In a substantial overview of student motivation, “Using motivation theories to maximize motivation and outcomes sustainably in school,” Mark Gould identifies 13 elements of teacher relationships and classroom climate that support high quality motivation. I have selected several to explore in this blog that should be considered whether the school year is beginning virtually, in a hybrid form or with all students back in the classroom.
Relationships of teachers and school with students is autonomy supportive.
This can be defined as addressing competence, autonomy, and relatedness.
- Competence – The need to experience our behaviors as effectively enacted (to feel like we’ve done a good job).
- Autonomy – The need to experience behavior as voluntary and reflectively self-endorsed (to feel like we have control over what we do).
- Relatedness – The need to interact, be connected to, and experience caring for others (to have meaningful relationships and interactions with other people).
For educators to address these components, we must KNOW our students and create opportunities for them to know us. This is extremely important as this school year begins. Those of us working virtually are meeting a new group of students remotely. How do we create knowing? This outline on a possible 5-minute one-on-one chat can be a beginning. Even those teachers who are meeting their students in classrooms have a need to uncover students’ pandemic experiences and how the students are processing those experiences. In the article, Virtual Suspensions. Mask Rules. More Trauma., Adaku Onyeka-Crawford, the director of educational equity and a senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center pointed to the need to “actually get at whatever trauma or stress students are bringing into the classroom, whether virtual or physical, and to provide the counseling or supports to help them through it.”
Two additional elements that Gould listed are connected to how teachers listen when students share their perspectives:
- Teachers accept and work with each student’s perspective (even if they appear dysfunctional to start with).
- Students perceive themselves as supported (never judged).
Gould describes the value of creating structure and expectations to build student comfort, confidence, and trust as well as the conscious teacher language that is needed.
- Teachers provide structure, including clear guidelines, goals, and limits, without a controlling attitude or approach.
- Use of controlling language, where directives and words that convey control—words such as should, must, and have to, are minimized.
- Use of autonomy supportive language, where words that convey choice, possibility and social or empathic benefits are maximized.
- Teachers convey a sense of invitation rather than coercion.
These elements create a starting point for planning and coaching conversations. I can imagine a grade level PLC collaborating on the structures, guidelines, and goals that they want to communicate. A secondary team may find extra value in sharing similar expectations. While teaching, we are often unconscious of our language and it therefore makes a valuable focus for coaching. A teacher can ask a coach to collaborate in planning the presentation to students. Observing in virtual settings or in classrooms, coaches can track a teacher’s language with the class or focus on individual students. Conscious practice with our language can create a desired unconscious execution.
Teachers promote student motivation when a meaningful rationale is provided when asking students to do something and feedback is perceived as informational, not judgmental. Specific and clear positive feedback about what was done well tends to enhance autonomous motivation.
These same criteria that focus on student motivation can be applied as school leaders explore teacher motivation. Consider this statement from a Harvard Business Review article that appeared in December 2019 prior to the pandemic. “Rapid, constant, and disruptive change is now the norm, and what succeeded in the past is no longer a guide to what will succeed in the future. Twenty-first-century managers simply don’t (and can’t!) have all the right answers. To cope with this new reality, companies are moving away from traditional command-and-control practices and toward something very different: a model in which managers give support and guidance rather than instructions, and employees learn how to adapt to constantly changing environments in ways that unleash fresh energy, innovation, and commitment. The role of the manager, in short, is becoming that of a coach.
Leaders, coaches, and teachers need to focus on relationships and strategies that impact the motivation of those we support in learning.
Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action