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Motivational interviewing: Step one Engaging

door Ruzica Madzarevic
Taal: EN


This is one of the texts in the series Motivational interviewing. We described the motivational interview (MI) and the main process of the MI conversation. If you want to learn more about it start from book Motivational interviewing in schools* which is also the main resource for these blog posts.


This one is focused on the first step – engaging.


Engaging is a process of actively establishing a connection and a helpful working relationship with a student. It is demonstrating collaboration through questions, comments and the general tone of the conversation from the beginning to the end.


It looks like engaging requires a lot of time, but it may be achieved rather quick if we pay attention to the question and how we asked them. Having in mind that this step is the foundation for the next ones, these skills are there to be used through the whole conversation. Even more, those skills are core skills for the whole process.



We are forming the positive relationship with a student when we show that we want to understand their world and problem and step aside from judging (for example: Oh, that was a huge mistake. When you were thinking to learn that). Nonverbal clues are an important part of this process because they should demonstrate a neutral position not to remind our students of mom and dad yelling at them for breaking the vase. Also, sometimes we can feel deeply their problems and we feel sympathy toward them. But, keep in mind sympathy is not what we want, and more about that is explained in this video.


Open questions

If we want to demonstrate that we want to understand someone we need to make sure that we really understand what they mean when they say something. Therefore, it is important to ask questions that we help both of us to paint that picture, for example: What is difficult with this subject? What are the cons of staying in school? Open questions are all the questions where the answer is not simple yes or no.



We affirm something when in the first minutes of the conversation we want to highlight something positive about student and to share that with them, for example, I notice that you want to learn; I know you want to help your family. Affirming helps us to rediscover what are the strengths, as it is said in the book: Affirming is like shining a light on something positive in the student.



Reflection is a technique borrowed from counseling practice- we rephrase, reframe some content and add a little bit of the new information. For example, if we student biting nails while talk we may say I notice that you bite your nails, aren’t you maybe nervous. Or when someone is telling some story with the shaky voice we may say- It sounds like it may be scary for you. It is important to leave a student a space to turn down proposed content, and we will talk about this technique more in the next texts. Sometimes in reflection, our feeling may be important, and we may use questions like this to explore the situation: How comfortable is this person talking to me? How supportive and helpful am I being? Do I understand this person’s perspectives and concerns? How comfortable do I feel in this conversation?




Summarizing is bringing together the most important points in the conversation. It is the most important for focusing, but it has a significant role in the first step since it shows that we listen carefully. For example:

Teacher: Kathy, I want to summarize what’s been said so you can make sure I understand you, and then we’ll think about where to go next, OK? You saw me and took a chance, which took courage. You told me the story, how you are feeling, and how you would like to find friends that don’t behave like that. Have I missed anything? *


While you were reading this, you may think that this is something that you already use with your students and that these techniques overlap. What is important for us as practitioners are to be aware of when and what we are using so that we can supervise our own work. When we follow some process as MI we can achieve that. For more details about MI follow our next texts.  



*Example from the book, Rollnick, S., Kaplan, S. G., & Rutschman, R. (2016). Applications of motivational interviewing. Motivational interviewing in schools: Conversations to improve behavior and learning. New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.

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