an overview of opportunities for related professional development.

    The gap in the fence has been mended with Engagement, a resource which will undoubtedly be welcomed in all echelons of the education fraternity.
  4. Drawing on digestible anecdotes, observations and thinking from some of the leading education experts involved in inspiring teaching and learning, Isabella Wallace and Leah Kirkman galvanise teachers to improve their practice by offering practical strategies that can be easily utilised through subtle changes to working routines.

    Engagement would be a perfect accompaniment to a series of staff development sessions, within which the contributors' ideas could be explored and related to the school's teaching and learning culture and used to help rouse pupils to attain improved outcomes.
  5. The brilliance of the Best of the Best series is in the way it opens up so many new possibilities around some of education's most heavily used (yet often poorly understood) buzzwords: progress, feedback and, now, engagement. Incisive, provocative thinking from a wide range of experts is smartly contextualised through practical and inventive strategies devised by Wallace and Kirkman - find what resonates with you, and give it a try!
  6. This nifty little book is a hugely uplifting read - a lucky dip of entertaining, no-nonsense theory and practical strategies. It exudes warmth as the contributors share their wisdom, innovation and advice in a humorous, unthreatening and realistic way, making it a genuinely enjoyable read.

    Engagement manages to appeal to both the NQT and the senior leader, and quite rightly refocuses our attention on what really matters. By distributing copies in our staff book club we have provided first-class professional development for less than the cost of a conference ticket! 
  7. The dynamic duo - Isabella and Leah - are at it again. This concise gold mine features an A-list of education's most prominent voices and enables them to share their ideas and wisdom on the topic of engagement. In this volume you'll find an array of practical strategies and advice to help teachers consolidate engagement in the classroom, all of which are applicable across the curriculum and in every phase.

    There is something for everyone in Engagement, making it an essential read for both new and experienced educationalists.

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