by Katherine Reilly – Teacher Trainer and Author
It’s common knowledge that the responsibilities of a teacher, both in and out of class are not only numerous but require a great deal of effort to fulfill. Correcting papers, preparing next day’s lesson and the most important of all, supporting your students.
Now, ‘support’ can be interpreted in multiple ways. Encouraging your students when they have a bad day, establishing ourselves as emotional pillars when they feel discouraged and most importantly… motivating them to acknowledge and reach their true potential. However, one would wonder, is this feasible, especially during these troubling times we are all going through?
Let’s take things one step at a time. We must first ask ourselves, what is ‘Motivation’?
Motivation is a reason for action, willingness and goals. It is derived from the word ‘motive’, or a need that requires satisfaction. These needs, wants or desires may be acquired through influence of culture, society, lifestyle, or may be generally innate. An individual’s motivation may be inspired by outside forces (extrinsic motivation) or by themselves (intrinsic motivation). Motivation has been considered one of the most important reasons to move forward and as we have come to understand, students nowadays lack intrinsic motivation, thus rendering this responsibility a task that falls solely on our shoulders.
But where should we start? Look at yourself in the mirror and take a guess. If we ourselves are not motivated, how do we expect our students to be so as well? It’s amazing how children can sense our anxiety, anguish and disappointment. Nonetheless it’s up to us to be genuinely invested in our lesson. I’m not saying you should pretend to be happy, especially during these stressful times of the pandemic, however, our students will acknowledge our efforts and in turn reciprocate.
Having said this, we must now focus our attention on our students. What is the best way to motivate them? Bear in mind that what works for one student, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for another. Not only that, but interests differ form one generation to the next. Social Media, culture, games, hobbies to name a few, are constantly evolving and admittedly quite difficult to keep up with.
The best approach to establishing a connection would be to ask them directly. What are they interested in? What kind of music? Who are their favorite celebrities? What’s going on in sports? But most important of all… “WHAT WOULD THEY LIKE TO LEARN?”
The next criteria to take into consideration is the type of student we are to focus on. It is unacceptable to ‘categorize’ students. However, in this case we will make an exception. By doing so, educators are enabled to take a specific approach in assisting them. Based on the student’s mental state, self-confidence and potential, educators will analyze and adapt motivational approaches specifically tailored to the child’s needs.
Types of students
Let’s start off with ‘weak’ students. A term highly illogical and insulting. The term ‘weak’ was established and unfortunately still used by teachers today. If a student tries hard but often fails, he is considered weak and in many cases, ignored and abandoned in class. Teachers should pinpoint their strong points, enhance them, put them to good use. A creative student might be good at drawing but may lack either the vocal or written capacity to express himself. In cases like these, the educator should focus on supporting and encouraging him, as well as assigning the aforementioned student with tasks more suitable to his skills.
Another type of student who shares many common attributes to the one mentioned above is the ‘indifferent’ or ‘naughty’ student. Has it ever occurred to any of us that their inability to comprehend our lessons makes them feel ashamed? They mostly hide their shame by ignoring us or in many cases resorting to acts of mischief to hide their inability to keep up with the others. These students lack inspiration and we must in a similar fashion, discover their potential and help them shine in class.
How about the meticulous students? Yes, you heard right. I am most certainly referring to the ones that earn and of course deserve their straight A’s. The question though that we must all be pondering is, do they study to develop their skills and reach their true potential, or do they do so to please others? These students are eager and willing to learn but usually miss the point of school and believe their only goal is to please their parents. We should make them wonder, what are they really learning and to what end?
Having focused on the mentality and reactions of our students to our lesson, it is now time to look into motivational approaches which we will use to instill confidence in them.
Most of our students look up to us for approval. They often doubt themselves and have low self-esteem. Encouraging their efforts, even if they are flawed, will motivate them to try again. Many a time, we might correct a paper and focus on the myriad of mistakes we encounter. Not all papers though should be judged solely by this. There is always merit to be offered for even the most flawed of assignments. It is up to us to distinguish potential and efforts which deem praise.
I can’t think of any individual, adult or adolescent that would disregard praise or recognition. Our efforts deserve acclamation and in students’ case, a commendation. Inspire them with a recognition award, praise their efforts and even hold a small celebration. Focus on specific accomplishments of the month, ranging from participation to writing efforts. These moments of praise and recognition will not only motivate a student but will have an ever-lasting impact on his psyche in the long run.
Motivation does not only come in the form of words. It is also cultivated through tasks and assignments. A project which may be of interest to a student may become a catalyst of motivation. The research required, collaboration with peers and of course the knowledge gained will act as a stimulus and ignite the student’s thirst for development and knowledge.
Sense of Control
Class responsibilities can help a student go a long way when assigned systematically. The sense of trust, and the need to fulfill one’s duties are a perfect manifestation of motivation. A simple ‘thank you’ or a ‘well done’ we bestow upon them will make a huge difference in the way they interpret their role in class, not only as students but also as independent individuals. The acknowledgment of successfully completing an assigned task, will reinforce their outlook of their capabilities and encourage them to outperform themselves.
Change of Scenery
Tired of the same tedious, dreary walls of your classroom? It’s time for some redecorating! Take advantage of the season. Decorate your walls with items that compliment the period of the year and improve everyone’s mood. Why not hang a few of your students’ projects on the wall? Make sure you’ve praised their efforts by having your comments clearly visible on each on. Classmates and even students from other classes will take notice and praise each others’ efforts. Displaying their accomplishments is a form of gratitude, commendation and of course the perfect recipe to keep them hyped for the next lesson.
Imagine your students’ reaction upon meeting a firefighter or a police officer. How about a singer or a newspaper editor? The potential of having your students interact with a professional of any trade has numerous benefits. As part of a globalized community, it’s not that hard to find someone who can visit your class and share his experience with your students. It will not only spark their interest but it is also a refreshing getaway from their everyday routine and can open their eyes to new potential professional opportunities.
Our New Reality
It would be a mistake not to delve into the present circumstances which have reshaped our lives. The global pandemic has presented us all with challenges that should be dealt with. It is without a doubt, that one of the greatest challenges all of us face, is to find the motivation to carry on. Thanks to technology, we are to a certain degree able to establish a virtual classroom with our students. How successful this ‘convenience’ is, has generated a great deal of heated debate. Regardless, in an ideal situation with no connectivity issues and exceptional streaming, motivation has become and even greater challenge for educators to inspire.
The pandemic has adversely affected our students both academically and socially. The stress and anxiety they experience is of great concern. Their frustrations are sound, as they rightfully feel deprived of their everyday routines and are indifferent, as they see a bleak future ahead of them.
The advice mentioned above can still be implemented here. Group projects, presentations, open conversations, are but a few strategies to motivate them. This however, in many cases has proven insufficient and we find our students’ cameras turned off, showing no regard for their lesson. Is compassion and understanding, enough to lift their spirits, or are we as teachers sentenced to teaching a blank screen?
We must all bear in mind that there are many issues that have not even crossed our minds when having online lessons with our students. Has it ever occurred to you that they have no privacy at home? That maybe a parent is over their shoulder judging and in many cases reprimanding them? This lack of comfort can in no way contribute to a positive learning environment, not to mention the child’s psyche.
Other instances include shame of revealing their living quarters as not all students are well off and in many cases, experiencing poverty. Students who share their private space with siblings are also placed in a position of discomfort. Embarrassment can be triggered in many ways.
What’s the Best Approach?
While no specific approach is a guarantee, some tried methods which have produced fruit include sharing your own thoughts on the matter; how you yourself feel before turning on your camera, as we are all going through the same feelings. Be empathetic. Dedicate time from your lesson to connect with your students. Listen to them, offer comfort when needed and assure them that it’s logical to experience negative emotions. Have frequent breaks and set lesson goals.
The most honest approach I had implemented which literally came from the heart, was to ask them to turn on their cameras before the end of the lesson, to say goodbye. No matter how improbable this might sound, they will comply and slowly readjust themselves to social interacting instead of hiding behind a blank screen. Their fear must be respected and in turn, conquered. You just have to be a little patient until you get through to them.
We must all acknowledge that humanity has faced numerous challenges and this is yet another; a devastating one which we will successfully overcome. Motivation is something society now lacks but it is up to us to reignite it, not only for ourselves, but for our children’s sake.