The Six Most Powerful Motivators For Schoolchildren To Do Their Best

1. The student was led to make her own choices

The power of choice has huge influence on motivation. After having ambitions to finish with high grades and getting in to a good college, there was a young man back in the 1970’s who spent his last years of junior college wasting a lot of time and drifting with the wrong crowd.

Sad thing was…hardly anyone noticed. His loving parents didn’t, and at school, his falling grades somehow slipped under the radar mostly un-noticed or ignored. You may be wondering what kind of people he had around him at home and at school to allow that to happen.

It’s not what you may think.

One thing made the difference. His father chose for him to study medicine when he graduated from high school and junior college. He didn’t want to disappoint his father, so he signed up for all the courses that would lead him in that direction. At first he did well. Truth be told, he was the kind of student who would do well at just about any subject he made up his mind to study…which presents a different kind of problem having to do with focus.

Then something started happening. The closer he got to finishing junior college, the less motivated he got to finish strong. The less interest he showed in putting in the work to make high grades. That’s when he started to experiment with narcotics and alcohol. He did manage to do well enough to graduate and earn a diploma, but not well enough to satisfy the requirements necessary to immediately further his studies at a reputable University. It was almost as if he was sabotaging himself so as not to face medical school.

See. That student was me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s exactly what I was doing. I hated the idea of doing medicine. The only way to stay out of medical school without disappointing my father was to earn a diploma without passing the external exams that the University required for matriculation.

I really don’t remember making a conscious decision to make it happen this way. But I do remember that I would be falling asleep at my books, and had a really tough time just having enough energy to enter many classes that I had thoroughly enjoyed before the whole thing about pursuing medicine came up.

And that’s just one out of many examples I can give you. It doesn’t only apply to students, but to people in general. We all put more energy in the things we chose for ourselves. We put the least energy if someone actually pressured us to do something we actually dislike doing. It’s just how motivation works.

The same can be said of taking certain classes, deciding to go to school the morning she doesn’t feel like it, or picking up a book to study in the evening. As a parent, you may have to take the time to develop certain skills with some kids, but if you can get them to think they’re making the right choices on their own, you won’t have to push them. They’ll do it on their own.

Developing those skills is a huge part of why we are launching training courses in a few weeks. For now, we just want you to acknowledge the fact that, having made the choice to do a thing, humans have a huge incentive to finish it even when the going gets a little tough.

2. Learning activities are a good fit for their current abilities.

Teachers call this one the zone of proximal development. Motivation is highest when we’ve already learned most of what we need to know to learn the next step, but the next step takes some effort, and is not too easy. If it’s too easy, or if it’s too hard, motivation drops.

Like other humans, the learning styles and abilities of children vary widely. Guidelines don’t apply to every single person every single time. Sure. A third grade student should be able to master long-division. But every so often you’re going to have a fairly good student who won’t be able to do so until the 5th grade… even if there’s absolutely nothing wrong.

On the other hand, I can remember getting bored with school, playing a lot and disrupting things for other students when I was first placed in the second grade in 1968. That was after scoring straight A’s in the entire first grade.

It took only a short while for the teacher to figure it out. All the subjects were just getting too easy. Lucky for me, her solution didn’t violate any regulation back then. They promoted me to the third grade after only one month in the second. By the end of the year I was the second best student in the third grade class.

3. Significant others have high expectations for the student to do well.

This is one is directly related to with parental involvement, or family engagement. It’s probably the most important factor of all the 6 I’m listing here, simply because when this one is in place, it gives parents enough leverage to get the other motivators going as well. It also gives leverage to eliminate negative factors that demotivate students.

Think about it. What happens if everyone the child depends upon to give him/her a sense of identity–which is usually parents and other family members–if they all think education is the most important thing in the student’s life? How do they act around him? What questions do they ask whenever they see him? What do they say to others, even when the child is doing something exceptionally well at school?

And what happens if they further also show in everything they say and do that they have total faith in the child’s ability to do well in school? If they have zero doubts about her abilities, what kinds of things are they likely to say to the little girl who slips a little and starts doubting herself?

4. Significant Others around the student place a high value on learning.

I touched on this one already, and will go a lot further in future posts. What does it looks like when people around the child place a high value in learning? How do children tend to do in school when everyone he knows keeps asking how it’s going at school? Or what does he need help with? What happens when they make sacrifices of their own time to assist in any way they can, and the child can see that they’re putting his education first before their own issues?

Let’s just say the family thinks that education is the bees’ knees. Let’ say the family also has a tradition of having all it’s members choose a role to play in helping all the children in the family go as far as they can in their education. Let’s say they see it as a part of their very mission in life, so there’s never a day it’s not on their mind. They meet just to talk about that issue. The kid’s failure seems to be their failure, and they celebrate her successes as if they were the ones succeeding. How likely is that child to become demotivated?


5. Student strongly believes that school work will pay off in some way.

Today a student says to his teachers after collecting a trophy he’d just won in a competitive event that put his dancing skills on display, “I’m 100% sure you all will be hearing about me in the future making something big happen.”

People make claims like that all the time, but no one in the room doubted hi. We saw how hard he worked day and night, seven days a week. Talk about being motivated! The teachers report that he connects every lesson in every subject to his dancing career. What focus. That’s a lot more than I can say about myself at that same age.

6. There is a high level of interest in the activity itself.

If I like running, track and field training will motivate me to attend. If your child naturally likes solving problems, learning certain kinds of math problems won’t need much further motivation. The student whom always impressed his classmates in elementary school with his dancing, will probably need no motivation to attend and participate fully in all the dance classes when he enters middle school and beyond.

Put this way, I know it sounds obvious. But think about how many students have a natural flair for something, yet they are told to go in another direction for one reason or other? Happens a lot, doesn’t it? I’m reminded of Gabby Douglas’s story. I wonder how differently it would have turned out if someone had kept telling her to stop making a  monkey of herself hanging  upside down off doors and jumping all over the place when she was 4 and seemed to have springs in her toes?

What about the things that parents do which often demotivate? I mentioned one in my own story, and hinted at the others. Are you doing any of these without realizing it? Download the freebie below and find out… then start or join the discussion below or on the Facebook page.



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The 6 Most Powerful Things Parents Can Do To Motivate School Success

And The 6 Common Demotivators To Avoid

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