If a child said to you: “I don’t want to engage with my learning”, what would you say in response?

Published: August 11th, 2020

If a child said to you: I don’t want to engage with my learning”, what would you say in response?


The transitioning from ‘remote’ back to ‘real’ learning through 2020 will be problematic for educators and students alike.  As many of us struggle with this lengthy process, what can help those transitions to succeed? Here is one option: Focus on supportive dialogue with young people, whether online or in real life. The quality of every relationship – personal or professional – is determined by the words we choose to use in that relationship.

In this compelling 4-blog series, Tony Ryan will explore the power of the conversations that we have with children every day. He will offer how you might respond to children when they say each of these four statements:

  1. “I don’t like all of these endless changes. Nothing feels comfortable anymore.”
  2. “I couldn’t be bothered caring about other people.”
  3. “I don’t want to engage with my learning.”
  4. “I don’t know how to think about options for my life up ahead.”


Author Neil Pasricha once spent nearly three years writing a daily blog called ‘1000 Awesome Things’1, posting one delightful life experience for each day. Number 758 was celebrating your pet’s birthday, even though it has no idea what’s going on. Setting a new high score on a video game was #602, while #117 involved driving down an old road between rows of trees that reach over and touch each other to form a canopy overhead.

In the midst of online and real-life challenges right now, are we still managing to help students to experience the ‘awesome’ with their learning? Anecdotal evidence indicates that a significant minority are distracted from their study, let alone feeling excited about it. Student engagement can be problematic enough at the best of times, so what might you do when unsettling experiences lead to a further decline in their interest in learning?

Stick with the tried-and-true understandings. Use evidence-based pedagogies; offer stimulating and practical experiences; build rapport with each child; cater to specific needs and interests. If you want to keep the ‘awesome’ flowing for students, then focus on the Wows and Ahas as they learn. The former relates to the rapture of learning about something that is outright astonishing. For example, did you know that there are at least two trillion galaxies in the Universe? 2 That’s a ‘2’ with eleven zeros after it. Wow!

An Aha is when you finally ‘get’ something after studying it at length. Their neural circuitry generates a stimulating response and deeper understanding of the topic. Children will often say something like: “Oh… so that’s how it works.” Words such as these will make any teacher’s day.

Even as you plan for the Wows and the Ahas, how can you respond to children who still make it obvious that they do not want to engage with their learning? Here are some possible responses3:

  • If you don’t keep learning, you end up staying the same all through your life. This is not a good idea. If you’re not careful, you may eventually become boring even to yourself, let alone to others around you. Instead, it’s important to become more interesting by learning lots of new things. From the moment you were born, you were designed to be a learner.
  • Not all learning is easy and fun. Most of the time, you have to struggle when learning something new. Too many kids say their school learning is boring, although that’s often because they have to work hard on what they’re doing. The reality is that if you want to get better at something, you have to learn about it and practice a lot.
  • If you are getting bored with your learning, then find some different ways of doing it. A long time ago, your grandparents could only go to a library or a classroom to find out about anything. Now you can learn anything just by being online. Look for some great news feeds or YouTube channels or websites that keep giving you plenty of amazing new ideas and information.

Perhaps the most significant action you can take as a teacher is to model your own learning enthusiasm. After all, you are involved in the education profession. You need to walk your own talk. Begin some lessons by recounting your latest intellectual escapade. Encourage children to look at you and think: So that’s what it’s like to be an inspiring grown-up. Signal to them that a responsible adult pursues learning for a lifetime.


  1. Neil Pasricha, 1000 Awesome Things.
  2. ‘Hubble Reveals Observable Universe Contains 10 Times More Galaxies Than Previously Thought’, NASA, 13 October 2016
  3. Tony Ryan, The Next Generation: Preparing Today’s Kids For An Extraordinary Future. John Wiley & Sons, August 2018.