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The Five Dimensions of Engaged Teaching: A “Compass” for Our Times


With all that is present in our country and world—we wanted to offer some practices and principles to support us all to navigate the intense and volatile times we live and teach in.

The Five Dimensions of Engaged Teaching (as explored in our book by the same title) can serve as a powerful “compass” or reflection tool in our professional and personal lives. Each of the dimensions of engaged teaching includes principles and practices that support educators in developing a more intentional, rewarding, and effective teaching practice and support students in thinking creatively and critically, excelling academically, managing their emotions, communicating effectively, and working with people who are different from themselves. These are the 21st century skills and capacities that young people need to survive and thrive in our complex world.

This month, we offer a brief overview of the five dimensions. If this framework is familiar to you, perhaps this can serve as fresh new look and an invitation to revisit these dimensions on a deeper level.  In each of the next six months, we will delve deeply into one of the dimensions—exploring their definitions and practices, so we can apply them to our work and lives.

Five Dimensions of Engaged Teaching: A Brief Overview

  • Cultivating an open heart: Expressing warmth, kindness, care, compassion; cultivating connection (teacher-student and student-student); and intentionally engaging in practices that build trusting, inclusive learning communities
  • Engaging the self-observer: Cultivating the aspect of ourselves that can notice, observe, and then reflect on our thoughts, beliefs, biases, emotions, and behaviors to make more conscious choices about our actions; includes fostering self-observation or “self-science” in students as well
  • Being present: Engaging in the ongoing process of bringing attention to the present moment and learning to manage distractions so we can be responsive, aware, focused, and creative in the classroom; includes supporting students to develop learning readiness—the capacity to pay attention, focus, and engage
  • Establishing respectful boundaries: Respectfully establishing clear and compassionate boundaries for ourselves (self-discipline) and with others—in the classroom and in our school communities; includes supporting students and the learning community with a proactive approach to classroom management
  • Developing emotional capacity: Developing emotional intelligence, expanding our emotional range, and cultivating emotional boundaries so we can effectively address a range of feelings in ourselves and others; includes supporting students in developing their capacity to express and manage emotions

As you explore the five dimensions framework—you may want to consider where your own challenges and strengths lie –and identify areas where you would like to grow. For example, you may feel very confident in your capacity to establish respectful boundaries in your life and with your students, but you notice that you often meet colleagues with a mindset of judgment and critique—and that you could benefit from intentional practice to cultivate an open heart.

You may wish to consider using the 5 dimensions “compass” on a daily or weekly basis, as a kind of regular touchstone and opportunity to check in with yourself and your teaching practice (See the image and descriptions below).  This reflection can be done internally, through journaling, or with a colleague in a focused listening dyad or dialogue.

Below are some questions to support your exploration:

  • Open Heart: In this moment, is my heart open or closed or numb—or somewhere in between? What can I do to keep my heart open
  • Self Observer: What successes and challenges am I experiencing now in my life and teaching? How can I learn from these?
  • Being Present: How present am I in my life and work— and what is distracting me?
  • Respectful Boundaries: How well am I honoring my own limits and setting clear boundaries with others and myself?
  • Emotional Capacity: What feelings are present in me today? Which ones do I welcome and which ones make me uncomfortable and why?

Reflecting on these questions can help us grow our self-awareness, evolve our teaching practice, and experience more connection to our students and colleagues. Please tell us how it goes!

Note: Next month—we will explore the dimension of the Open Heart.



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