Engaging Schools has evolved significantly since it was founded as Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR) in 1982. Educators created the organization in response to a heightened national concern about the threat of nuclear war — and a parallel concern about whether and how children were learning to resolve differences. Originally founded as a membership organization, ESR was dedicated to helping young people develop the skills and convictions to shape a more peaceful, just, and democratic world. Programs and resources focused on teaching children skills such as critical thinking, perspective-taking, and cooperative learning. They also provided opportunities for young people to experience democratic participation and take action to make a positive difference in the world.

During the 1990s, ESR became a national leader in what came to be called social and emotional learning. ESR disseminated the widely acclaimed Resolving Conflict Creatively Program to schools nationwide and the Adventures in Peacemaking Program to afterschool and early childhood centers across the country. These programs responded to problems such as youth violence, prejudice, and discrimination by teaching skills in conflict resolution and intergroup relations. ESR also collaborated with educators in countries across the world, including the Soviet Union, Poland, Israel, Japan, and Brazil.

Rooted in its concern about social justice, ESR expanded its work during the early 2000s to help address educational inequity. The organization focused on middle and high schools, where an approach that integrated academic, social, and emotional learning was most sorely needed. ESR collaborated with districts and schools to create personalized, high-performing learning communities, and the organization became a leader in efforts to create smaller learning communities. ESR services and resources addressed climate, culture, and discipline; teaching and learning; and youth development.

Through its most recent iteration, the organization identified engaging schools as the central organizing idea behind its work today — and thus in 2014 Educators for Social Responsibility became Engaging Schools.

Over the course of its more than 35-year history, Engaging Schools has published more than 40 educational resources, collaborated with several thousand schools, reached hundreds of thousands of teachers through professional development and resources, and touched the lives of millions of students.