One of the most difficult and important aspects of being an educator is learning how to motivate your students. Students who are not motivated will not learn effectively. They might go through the motions, but they won’t retain the information or participate and some may even display unwanted behaviors. The question is not whether we need to motivate students, but how? While there is no perfect formula, below are a few tips to start on the right track:
1. Greet Students and Celebrate Them Visually
Have you ever walked into a room and felt like you were in awe of the detail and care put into the environment? How did it feel to exist in such a place? Now, I realize we can’t all turn our classrooms into the next architectural masterpiece, but we can take steps to ensure our students feel just as special arriving to class each day. I remember in kindergarten, and even in the second grade, my teachers greeting me with warmth and sincerity. Some might say it was only a handshake, but for me, it was an invitation to enter a room that felt different from where I had been. When I looked around the classroom it was decorated with numbers and words that were blanketed by warm colors. There was a festival of work completed by my classmates and though I struggled in math, my effort still earned me a place in this celebration. It was easy for me to work hard when I felt so comfortable in the classroom. Part of motivating students is thinking about how we invite them into an environment where they simply feel comfortable enough to try their best. While it’s only a minor step in a much larger process, greeting your student’s upon entry, using relevant decorations that ignite awe, and celebrating student work and effort are steps in the right direction.
2. Prime Motivation
When was the last time you truly wondered about something fascinating or unknown? If you’re a seven-year-old, it was probably only a few moments ago. Wonder is one of the most beautiful parts of childhood. Oxford dictionary describes wonder as a feeling of surprise and admiration that you have when you see or even experience something beautiful, unusual, or unexpected. If we apply the concept of wonder to learning, imagine the possibilities for framing content in a way that excites the curious minds of children. This comes from intentionally delivering lessons with a crafted and curious tone. It also comes from rooting lessons in questions and discovery. Stories are often less exciting when you know the end from the beginning and lessons are too. As you work to infuse wonder in your classroom, ask your students questions in a tone that creates curiosity, not anxiety. When wonder is applied to learning, mistakes, or even wrong answers, lead to unexpected challenges and unexpected challenges develop a wider repertoire of strategies to overcome those challenges. When this happens, students not only develop intrinsic motivation for discovering new things, but also develop critical thinking skills that make them more independent learners and problem-solvers in the future. Essentially, grit and determination are created through the wonder of learning in an environment where effort equates to growth.
3. Empathize and Build Trust
Do you know your students? No, I don’t mean their names. I mean, do you know who they are as people? Do you know their favorite TV shows? The shoes that make them feel special? Where they do their homework at night? Their interests outside of school? Students are motivated by people who know them. This can include their likes, dislikes and how they want to be treated by the adults in their life. You may be thinking to yourself, the school year has already started, is it too late to build these relationships? The answer is no, not at all. Coming back from a long break or even starting a new unit is a great time to get to know your students better. There are many ways to get started. Designing lessons that activate students’ interests or starting with a questionnaire are just a few. In a questionnaire, for example, you can provide five questions or more, then decide on a time to review. You use this a choice time activity at the end of the day before you dismiss. Then, you can attend a lunch session or have a group lunch that provides you the opportunity to follow up with students on their interests. This process creates a sense of understanding and aligns students and teachers as partners in education. I know I would want to learn from someone who knows me and empathizes with who I am as a person.
4. Be Consistent
Let’s be honest, intrinsic motivation will only develop in your classroom if you are consistent in your practice. The tips mentioned above are only a sample of the methods that can be used to motivate students. Pace yourself when rolling out new strategies for building motivation in your classroom so that you can maintain strategies over time. Ultimately, consistency is key to developing the trusting relationships we’ve described above. Inconsistency can unfortunately convey insincerity, resulting in even your best intentions having a negative effect in your classroom.
To summarize, scholars can succeed if they learn in an environment where mistakes lead to understanding, learning satisfies a child’s need to wonder about the world around them, and effort is celebrated as it leads to growth. Again, there is no perfect formula, but these tips can help you to understand the variables needed to motivate your students at any point in the school year.
This post was contributed by Mr, Andre Harris, a Dean of Students at Classical Charter Schools. As a non-CMO charter network, we rely on the thoughts, opinions, and innovations of our staff to move our mission forward and provide an excellent academic option to families in the South Bronx. To hear more from our staff, check out the next post! Or, click here to learn more.