Developing Hope & Resilience for Disengaged Students

Written by Chris Balow, Ph.D. on December 01, 2017

Recent studies on student engagement self-perception and performance. The extent to which a student is engaged is a robust predictor of his or her ability to learn, get good grades and test scores, retain information and, ultimately, graduate.

The 2016 Gallup Student Poll surveyed 900,000 public school students in grades 5-12 in 48 states. The U.S. overall scorecard shows that disengagement generally increases over time, so that by grade 12 about two-thirds of all students are either not engaged or actively disengaged.

The increasing levels of disengagement pose a serious problem for adolescents as they enter adulthood. Disengaged students are four and a half times less likely to be hopeful about the future, and they’re twice as likely to avoid going to college.

According to education researcher Douglas Reeves, disengaged students struggle with feelings of disrespect and disempowerment, impeding their success in both the classroom and the wider world.

The good news is that engagement is a malleable state, which can be shaped by schools, parents, and other concerned adults. One powerful example is the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) project, which embedded social services into the community to dramatically reverse the effects of poverty on academic and psychosocial development.

While most educators do not have access to the dedicated resources of programs like HCZ, teachers should never underestimate their personal power to make a difference in the life of a disengaged student.

The first step is to understand the attributes of engaged students. Focusing solely on grades and attendance ignores the foundation of hope and resilience that engaged students share. These personal qualities contribute to an optimistic mindset, which is associated with feelings of competence, respect, efficacy, and choice: the recipe for a lifetime of personal growth.

In 2016, when developmental psychologist Maria Konnikova published the results of a 32-year longitudinal study on resilience, researchers have understood its critical role in student success. The study showed the positive effects of being able to view setbacks as growth opportunities, maintain optimism in the face of adversity, and create a caring community.

Since that time, Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein have done considerable research into identifying the mindset of resilient students and effective educators. A 2015 study by Hendrie Weisinger and J. P. Pawli-Fry concluded that a student’s degree of resilience and hope is a better predictor of academic outcome than IQ. Influencing the adoption of optimistic mindsets may go a long way toward improving academic outcomes.

If you’d like to learn about the five practical steps to developing hope and engagement, read our latest white paper Expanding Hope & Resilience: Breakthrough Methods for Disengaged Students.


Illuminate Education is a provider of educational technology and services offering innovative data, assessment and student information solutions. Serving K-12 schools, our cloud-based software and services currently assist more than 1,600 school districts in promoting student achievement and success. 

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