If We Want to “Motivate” Students, Start With The Environment You Create For Them

I was perusing twitter and noticed a conversation with a number of teachers talking about student motivation. They were giving suggestions about different tricks and gimmicks to motivate students,all with the hopes of getting them to try harder, do better, or make better choices. As I looked at a few of the things said I was reminded of this truth that I’ve learned. Gimmicks and such don’t work for long term change. Our students are not animals who need to hear a bell so they can roll over and get a treat. They are more. They don’t need a bell, they need permission and freedom to try harder, do better, or make better choices.

If we really want to “motivate” students, we need to start by cultivating an environment where they feel safe, cared for, and believed in.

By creating this kind of judgement free environment, they will be more willing to take risks and develop empathy. It’s at this place that students will do those things they wanted; try harder, do better, or make better choices. I believe that these are the kinds of students, actually, these are the kind of people we want to send out into the world. I think we all can agree that an environment where people feel safe, cared for, and believed in would be a pretty nice place to live. It doesn’t mean there aren’t natural consequences. Thomas Edison tried and failed many times to create many things. What he had was permission to fail. He felt safe in it because he knew it would lead him closer to his goal. This freedom he felt is the kind of environment I think we need to cultivate for our students.

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