Leveraging Alignment in Service to Engagement: Part I

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Slide1It’s easy to confuse engagement with entertainment. Both are positive experiences that produce feelings of satisfaction, and both are easily distinguished from boredom. It’s also easy to confuse alignment with standardization. Both concern themselves with clear definitions of quality and transparent expectations. Both are also easily distinguished from free rein.

But engagement is not entertainment, and alignment is not standardization.

More importantly, one is not the enemy of the other. In fact, the most talented teachers I know leverage alignment in service to engagement.

Every teacher has this power.

It’s a choice.

When teachers prioritize alignment over engagement, students struggle to invest in their learning or produce meaningful work for real audiences. When they prioritize engagement over alignment, students might hyper-focus on the content, skills, and activities that compel them most, while failing to learn other things that are less desirable but no less important. After all, we don’t know what we don’t know, and we aren’t aware of what might engage us until someone invites us to learn more about it, either.

So, how do we proceed?

I’m still searching for my own answers to this question, but my experiences have taught me this: it’s important to leverage alignment in service to engagement. What’s more, we must make engagement a priority as we pursue alignment. When we sacrifice one for the other, learning is compromised, and kids suffer for it.

I’ve also learned that regardless of whether we adopt, adapt, or design curricula, we need to question the way we pursue alignment and engagement. We need to study the way these forces influence our thinking and our work. We need to study their relationship with one another, too.

This is complex work, and transforming it into a meaningful conversation for Brilliant or Insane readers is just as challenging. This first post will help us define engagement and alignment. My next post will challenge you to use the matrix above to leverage each in service to the other.

Ready to dive in? Consider these ideas, and share your thinking about them in the comments section.

Distinguishing Entertainment from Engagement

  • Entertainment is something we seek from others. Engagement demands our participation.
  • Entertainment is often a frivolous enterprise that empowers us to escape our problems, while engagement focuses us on problem solving in ways that produce lasting and meaningful results.
  • Entertainment can be completely irrelevant to our lives and experiences, while engagement relates to us directly.
  • Entertainment is usually fun. Engagement can feel incredibly uncomfortable at times, but we tolerate it because we’re committed to the outcome. It matters.

Distinguishing Standardization from Alignment

  • Standardization is about compliance. Alignment is an agreement.
  • Standardization implies a lack of trust. It demands obedience, and it flourishes when people lack faith in the capacity of others. Alignment flourishes in a trusting environment. It requires cooperation, and it flourishes when people are eager to share their passions and their growing expertise. Alignment helps us build coherent pathways for learners across systems.
  • Standardization limits choice and defines singular pathways for pursuing standards. Alignment helps diverse groups define quality and clarify shared expectations, opening up varied pathways for pursuing standards.
  • Standardization demands blind obedience to prefabricated programs that are dropped into systems that may not need them. Alignment enables systems in need to identify suitable solutions. When those solutions come in the form of prefabricated programs, alignment inspires savvy adaptation that attends to the needs, the vision, and the interests of students and teachers.
  • Standardization is about helping systems achieve conformity. Alignment is about helping learners achieve standards.

How do you define engagement and alignment?

What do you notice about the relationship they share inside of your system?

How can we shift our thinking and our work in order to improve learning experiences for all?

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.

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