By Umair Qureshi
Educators often discuss student motivation and try to come up with different ways to motivate. Strong educational and instructional leaders continuously change their strategies to fit different age groups and learner profiles. Factors like culture, social background, classroom atmosphere, and the degree of support have always played a pivotal role in students’ motivation to engage in the learning process.
Here are some questions teachers can use to reflect on motivation—both their own and their students’.
- Am I motivated for this specific concept/topic/content?
Many teachers are very energetic and passionate about teaching certain topics. But there are some content areas for which energy levels are not that high. The difference between “well planned” and “just planned” helps to distinguish between “self-motivation” (motivated due to interest) and “forced motivation” (motivated due to mandate). With forced motivation, teachers are focused on superficial knowledge rather than going in depth of taught content. The superficial coverage loses the focus and learning becomes a burden than a joyful activity When teachers are self-motivated and love a specific topic, the positive vibes are received by their students. Their level of planning and selection of instructional tools and activities reflect their passion to engage and keep students hooked on learning.
Motivation comes from the heart and reaches the core of the brain to inspire in-depth learning. If teachers are not greatly motivated by certain topics or learning outcomes, they need to re-plan and search for new ways to learn and re-learn the same topic. Knowing the content in depth first by yourself is the key to teach passionately and promotes motivated learning. They should seek support and collaboration from PLCs. School leaders can ask teachers of the same subject to sit down together and run some suitable protocol to list their favorite topics.
- Do I acknowledge little efforts and not just final outcomes?
For teachers, the big feather in the cap is not only the final outcomes but also the little efforts as well. A strong teacher acknowledges all little efforts regardless of whether they are failures or successes. Students are motivated when little efforts are acknowledged. A teacher needs to be specific when acknowledging students efforts. Just using the words “good,” “great,” or “excellent” won’t suffice. Teachers must sit with students and learn how they learn. They should be critical but not judgmental. Some feedback questions can boost thinking and engagement if asked individually (e.g., “You did very well, but what if you did it in this way?”). Sometimes, teachers may need to dramatize the situation and show some astonishment (e.g., “Wow, this is a new idea—I had never thought of that before!”). Such feedback gives the student a sense of achievement. Students might forget some of the subject matter as they grow up, but they always remember when their teacher acknowledged and encouraged them publically.
- Do I Encourage challenging questions and appreciate efforts?
No matter how motivated teachers are to teach certain content, if the content doesn’t apply to real life, they should rethink their approach. Strong metaphors and real-world examples help to nurture learning. Following “If plan ‘A’ fails still there are still many other letters” ensures differentiation and individualized learning based on equity. Burning the picture in memory needs intense moments and intense moment’s popup, when students are provoked to question by throwing some resonating statement. Once in my class when I had to start energy mass relationships, I threw a sentence “We actually never got birth; and we will never die” buzzed everyone and I felt the positive vibes. Their questioning, reasoning, and arguments were never ending. Tease and buzz them, so that intense buzzing moments burn on their memories and lead to lifelong learning.
An inspiring teacher teaches less and becomes part of the whole learning group to start the journey of guided discovery. Such teachers set small learning objectives, appreciate the ones who reach earlier to conclusion and keep on tapping the shoulders to encourage those who are trying. For such teachers making mistakes and giving wrong answers is a part of journey and they acknowledge when a student makes a mistake but tries to move forward. With such teachers the learning is a joyful activity and motivation level of every student is noticeable.
- Do I reflect on what happened today?
Don’t worry about the final outcome; focus on making sure the journey is exciting and engaging. At the end of the day, try to answer the following questions:
- When did students get excited?
- When were students just OK?
- When were students looking at me with their brains turned off?
- When were students in “look busy and do nothing” mode?
- What went wrong and why?
Every innovative teacher reflects on mind-boggling moments and tries to maximize aha moments. By intelligently selecting project ideas and brainstorming and discussing with peers, teachers can polish their practices and approaches.
- Is this the end?
Progressive, motivating teachers are always thinking about new ways to teach the same content. They use guided discovery, challenge misconceptions with questions, develop strong peer relationships, and reflect on their practices.
School leaders play an important role in providing a culture of motivational and engaged learning. In this era of mandates, leaders need to be more flexible and support teachers and their innovative ideas. This helps teachers be open to discussions, mutual learning, and growing as a team. It keeps them motivated. When the teachers are motivated, no one can stop their engaged lifelong learning.
Umair Qureshi is member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015. Qureshi is the founder and CEO of Islamabad ASCD Connected Community and is known for his expertise in instructional methods and leadership roles. Connect with him on Twitter @UmairSQureshi.