The primary purpose of teaching is to promote learning. But as educators, parents, and youth workers know too well, keeping youth motivated and engaged with the learning process remains a perpetual challenge. In response, various motivational strategies have been utilized in schools, but many teachers would agree that their effectiveness, especially using the extrinsic reward-based strategies, is short-lived at best. Even popular and more effective intrinsic strategies, such as grit and growth mindset, sometimes fall short.
My experience as an educator in alternative educational settings (juvenile detention facilities), is that Duckworth’s theory of grit seems to be idealizing hardship for minority, poor, and emotional traumatized children who are already showing tremendous resilience in the face of their extremely difficult life circumstances. Likewise, Carol Dweck’s growth mindset has sparked spirited debates in the staff lounge, not necessarily for the concept itself but for its frequent “misuse” in the classroom as a self-esteem booster. Some teachers have expressed the concern that when students are praised for their efforts alone, this praise becomes another verbal extrinsic reward over time that induces only fleeting motivation. The reason being that some students know that if they are being complimented for just trying hard (effort), and not performance (grades), they must not be smart. Ultimately, “not smart” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that further erodes engagement, motivation, achievement. To reverse this course, we must tap into their innate desire, those things that really matter to learners.
It is my firm belief that everyone is born with a pull to become—the innate desire to be, do and have— and that this desire can induce a very strong motivation to engage with learning because it matters to the learner. And, if educational practices promote the discovery of this pull to become and empower youth to develop a plan for its attainment through a clearly defined purpose, more youth will remain engaged with learning, and experience personal and academic success in accelerated time. Thus, the role of teachers, coaches, and parents is to become facilitators who provide the support and structure that’s necessary for youth to discover their unique pull to become. At this point, it is important to emphasize that leadership and administrative support for teachers’ autonomy in the classroom remain essential for sustained engagement, motivation, and optimized learning outcomes for all youth.
My beliefs are anchored by the self-determination theory (SDT), and framed by the concept of Purpose for Learning. Fusing together the perspectives of both SDT and Purpose for Learning, there are eight key mindful strategies that educators, parents, and coaches can utilize to motivate and accelerate success for every student. These strategies include:
- Understanding true identity
- Discovering one’s pull to become
- Identifying personal purpose for learning
- Recognizing the gap
- Practicing productive and affirmative thinking
- Building support teams
- Taking inventory and organizing assets
- Applying assets and closing the gap with an effective action plan
Let’s activate the dormant potentials that lie within all learners, so that they can stay engaged with learning and experience success every day, in every environment – school, home, and work.