Teacher Practices to Develop Balanced, Engaged Students

Challenge Success, we partner with schools to address alarming levels of student stress, anxiety, and disengagement by implementing policies and practices that support both student well-being and engagement with learning. We use a research-based framework that we call SPACE to guide changes in student schedules, homework policies, curricular design, assessments, social-emotional learning, and more. 

While some of the changes we recommend are made at the school or district level, there are many things that educators can do immediately – even, tomorrow! –  to increase students’ balance, sense of belonging, and deep engagement.

Here are 7 of our favorite SPACE-aligned teacher practices:

1. Start class with a community-building exercise
Have students respond to a question of the day like, “If you could be on a reality show, which one would you be on?” Pose a series of “would you rather” questions and have everyone physically move to one side of the classroom or the other to answer them. Have students share gratitude or a highlight from their week.

2. Carve out five minutes for mindfulness
There are many simple ways to practice mindfulness. Try a 3-2-1 sensory check: what are three things you hear right now, two things you see, and one thing you feel. Play a guided meditation using an app or YouTube video. Offer students this quiet time to journal or write a reflection.

3. Create a compliment board
Who doesn’t love to hear nice things about themselves? Write a student’s name on the board and let classmates add post-it notes full of compliments. Take a picture to share with the student, and rotate through all students in a given month or the school year.

4. Collect data about students’ experience
How long did your homework take last night? From fist to five, what was your level of anxiety preparing for the assessment? In what ways were my expectations unclear to you? We’ll never know if we don’t ask! You can use tech tools like Kahoot or Poll Everywhere or employ good, old-fashioned hand-raising.

5. Institute a homework holiday
Research shows that teens need playtime, downtime, and family time (PDF) every day to thrive. Give students a break from homework for a night to support their PDF. You can encourage them to use some of this unstructured time to share something they’ve learned from your class with family and friends. 

6. Expand the audience for your next assessment
Students often produce higher quality work when they know it will be seen by an authentic audience, not just their teacher. Incorporate this by assigning tasks such as: participate in a Wikipedia “edit-a-thon”, start a social media campaign, write a letter to the editor, post your poetry at a local cafe, share your findings with the city council, or perform for a nearby retirement community.

7. Make the end of class count
Incorporate student feedback into your exit ticket or end of class discussion by asking a question that lets you know how they felt about the process. For example, “What is one thing you want me to know about your experience in class today?” or ”What did today’s lesson make you wonder?”

Chris Stapel, PhD is a Senior Research Associate. Working closely with the research and program teams, as well as middle and high school communities, he leads the organization in its efforts to connect high-quality research to school settings. Chris is an experienced learning designer, professional learning coach, and social science researcher. Prior to joining Challenge Success, Chris was a mathematics teacher in public and independent schools. He lives in Minneapolis.