Four Keys to Developing Real Engagement with Your Teachers

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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As an administrator, how do you empower your teachers to feel comfortable and grow within the personalized learning model?

For teachers who are unfamiliar with transitioning from the goal of compliant to engaged students, this process may be uncomfortable. Following the four keys from the book Real Engagement, which I co-wrote with Robyn Jackson will help you as you get started.


What are you aiming for?

Present your teachers with a clear goal describing the purpose or the reason behind your initiative. If you ask your teachers to engage students within personalized learning model, how did you come up with that conclusion? What question did you ask that resulted in that answer?

Convey that message clearly to help your teachers understand the process that led up to this new initiative and how it will benefit them in the long run.


Instead of dictating a new way of doing things, contextualize the path you have chosen. Provide real-world examples your teachers can relate to instead of just diving in. Articulate the problems, challenges, issues, and ideas that your new method will help with.

Next, allow for feedback. Give your teachers the opportunity to engage one-on-one or within small groups. As terrifying as feedback can be, it is critical in designing an effective communication channel that will enhance teacher and student experience.


The end-goal of classrooms full of deeply-engaged students is enticing, but don’t forget about what it takes to get there.

Teachers need to know you are invested in their success. Yes, they will be held accountable for broader expectations such as vision statements, but also have to be permitted to learn messy. It’s the same concept Krista Moroder wrote on Learning Personalized when she challenged administrators to encourage teachers to engage in self-guided learning the same way they encourage students.

If we want our students to guide the process of learning through feedback to tweak and refine what we are doing, we should allow the same when implementing new processes with our teachers.

Make sure there is a level of support your teachers can feel so they don’t believe it is a race to the finish line.


From a leader’s point of view, how do you balance challenge and skill development? Recognize each teacher where they’re at and allow for different entry points for the material. Think hard about what is appropriate for each teacher or team of teachers and move the work forward respectfully and with clarity so they can see their small victories.

One excellent example of this is Dr. Eric Chagala‘s Concierge Continuum. He related his work with teachers to that of a concierge, meeting each individual where they’re at and responding accordingly.

“The Concierge’s job is to be human-centered, lead with his ear, and meet the stated needs of the users at the desk, as well as listen deeply to understand some unstated needs,” wrote Chagala. “Everyone who comes to a Concierge’s Desk is on a continuum in their journey. A Concierge is in a human-centered profession.

“This makes me think about being a school leader in an era of drastic change and even uncertainty. There is much said about ‘leading innovation,’ building culture, and change leadership. I also hear a lot of people talk about how they are ‘servant leaders,’ which roots back to work by Robert Greenleaf in 1970.”

Which of these four keys resonated the most with you as an administrator or as a teacher?

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