esmith@flglobal.org

The Best Way to Motivate Students

During the past week I have been asked about student motivation on a number of occasions. As So what is the best way to motivate students?

I will sum it up in one word, relationship. Humans are literally hard-wired to thrive when they are in positive, meaningful, and caring relationships. This applies to all of

Eddie Anderson, Jon's High School Chemistry Teacher

Eddie Anderson, Jon’s High School Chemistry Teacher

us, adults and children. Teddy Roosevelt once said: “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” My own story epitomizes this quote. Edie Anderson, my high school chemistry teacher, saw something in me, a geeky boy who didn’t quite fit in. She cared for me first and taught me chemistry second. Mrs. Anderson mentored me and instilled in me a love for chemistry. It is no accident that I became a high school chemistry teacher. I truly hope in my twenty-four years in the classroom, that I had as much of an impact on my students as she had on me.

This is not a new idea – kids knowing that their teacher likes them and believes in them. Thus, it is no surprise that there is extensive research* which ties positive student-teacher

Photo: Intel Free Press

Photo: Intel Free Press

relationships with increased student achievement. I have sometimes heard teachers say that they don’t want that “touchy-feely” stuff. They feel it detracts from learning content. But my experience tells me otherwise. How do you build positive relationships with students in class? It starts with a genuine interest in kids. There certainly are specific strategies and tasks you can do which will build trust into kids, but in general, it is not rocket science. Positive relationships happen one student at a time, through countless conversations and acts of kindness. When a student knows that you believe in them, he/she will be motivated to succeed.

I especially found building relationships with my students easier after I started flipping my classes. Since I was no longer standing in front of students for a significant portion of each class, I now spent my time interacting with students. I found that I knew my students better earlier in the school year – both cognitively and affectively. I knew what they did and did not understand in my science class, but I also knew them as people – their hopes, dreams, activities, and even their hurts.

So what about you? How have you built positive relationships with your students? What impact have you seen when you have taken the time to really know them? I look forward to hearing your comments below.
*Research. If you are looking for some research on the positive effects of relationship and student achievement, there is an excellent review of the literature found in Tisome Nugent’s doctoral dissertation entitled: “The Impact of Teacher-Student Interaction on Student Motivation and Achievement.  

3 Responses

  1. KIrk

    Very good article. It is so true that if they like you and know you care about them they will work harder than you can imagine. I am very lucky to loop with all three grade levels at once for 3 years with my kids. Being able to have 6th graders and continue with their junior high journey until they leave as 8th graders really helps me bond with them.

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