Introduction: Towards Optimal Learning Environments in Schools

  • David J. Shernoff
Part of the Advancing Responsible Adolescent Development book series (ARAD)


This chapter provides an introduction to the topic of engaging youth in schools, detailing how and why policy makers and educational reformers widely consider engagement to be at the heart of meaningful school reform and innovative programming for youth. An alarming high school dropout rate, as well as national and international surveys, testifies to pervasive disengagement in schools; meanwhile, trends of increasing depression and obesity draw attention to concerns over the well-being of youth. A historical analysis presented in this chapter suggests that schools were not modeled after how individuals learn or develop but were rather modeled after hierarchical centralization at the confluence of the industrial revolution and urbanization in the US Engagement, operationally defined throughout much of this book as heightened, simultaneous concentration, interest, and enjoyment, serves as a lens through which both positive school outcomes and psychosocial well-being are examined. This book focuses on optimal learning environments, or environments empirically demonstrated to engage youth. In Chaps. 2-5 of this book, classroom and individual factors that influence students’ engagement in American public schools are identified. In Chaps 6-9, we consider the “how” (how students become engaged and how teachers engage students), “who” (to whom students are engaged and the importance of relationships), and “what” (to what students are engaged or the contents of students’ engagement) of engagement. In Chaps. 10-14, several optimal contexts for positive engagement, as supported empirically, are described in depth, providing models of innovative school, after-school, and community programming for youth.


Positive Emotion Student Engagement Positive Psychology Positive Youth Development School Engagement 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • David J. Shernoff
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations College of EducationNorthern Illinois UniversityDeKalbUSA

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