Motivating students can be a difficult challenge for both parents and teachers. There are certainly no shortage of resources available to help provide advice for how to address this challenge, but I would offer some additional insight into motivation that I learned from my days of coaching baseball.
My observations are based on a few assumptions. One assumption is that people are motivated by achievement and success. When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. I cannot imagine a person being motivated to continue to perform a task that they consistently fail to achieve an acceptable level of success.
Another assumption is that people are most successful when they identify their strengths and challenges, and use their strengths to address their challenges. In other words, when people are honest about their strengths and challenges, an opportunity to grow presents itself. Once the challenge is accepted, playing to one’s strengths puts one in the best position to achieve a level of success.
Let me provide an example from my coaching days.
A player on my team was in the midst of a terrible slump. He had not had a solid hit in over a week and his confidence level was rapidly declining. In an effort to get out of the slump, I told him that his strengths were his speed and ability to hit the ball to right field. He agreed and asked what he could do to help himself. I told him that in the next game, based on the situation, I would ask him to either try to bunt for a hit or try a hit and run (both good strategies for fast runners who can hit to right field). In the game, we had a runner on base and I called for the slumping batter to hit and run (which means he MUST swing at the next pitch and try to hit it to right field). The call played to his strengths and he executed the play perfectly. When the inning was over I saw him in the dugout smiling and with renewed enthusiasm for playing. He felt better, he achieved a tangible result, he couldn’t wait to get up again and get another hit – his confidence was returning.
For students, the same approach is worth trying. An investment in time to get them to identify their strengths is valuable in the sense that at some point, students will have difficulties. At those times, being able to draw upon your strengths is a great tool to help build confidence and address that challenge.
The same strategy can be applied to a developing teacher who is going through a rough time. Even with seasoned teachers, I often remind them to take an inventory of their own skills and identify the strengths they bring to every class. Every teacher does certain things very well, but no teacher does everything very well. Therefore, a strategy to apply one’s strengths to the development of a challenge area sets one up for a measurable achievement that can serve to build confidence and motivate the teacher to continue with their professional development plan.