How to engage in school?

Event start date
Event start time

Virta building, auditorium 109, address: Åkerlundinkatu 5.

Sanna Ulmanen

Doctoral defence of M.A. (Educ.) Sanna Ulmanen

Miten kiinnittyä kouluun? Oppilaiden näkökulma koulutyöhön kiinnittymisen haasteisiin (How to engage in school? Students’ perspective on the challenges of school engagement)

The field of science of the dissertation is Education.

The opponent is professor Kristiina Kumpulainen (University of Helsinki). Research Director Tiina Soini acts as the custos.

The language of the dissertation defence is Finnish.

How to engage in school?

Students’ relations with teachers and peers are a significant resource of students’ engagement in schoolwork. However, these relationships do not always promote students’ meaningful engagement. Maintaining functional relationships and engaging in schoolwork is highly challenging for students. Moreover it requires strategic flexibility suggests the dissertation exploring the development of students’ academic engagement is explored.

Engagement in school has a significant effect on young peoples’ future orientations and overall development in adolescence. Strong school engagement enhances students’ sense of self-worth and experienced well-being. In turn, disengagement impairs students’ school performances and increases the risk of loneliness and long-term emotional and behavioural difficulties. In this dissertation, students’ experiences of the school’s social environment as a context for the construction of academic engagement are explored. Two cohorts of students were included in the study: i) students at the end of primary school (n=79) and ii) students at the beginning of secondary school (n=91). The data were collected through picture tasks, group interviews, and surveys.

The results suggest that the social environment of schools does not always promote, but rather challenges, the development of positive school-related emotions and the valuing of schoolwork. A central challenge is, that peer group’s attitudes and values towards schoolwork often conflict with academic goals. In fact, fitting in with the peer group is so important in adolescence that it may risk engagement in schoolwork if these two collide. The results of the study emphasizes teachers role in the construction of students’ academic engagement. The students’ experiences of fair and respectful treatment from teachers form the foundation of the development of students’ positive school orientation. The results suggest that teachers’ way to treat students have an effect also on the quality of students’ peer relations: If students feel personally accepted, respected, and supported by the teachers, they more probably feel high sense of belonging also in peer relations.

The results challenge teachers and others involved in school improvement to develop school’s social environment that promotes both students’ academic and social goals. Particular effort should be put on creating a school environment where students would not have to choose between schoolwork and peers. It would require modifying and directing positive and supporting interaction among peers and using it as a resource of school-related goals much more consciously.


The dissertation is published in the publication series of Acta Universitatis Tamperensis; 2289, Tampere University Press, Tampere 2017. The dissertation is also published in the e-series Acta Electronica Universitatis Tamperensis; 1792, Tampere University Press 2017.

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