Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Sharon Zumbrunn

Second Advisor

Dr. Christine Bae

Third Advisor

Dr. Kate Cassada

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Jesse Senechal


Over the past twenty years, an increasing amount of research has been devoted to the study of student engagement within the field of educational psychology. This led to a growing body of research touting the benefits of engaged learning—from increased student achievement to more positive school experiences for learners. However, the literature is characterized by competing theoretical frameworks and multiple definitions of the construct of student engagement. Additionally, few works seek to capitalized on the expertise of classroom teachers to hone and develop what is known about engagement from the theoretical perspective.

The current study used qualitative methodology to observe and interview master teachers, as defined by their designation as a National Board Certified Teachers, to learn how expert teachers define student engagement and how these conceptualizations match up to current theoretical frameworks. It also examined the sources for their professional knowledge of student engagement.

The individual teachers defined student engagement through the presence of interest, engaged behaviors, social interaction, real world connections, strategic thinking, and positive student-teacher rapport. As a group, their answers support a four-dimensional construction of student engagement including affective, behavioral, cognitive and social engagement, which aligns well with one of the major theories of engagement within educational psychology. These teachers’ beliefs include an emphasis on real world connections to learning within cognitive engagement, and student-teacher rapport within social engagement that has yet to be explored deeply in the literature.

Teachers identified multiple sources for this knowledge including experience, peer interactions, the NBCT process, and guidance from school leaders. While some noted formal professional education as a source, they saw classroom experience reflective and embedded professional development as more formative. This work shows these master teachers arrived independently at constructions for student engagement close to those proposed by the research community. It supports a meta-construct of student engagement that includes affective, behavioral, cognitive and social processes, and calls for greater theoretical advocacy within the study of engagement to help more teachers fully conceptualize student engagement without the need for trial-and-error learning and extensive classroom experience.


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