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I definitely do not have all the answers when it comes to motivating students but I do know that a "one size fits all approach" will not work. We cannot continue to try to motivate all of our students in the same way and expect the desired results.
As I was reflecting on motivation before writing this post, I thought about what motivates me. Affirmation is very motivational for me. In other words, a "great job" from my principal, pat on the back from a colleague, or encouraging words from my PLN are the things that keep me going. However, negative words or attitudes do not motivate at all. In fact, if I feel like I have let someone down, done something wrong, or failed in a way that was disappointing to someone, I tend to shut down. While there are exceptions, I would say that the majority of the time, negativity does not result in motivation for me.
I can't help but wonder if this is the case for many of our students. As teachers, we often try to motivate students by dishing out negative consequences. We hope that by giving the students such consequences, they will learn from that experience and change their behavior. However, I can't help but notice that it's the same students that are missing recess, receiving zeros, and visiting the office each day. Can't we assume that if the behavior isn't changing, it's not working?
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Students are different. They are not going to be motivated in the same way and some students may require more motivation than others. While intrinsic motivation is the goal, it's unrealistic to expect all students to be intrinsically motivated 100% of the time. As teachers, it's our job to not only ask questions and guide student learning, but we should also consider the motivational strategies in our classrooms.
When we get to know our students, their interests, and their dreams, we are better able to motivate them to do what they need to do reach their goals. If they realize that we genuinely care about them and their story, they begin to trust us. They begin to realize that we are all working together to reach one goal...success.
That success might be different for each student. While success for one student might be making a high score on the next test, success for another might simply be completing an assignment and getting it turned in. Again, a one size fits all approach will not work with today's students. They come from such a variety of backgrounds, homes, and families, it is imperative that we make it a priority to know them well enough to find what motivates them.
I write this post simply to encourage us all, as teachers, to consider or reconsider the motivation strategies that we are using in our classrooms. If our ultimate goal is to engage and motivate our students, shouldn't the motivation be meaningful? Shouldn't motivation encourage students rather than discourage them? Taking the time to know and understand our students gives us the opportunity to find what intrinsically motivates them. In doing so, students gain an understanding of themselves and are able to understand what does and does not work for them.