“American education is the best in the world,” this according to Google’s former China chief, Kai-Fu Lee. The magic of the education system, according to Lee, is the caring that American teachers pour into their work. Lee described how teachers made him feel, not what knowledge they transferred. Creating a deep under current of caring is essential to developing a learning environment that will promote maximum student engagement. Educators at all levels can do three things to create a caring environment that will strengthen student engagement.

  1. Trust: Create an environment of trust.  The author of Servant Leadership, Robert Greenleaf explains that by listening first and empathizing leaders create trust. Trust is essential to creating credibility that enables success. An environment of trust allows others to focus their energies and it helps create a space for strong interpersonal relationships. According to Simon Sinek, “When our words and deeds are consistent with our intentions” we create trust. Behavior that is consistent creates a safe and trusting space for others. By consistently listening to others with empathy, we can create an environment where trust can grow and allow our relationships to deepen.  
  2. Care & Concern: Author of Make it Matter, Scott Mautz, explained that leaders are able to create a connective undercurrent when they show respect and demonstrate genuine care. Leaders inside and out of the classroom have a responsibility to develop a caring approach that will maximize their ability to create meaning for others and strengthen engagement.  Throughout many years of experience working with at-risk students, I have discovered what most educators know, “Students don’t care what you know, until they know how much you care.”
  3. Active Listening: In my research of meaning making, followers listed active listening above the mean of other areas in discussing what they need from their leaders. Surprisingly, none of the leaders mentioned active listening, which suggests that this very important element is often overlooked. Followers at all levels, including students in the classroom need to feel they are heard. Listening to others creates a space for others to listen to you. If you want be heard, you have to start with listening.

I happen to agree with Kai-Fu Lee, American education is the best in the world, and the best chance we have of creating deeply meaningful and engaging learning environments starts by getting in touch with the magic that Mr. Lee mentioned. Create an environment of trust, show that you care, and use active listening to deepen your ability to engage, inspire, and connect with others. Mr. Lee’s magic is the same magic found in meaning. Meaning-Centered Leadership begins with these three essential elements that build relationships and allow for an environment of deep engagement to take place.