How can you respond to the motivation and initiative crisis?

“There are three things to remember about education. The first is motivation. The second one is motivation. The third one is motivation.” — Former U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel Bell

How is it working in actual classroom? When students are learning in hybrid and virtual classrooms, keeping engagement and ensuring motivation is more challenging than ever before. Lack of engagement, absence from classes or simply turning off camera during online class make educators worry about underperformance and early school leaving.   We have to admit – in this era of uncertainty, limited socialization and unclear future we are losing motivation, and students even more. 

How can we respond to this motivation & initiatives crisis? Let’s start by looking into what is motivation and what lies behind it. 

One of most common definitions come from Laurie J. Mullins, describing motivatios as  a “driving force” through which people strive to achieve their goals and fulfil a need or uphold a value. The key words here are “needs“, “values” and “goals” and these are the building blocks of motivation that lead to actions:

  • Needs are basic requirements for survival and may be physical or psychological; for example, hunger, thirst, love or friendship.
  • Values are the things that we consider to be most important; for example, family, health or wealth.
  • Goals are the outcomes that we are working towards.

In everyday usage, the term motivation is frequently used to describe why a person does something.

What exactly lies behind the motivations for why we act? Human behaviour is goal-directed. Motivation cause goal-directed behaviour. The needs of individual compose the the driving force behind human actions.

Maslow Motivation theory suggested that every individual has set or need to achieve at a time. In this theory needs are divided into five levels, needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up.

Physiological, security, social, and esteem needs are deficiency needs, which arise due to deprivation. Satisfying these lower-level needs is important in order to avoid unpleasant feelings or consequences.

Growth needs, on the other hand, do not stem from a lack of something, but rather from a desire to grow as a person. Once these growth needs have been reasonably satisfied, one may be able to reach the highest level called self-actualization.

Motivation is frequently described as being either extrinsic or intrinsic:

  • Extrinsic motivations are those that arise from outside of the individual and are in a form of ‘tangible’ rewards such good grades in school, material support from parents like gifts, extra pocket money, as well as salary bonus for the achieved result and other benefits and conditions. 
  • Intrinsic motivations are those that arise from within the individual, and are related to ‘psychological’ rewards such as the opportunity to use one’s ability, a sense of challenge and achievement, receiving appreciation, positive recognition, and being treated in a good manner

There is a need for rewards for the students —the basic and fair compensation to receive in order to have any motivation at all. In school, that might mean a caring teacher, a clean classroom, and engaging lessons. Extrinsic motivators have their place, but they must also be kept in their place as the grows needs are closely related to intrinsic motivation.

So if extrinsic motivation is not a condition for growth, but the intrinsic is, what is on the list for educators?

  • Autonomy – providing a degree of control over what needs to happen and how it can be done;
  • Competence – rising the feeling that one has the ability to be successful in doing it;
  • Relatedness – doing the activity helps them feel more connected to others, and feel cared about by people whom they respect; and
  • Relevance – the work must be seen by students as interesting and valuable to them, and useful to their present lives and/or hopes and dreams for the future.

A challenge to us educators is to help our students motivate themselves through cultivating these four qualities and to counter that these four elements become less and less visible as students move into secondary school.


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