By the time we become teachers, we've had thousands of hours to contemplate and observe all kinds of learning environments. We've experienced motivating and demotivating circumstances. We've witnessed inspired and uninspired lessons. And we've struggled through incoherent curricula and flourished in clear and cumulative ones.
And then as soon as we arrive at that moment when we're the instructors, we become collectors of a new kind of data: the experimental kind.
- I intended for this lesson outcome, but this happened instead.
- I thought students would struggle with X, but they had difficulty with Y instead.
- I planned on all students engaging with the learning task I created, but some didn't.
It's that last kind of data that begins us trekking down an inquiry path traversed by every teacher ever: how do I create the conditions in which my students will do the learning work with care?
Is it even possible to be a teacher without having spent time theorizing and experimenting with student motivation? I don't think it is. Student motivation is a fundamental part of any learning experience.
Because of this, I like to begin any professional development session on student motivation with two things:
1) A statement: Today we'll examine a framework for thinking better about student motivation and the research around it…
2) And an activity: …But because every one of us grapples with and makes discoveries about student motivation from the moment we start teaching, I want to begin our time making space for the knowledge that lives in the room. At your tables, you'll next be discussing two questions.
A) What is a routine, technique, or strategy that you've found works well for motivating students to do work with care?
B) What is it about this effective method that you think makes it so effective? In other words, theorize about why your method works.
Be prepared to share out after the discussion time has finished.
This starting exercise does several important things:
- It activates the session's key question for every professional learner in the room.
- It situates all participants in their right place — not as passive receipts of PD, but as co-creators of professional learning.
- It enables a whole-group discussion in which we'll build a sample list of classroom practices — developed by us, during this activity — that we can then analyze with the five key beliefs as the day's professional development develops.
I really enjoy this move because when it comes to student motivation, there really aren't any complete novices. There are differing degrees of expertise and knowledge, sure — but there's not a single person who lacks for some insight into how internal drive works.
What teachers like me often struggle with isn't lack of insight — it's lack of coherence and clarity. And this is my favorite thing about the five key beliefs — they bring coherence and clarity to what can otherwise seem like a slapdash, chaotic, idiosyncratic (“You motivate your way and I'll motivate with mine”) topic.
(If you'd ever like to have me lead PD in your area, start by learning more here.)