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Motivating Students / Ourselves

In a recent conversation with a couple of friends, who are educators, the topic of motivation came up.

There were a variety of factors discussed including parental involvement and changing expectations in regard to behavior, attention, productivity and discipline. Although I empathize completely with the educator who is on the front lines, teaching everyday in a classroom setting and I understand the fatigue that can set in when you are not being supported by administrators and parents, I still believe that the quality of the learning experience is ultimately in the hands of the student and teacher.

If the teacher gets frustrated, there isn’t much hope left for the students. Even if it seems like a super human feat, the teacher must always remain above the fray, hopeful, confident, curious and relentless. The application and relevance of the learned material must be explained, demonstrated and celebrated in order for any student to care (beyond the highly motivated people pleaser, who wants a good grade and then will forget the topic). If you were given a bicycle and were never shown how to ride it or given the opportunity to take it outside and try it out, you would quickly lose interest. What happens when you are asked to learn something and the “why” is never explained?

What is being learned must be pleasing and exciting on some level as the teacher shows and the student imagines how they will apply this new knowledge or skill to some endeavor. Aside from the most altruistic person, most of us are driven by our own needs and pleasure. The real challenge in education is in connecting the topic to that need in the student. How can this new skill or knowledge be applied in your upcoming soccer game, in your summer job or in building a treehouse or a website?

Please don’t get me wrong here. I know that many or most teachers are doing their very best to reach students today. Let’s not kid ourselves though. Teaching has always been and will always be very challenging and very satisfying. At one time, students walked 10 miles each way after waking up to milk the cows and doing errands and were exhausted before they got to school. Some other students arrived hungry (still do) and have a rough home life. Cell phones, the internet and attention spans are real factors in teaching today, but as always, we need to meet the students where they are and bring them to where they need to be (or at least show them the possibilities)!

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