3 Ways to Boost Engagement at School

Written by Hannah Miller
Gallup-Certified Manager

Schools are a place of hope for many young students. Whether it be hope for a state basketball championship, college admission, or hope for a warm meal, the core of young peoples’ lives usually revolves around the school. For many school staff, however, this place of opportunity can be draining and lead to burnout.

According to a recent Gallup study, 31% of U.S. teachers are engaged at work. Gallup categorizes engagement in 3 ways: engaged, disengaged, and actively disengaged.

Think of it this way:

A school employee sees a piece of paper on the floor in the hallway. An engaged employee will pick up that piece of paper and throw it in the recycling. A disengaged employee will just walk past that piece of paper and act like they never saw it. An actively disengaged employee is the person who threw that trash on the floor in the first place.

With 31% of U.S. teachers feeling engaged at work, more than two-thirds of educators are going through the motions of the workday or acting out their unhappiness with others. This not only affects morale among the staff but also the students’ ability to learn in a welcoming environment.

Using the research and training conducted by Gallup, TeamMates Mentoring Program has been working on ways to increase engagement across its chapters and matches. In 2022, TeamMates’ National Office staff underwent a major staff change, resulting in 41 staff members, 63% were new to the organization. After several months of training and engagement-building activities, the TeamMates staff took the Gallup Q12 Engagement Survey. The results showed 89% of TeamMates staff were engaged.

TeamMates is a school-based program focused on building friendships between students and safe, caring adults. Matches meet in school during the day for about 30 minutes to an hour to play a board game, work on a project, go for a walk, or just talk. TeamMates staff do not work directly in the schools, but they do support school staff as they run their local TeamMates program.

Here are some ways TeamMates has been able to boost engagement:

1. Recognition

According to Gallup’s article “Six Things Engaged Schools Do Differently”, great principals build and sustain a culture that includes meaningful recognition. To build meaningful recognition, Gallup recommends that it must be timely, specific, and individualized. In TeamMates, each manager asks their employees how they individually appreciate the recognition. One employee may feel special with a public thank you, while someone else may want a simple note from the principal.

2. Focus on teachers’ strengths

TeamMates uses the CliftonStrengths Assessment with its staff members to see how each person’s individual strengths contribute to the team as a whole. Several school districts in Nebraska implement CliftonStrengths, but if yours doesn’t— that’s okay! Think of how your individual team members shine. Teachers are more engaged when they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day.

3. Give staff space to mentor

Gallup’s new book, “The Blind Spot”, talks about the rising unhappiness leaders didn’t see. The book focuses on what makes a great life, and Gallup’s research indicates there are 5 aspects that all people have in common: community, work, social, physical, and financial.

Gallup CEO, Jon Clifton, wrote “volunteering is not just good for the people you are helping; it is also good for you.” The same can be said for mentoring. In 2022, 92% of TeamMates mentors reported leaving their mentoring time in a better mood than when they arrived.

Check out this 2017 video on Hershey’s Strengths-based mentoring culture.

Several school districts across Nebraska allow their teachers time to mentor students through their local TeamMates chapter. Hershey Public Schools has close to 520 students and almost 75 total staff members in the district. TeamMates of Hershey has about 80 mentor-mentee matches ranging from third through 12th grade. More than 50% of those mentors are school staff members.

“A day doesn’t go by when you don’t see a TeamMates mentor and mentee going down the hall, going on walks, playing board games, smiling, laughing, chatting, communicating together, so it’s a great culture and has been a positive experience,” said Jane Davis, superintendent of Hershey Public Schools. “I really feel it’s a great connection between the school and the community.”