A Parent Educator’s Review of Motivating Students

A Major Misstep in Motivating a Child

I can only be responsible for either blocking or promoting a healthy atmosphere for motivation. To assume that I could motivate them to do well with their individual tasks – to me – is a misstep. Motivation is not a one or two-step approach to success. The process involved is not only multi layers in nature, it is also purposely directional. A child will only be motivated at something if she rightfully connects the processes to a desired end goal, and consequently take ownership of the entire course.

 

Click the following link to watch RSA’s animation of Daniel Pink’s talk about the surprising truth about what motivates us.

Click the following link to see the diagram of an intrinsic motivational process.

The student is shown in this photo working on a biographical book project.

 

On February 14, I attended a workshop sponsored by my children’s Charter school. The workshop was entitled, Motivating your Students. Even with the goodly amount of insights and review from it, my original paradigm stood still.  I came with an open mind despite my precognition that my students’ academic success is only a vehicle for a bigger intention. Any steps taken to help motivate them to do well with their school lessons will only fail if they cannot make sense of why certain steps are needed before they arrive at an absolute end, which essentially is, becoming the person they choose to be in life.

The workshop was three hours long. If it were probably done in series, maybe, we would have discussed the many intricacies and complexities of motivation, and possibly touched on the subject of how to differentiate between motivation and drive. Many would look at the two and use them interchangeably. Motivation, as defined by J.P. Chaplin in the Dictionary of Psychology is an intervening variable used to account for factors within the organism that arouse, maintain and channel behavior toward a goal.

The difference between motivation and drive is that the former is the rationale for the aspiration, whereas the latter is the amount of energy a person is willing to expend to perform a task. It is a serious disservice to our students to assume that we could find ways to motivate them to do well in their academics. The Theory of Motivation by Abraham Maslow – which was briefly explained during the workshop – defines the hierarchy of needs, and explains how individuals are motivated to fulfill basic needs first before moving on to higher forms of needs. It is a useful tool to use in understanding the various processes and levels of motivation.

Here is a sample scenario: A parent wants a child to do well in writing, so the parent tells the child if she gets a good grade in her writing exercises they will go to Disneyland. Knowing how much the child enjoys going to this theme park, the parent made a profound connection between an end goal (getting the child to do well in writing) and means (a trip to Disneyland). The preceding was the parent’s motivational experience, not the child’s. What this well-intended parent failed to realize is motivation is an internal process every individual needs to figure out on their own. If the one needing the motivation is the child, the child must make the connections. The child’s success will depend upon the quality of connections she makes.

If a child were not allowed, freely, to experience the whole process of motivation, she would, consequently, fail to see the importance of connecting the means to reaching objectives and overall goals. By freely experiencing, I meant let the child see why and how each step is so important to the end goal – her own goals. Often, the child is uninterested or unmotivated to stick at something that is potentially essential to her overall sense of purpose, because at this point she has not owned up to the whole process. At this point, the child only sees how something could be important to others. It does not mean she has to embrace it too. If she does not feel a sense of ownership to it, then she will not be driven and motivated to pursue it.

We always mean well when we do things for the sake of our students. However well-intended, we are also guilty of frequently providing solutions, often, missing out on identifying the real problem.

I can only be responsible for either blocking or promoting a healthy atmosphere for motivation. To assume that I could motivate them to do well with their individual tasks – to me – is a misstep. Motivation is not a one or two-step approach to success. The process involved is not only multi layers in nature, it is also purposely directional. A child will only be motivated at something if she rightfully connects the processes to a desired end goal, and consequently take ownership of the entire course.

It is important to understand that whether the motivational source is intrinsic or extrinsic, the decision or the power to channel one’s behavior depends on the person being motivated. As a parent, I can only be a conduit of change (or perhaps an inspiration) for my students. I cannot create or recreate a motivation for them. Their life is their own journey, not mine. The process of discovery, connection, acceptance, channeling and ownership must be theirs; it should not be my choosing. My role is to guide and assist, and provide them with tools until they are ready to face life on their own as adults.

Daniel Pink, author of The Whole New Mind and many other New York best-selling books, explained there are three factors leading to successful motivation of an individual: autonomy, mastery and purpose. I connected all three in what I think is a key component to the whole process of motivation – OWNERSHIP. I believe, my students could only maintain a steady grasp on any endeavor they take on, if they could take pride in owning the whole process, and if they realized that this process would play a significant part to the person they wanted to be in life.

The following is a clip of Daniel Pink’s talk about motivation at TED. The clip is owned by www.ted.com and shared in this website under a creative common license.

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