Across the world, schools are still struggling to return to “normal” following the pandemic, and the aftershock only continues as new reports are released that cite significantly lower motivation and morale levels among students compared to pre-COVID years.

Disengaged Students Are At-Risk for Dropping Out

Not only have students lost learning opportunities typically taking place in face-to-face experiences, but schools have also lost learners. Students who left their high school or college before graduating most often disconnected mentally and emotionally long before they left physically. Usually, leaving school early occurs because students cannot relate their educational experiences to what they imagine their futures to be. The pandemic provided the tipping point that led many students to the conclusion that continued education is not meaningful or even relevant to their futures.

Although these losses of motivation and morale are not entirely surprising given the rapid switch to remote learning that schools endured, they still warrant serious concern over the important questions of how to mitigate risks posed to students. There is no clear-cut answer, but many experts and educators alike are starting with a renewed focus on student engagement and the critical role it knowingly plays in learning and academic achievement. This all begs an even bigger question of, “How can educators improve student engagement at their school?”

Strengthening Student Engagement

An extraordinary amount of potential exists within systematic career guidance programs to not just increase student engagement, but to ultimately improve development, retention, completion, and academic outcomes.

A vast majority of leading experts recommend that individuals begin their career development process in elementary. Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence to support this recommendation, many schools consider career guidance as, at best, secondary to academic content. The result is that students often receive a patchwork of uncoordinated career guidance that pays little attention to the essential foundation for career development readiness. These principles are especially meaningful among marginalized students who often experience inadequate resources and discrimination that was then exacerbated by the pandemic, but who also benefit most when they are exposed to career interventions that raise their self-esteem, increase their hope, and help them make connections between school and future possibilities (Yoon, Bailey, Amundson, & Niles, 2019).

No matter what grade level you are addressing, you can help strengthen student engagement in your classroom by effectively communicating career development readiness concepts to all parties involved. This means also engaging with parents, families, and other prominent influences in the student’s life to inform them of how they can positively impact the student’s career development process. Research shows that successfully involving every key stakeholder will maximize the program’s return on investment for students.

Another strategy for fostering student engagement is through helping students create a sense of hope for the future and connecting current school activities to future educational and work goals – even if those goals are tentative. Armed with this awareness, students can begin to envision new possibilities and, with career guidance, connect school to future educational and career goals. Collectively, when students have hope and a vision for their future that is grounded in their unique values, interests, and skills, they become more engaged in school and increase their academic achievement.

Interested in learning more? Take a look at our white paper: The Kuder Career Planning System and Student Engagement: Improving Retention, Completion, and Academic Outcomes Among Community College Students or use the button below to download the piece as a pdf.