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  • Margaret Cissel

Competition Inspires Student Engagement in the Classroom


At Educator’s Ally, we’re always learning from our candidates and administrators. Whether it’s the first conversation with a teacher searching for a job in private schools, catching up with a longtime candidate looking to take his next step, or asking a Dean of Faculty what qualities she is looking for in a specific hire, we make it our business to understand our candidates’ teaching styles, philosophies and professional aspirations. We’re especially interested in hearing about the new and creative ways teachers are inspiring learning (and so are our Administrators during the interview process!).

Recently, we caught up with Emily Hyland, a 4th Grade teacher at Rippowam Cisqua School, and former EA Placement Manager, and we were interested to learn about an article she’d written for Sparkitivity, about a lesson that she created for her class.

In the article, Emily presents her observation, hypothesis, and experiment on the topic of how to spark engagement in the classroom. Emily shares that, much like adults, children decide within the first minute or two of a lesson whether or not it’s of interest. She hypothesizes that if a competitive spirit is introduced into the classroom, the attention of a student who might not otherwise be interested may be piqued. Emily’s experiment was centered around the book Tuck Everlasting. The goal of the exercise was to have each student synthesize a part of the reading by coming up with an appropriate chapter title. The hook? The winning title would be displayed in the classroom. Emily’s students ate it up! She writes, “the lesson required no physical preparation on my part (other than a stack of Post-it notes); however, the submissions and conversations that happened as the students were considering their submissions were very telling about what each child remembered from the previous day’s reading.”

Emily is a part of the Innovation Cohort at Rippowam, where she worked alongside Kathryn Haydon of Sparkitivity studying the Torrance Incubation Model (TIM). In Emily’s words, TIM is “a simple yet effective framework for lesson planning consisting of three straightforward stages: heightening anticipation, deepening understanding, and extending the learning. From this work sprung wonderful conversations and a deepening of my conviction that we must always put ourselves in our students’ shoes as we lesson plan. Long story short: if it would bore you as an adult, it will definitely bore them as nine-year-olds.”


After her research and study of TIM, Emily now takes a special interest in the first minute of each lesson when her students answer the most critical question of all: is this interesting? Emily concludes her article by writing, “By awakening children’s creativity immediately, and as often as possible, suddenly you can hook even reluctant students. And if you’re lucky, the child who maybe doesn’t yet love to read does enjoy a good healthy competition, and suddenly they’re happily summarizing a chapter in a book. Not to mention that this approach to learning–and lucky for me–teaching, becomes a little more fun. Who wouldn’t sign on the dotted line for that?”

Are you a teacher who loves developing new, creative ways of engaging your students? Are you interested in being part of a community of educators that supports such endeavors? The EA Placement Team can help guide you as you consider the next step in your career. To start the conversation, apply here.


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Educator’s Ally is a highly personalized placement agency that connects teachers and administrators with independent day and boarding schools. With New York roots and a national reach, EA’s dedicated approach to recruiting has been valued by schools and candidates alike since 1975.

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