“Motivation—where can I buy some?”
“They never seem to reach their full potential. Just one time I wish they would all give 100 percent.”
“This year’s class has so much talent, but we’re having an attitude problem!”
Sound familiar? Ever made any of the above statements to your colleagues? To your spouse? To yourself? It really doesn’t make a whole lot of difference if a group is blessed with oceans of talent if they are not motivated to actualize it. Even the best student can be a detriment to the class if his or her attitude is negative, causing a cooperation/ communication barrier.
The truth is: we cannot give students motivation. (Most of us have to muster up our finest efforts just to create our own supply!) What we can do is set the example and point out “thinking habits” that serve as a basis for having a positive attitude. As a result, people can choose to be motivated.
“People behave according to how they feel, not what they know.” Psychologists have told us this for years, yet many people continue to ignore this reality. When students “feel good” about themselves, they perform accordingly.
(Unfortunately, the inverse of this “law” is also true: low self-esteem produces mediocre-to-poor results.) In our haste to be outstanding educators, we may have overlooked one of the “key” ingredients: creating a “good feeling” in the classroom.
Take a brief moment and remove yourself as “the teacher” of your group. Recreate yourself as a “new student” getting ready to spend your first day in “your” class. Now walk into the room. How does it make you feel? Does the room give a feeling of warmth and care? Do you feel as though you are in an environment that asks for and supports your finest effort? Do you and your fellow students sense that it is a place where you want to invest your time and energy?
Be careful not to confuse “neatness” with a “caring atmosphere.” We have all been in rooms that were so organized and clean they felt sterile. At the same time, there is a lot to be said for the security we all feel in “organization.” Entering a room that looks like the latest cyclone disaster is not good. In other words, part of a positive attitude can be handled by “setting the stage.” The environment must be conducive to promote and exemplify your goals!
What is acceptable behaviour in the classroom? We are all creatures of habit. Whatever actions we see around us, we tend to become: language, topics, focus, physical behavior, and yes, even attitude! We all reflect our environment. Therefore, if it is acceptable to throw things around the room, then it is obviously all right to destroy furniture, scar the walls, graffiti the rooms, and use the teacher’s room as a public dump. When energy is not focused, the options are limitless! Do we motivate to support “pride” or simply threaten to insure survival?
How is your attitude as you look through your new set of student eyes? Do you feel you are wanted? Do you feel you can really make a difference? What will be the reward for your attention and effort?
How about the actual class? Did you learn anything? Was there an experience that made you feel good about yourself? Was there a feeling of cooperation and commonality with the other students? Did an attitude of “we/us” prevail as opposed to a selfish “I/me” attitude? Did you really “get into it” or were you just “hanging out” until the class was done?
When we allow ourselves the opportunity to mentally experience being in a group, solutions to the various motivational attitude problems become clear. In many cases, the problems really can be defined and, in turn, lead you to the solutions. It is difficult to find a solution when the problem isn’t clear!
Only teachers who really want the motivation of the group to be high will go through this sometimes-painful process. It is a matter of self-evaluation that is threatening to anyone who is insecure. Those people who don’t want to meet the challenge simply “blame” the circumstances and spend fruitless energy defending the fact that their students “simply aren’t motivated.”
For most students, it’s not a case of being unmotivated. Everyone is motivated. It’s more a case of being motivated to put the energies where they will pay off. What is the payoff for extra study? The trouble is that the rewards we can offer are intangible: pride, self-esteem, integrity, expression, family, care, serving, and sharing. Our value system doesn’t always recognize these rewards. In this day and age of instant gratification, we must compete with sports cars, fashionable clothes, MTV, and that frightening peer pressure. With that in mind, we quickly see that part of the task at hand is the education of the value of intangible rewards. When we don’t “live” with these values in our own lives, we quickly forget them. Our own energy becomes misdirected, and the “I/me” philosophy takes over once again. “If you show me how happy a motivated/positive person is, I just might try it myself!” That could be a great payoff. It would motivate me!
Motivation comes either from fear or desire. More than likely, you are passing your own motivational source onto your students. We all know fear will work and is very effective for immediate results. It is also something that prepares us for traumatic experiences we will face in life. However, students who work under constant fear tend to study “in spite of” instead of “as a result of.” Use fear motivation with great caution!
Desire, on the other hand, tends to remove “set limits.” Through this, we open up a whole new level of personal creativity and all the benefits that come from being creative: self-expression, feelings of contribution, personal pride, high self-esteem, etc. “Motivation by desire” promotes the exact qualities that we are offering as a payoff for the student’s commitment to the class. Two plus two equals four!
Now let’s go back to those original statements and see if we can come to some conclusions.
1. You don’t need to buy any motivation: you’ve got all you could possibly want. It’s just a matter of getting it focused in the direction that will produce excellence.
2. The art of focus is never complete: it is ongoing. One must be on the lookout at all times to find one more place to gain momentum. The worst thing to do is ignore it. Stay on it!
3. To get 100 percent effort from any group, it is necessary to make people feel good about themselves. To expect several (sometimes hundreds) of students all to have a “joyous day” at the same time so they will do well on a test is like betting against Murphy’s Law. Hoping the good feelings will just happen is simply not a good use of hope. Be aware that society is bombarded with negatives, from television to our own educational system. We have learned to survive on what not to do. Therefore, a major part of our teaching should include methods and processes that create good feelings––yes, even for ourselves. We should feel good about our work. When you feel good, you give 100 percent.
We all have great potential, and we all have attitude problems. The most effective cure for a negative attitude is to create some kind of action; not only does it stimulate motion, but it also consumes the time that might be directed toward thinking about “how bad things are.”
Potential that is not actualized cannot serve others; it cannot create action. It is like having money in the bank but no way to withdraw it. When any group becomes dormant, it is a certainty that there is some kind of attitude problem. Without action to offset the attitude problem, it will continue and usually get worse.
The formula is simple. Action causes motivation, which can create and actualize potential. Don’t react: act!
Observe outstanding organizations, and notice the common factors of success: busy schedules, constant preparation, a desire to refine and make things better, intensity in all facets of the operation, enthusiasm at all levels, a sense of “family” and group purpose, lots of action, lots of communication, even controversy, high levels of productivity, people who care!
Motivation is an exciting and necessary part of any classroom: it is the “oil that runs the machine of progress and growth.” Motivation is our greatest natural resource and the supply is endless. More important, this wealth is available to everyone.
The key to bringing this quality to the forefront is within each of us, and it involves a constant search for and belief in our own abilities. Not to accept this responsibility is a major violation of our right to live a happy and productive life. Our students deserve to see us at our best.
It’s time to create a little action!
This article is adapted from the book “Everyday Wisdom for Inspired Teaching” by GIA Publications, and reproduced with permission from Tim Lautzenheiser.