Motivating Students

Motivating Students

At an elementary school training, a teacher asked me about strategies for a student who has no motivation.  He refuses to do any work at all and she has tried numerous strategies already.  “I’ve tried everything and nothing works,” she said.  As a school counselor for 20 years, I often heard similar concerns.

I understand the frustrating and difficult job of teaching students in today’s society.  Many students come to the classroom with little preparation in the way of academic skills, positive encouragement or mental preparedness.  I also understand from talking with teachers in the classroom this year, that after a year of Covid concerns and virtual learning at home, kids are less prepared and motivated than ever.

However, I often think that we begin at the wrong end of the continuum in our attempts to change behavior.  We begin with rewards and consequences.  We test for deficits and disabilities.  What if instead we began teaching and regularly encouraging a growth mindset?  What if we believed in the effectiveness of a growth mindset ourselves?

What is a growth mindset? Carol Dweck in her groundbreaking work, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success defined it this way: The growth mindset is one where a student believes that their personality, intelligence, ability or skill is changeable and with focused effort and training they can change the outcome.

What if you set the stage every day for a growth mindset and success?

What would it look like?

Begin with  brain facts-What we know about the brain is that thoughts and beliefs that we repeat regularly become a familiar neural pathway. Neurons that fire together, wire together and become dominant.  This is important to know if you are an educator trying to motivate a student who is determined to spend the day distracted and unfocused rather than learning and growing.  It means that even if a student has already created a negative set of thought patterns that the possibility exists to replace that mindset with a more positive, motivating one that will ensure success not only in the classroom but in everyday life. Teach students that the brain is plastic and changeable. Teach students that the brain is like a muscle and when used repeatedly, it grows stronger and stronger in the areas where it is used.

Develop positive mental messages or mindsets: It’s not necessary to be creative or unique.  There are already plenty of inspirational mantras or quotes available to choose from.  Pick something that resonates with you and with your style of teaching. Here are a few examples that illustrate the growth mindset:

  • Every day in every way I’m getting better and better through practice and persistence
  • Love challenges, learn from mistakes, give your best, and always keep growing
  • Learn, grow and help others
  • Great effort and frequent failure is the recipe for great success

Repeat the message regularly:  This isn’t a matter of putting up an inspirational poster that becomes a piece of the woodwork.  Instead, this is a message to begin the day, to end the day and to repeat throughout the day. It is a message to work into academics, physical activities and social occasions. Make it visual. Make it auditory. Have students memorize and repeat it.

Changing fixed mindsets isn’t easy.  We all have stories and messages that we’ve learned and incorporated into the fabric of our lives. However, helping students develop a mindset that spurs them on to be life long learners and persistent in the face of failure and mistakes will serve them well throughout their lives.

Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Mindset

puppet and book

Wyatt the Wonder Dog didn’t make it on the All Star baseball team and he feels like a loser.  All his friends will be playing baseball this summer, while he and his pesky sister, Callie, visit grandparents at the beach.  How Wyatt learns to handle disappointment and failure will be an important lesson for the future.  Will he give up trying new things?  Will he have the confidence to try again?  Are there some things that take more practice and persistence to learn than others? 

This book is funny! Its dogs doing things that only people do! I learned to try new things. ~ ~Samuel Traub, Age 6

Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Mindset (Wyatt the Wonder Dog Books) (Volume 5)

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