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Developing Motivation

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Brigitte Prot, published the 21 April 2011.


I carry out work on motivation with primary, secondary and college graduate students. Such work invites them to understand and construct the reasons for their learning and their presence in class. This allows them to take stock of their school situation to develop self-confidence and to acquire tools for a personal project.

This work introduces five aspects :

  1. class interventions,
  2. class audits during crises,
  3. group facilitation,
  4. motivation and orientation balances ®©,
  5. and personalized escorting.

My proposal includes education, conferences and providing teachers and parents with support on the same topics, with one common goal: school and educational success.

For teachers:

Four work axes are proposed to teachers, educational representatives and school directors:

  • Allowing students in 2010 to find their motivation or: How to have that sense of learning come up these days?
  • Professionalization of practices and team work,
  • Improving communication with students and parents,
  • Finding the motivation to teach and to educate in the present time.

Before analyzing the situation found during practice, the challenges that the motivation to learn has are cleared up. Then, after identifying breaks, incentives and needs, answers to the following questions are constructed: “What to implement?”, “Why?”, “How?” and “Who does what?”.

For parents:

Three axes are proposed for students’ parents:

  • Helping children to find motivation,
  • Defining their places, in 2010, and
  • Improving communication with teachers.

The aim of this work is to allow:

  • the students’ sense of learning, so that they can understand their school identity and find their own places,
  • changes in pedagogical practices towards an adult professional position, and
  • the development of an adult parental attitude;

As well as to build a dynamics favoring individual and collective motivation, that is, articulating personal and social responsibility.

What sort of motivation?

Two questions have been implemented:

  1. Faced with the needs identified in terms of school motivation and related to a specially demotivating social context, which suggestions can be made in the institution?, which actions can be taken?
  2. What can be implanted to fight school drop-outs and even students’ failures, teacher’s feeling discouraged and parents’ frustration?

Within a context in which there is no respect for man and where motivation is «viagralized», the urgency to respond to needs, in connection with senses, exists there.

Fighting what is fake: motivation, transformed into a consumer object, served by techniques more and more debatable, in the ethical sense…

Students are not motivated, but rather situations are created so that they can find motivation themselves! Moreover, individual and collective motivations constantly interact.

In my opinion, it has to do with suggesting processes, ways and tools to make motivation human, that is to say, to re-humanize its approaches. This entails the restoration of man, as the central value of societal action, in all fields, among which the first and foremost is education. It is connected with individual and collective responsibility articulated by effective personal fulfillment, so that each person gains the courage to take their place. Otherwise, one whole generation will soon find that they are undergoing all sorts of manipulations.

The students are suggested tools capable of showing them the sense of their own learning and their project, which allows them to adopt the attitude of an individual, never reduced to their job, behavior or result.

Arthur, who mistakes his own person with the zero on his copy, repeats «I am null». He constantly makes reference to his self-esteem and has no longer the energy needed to believe in his own possible progress and in his capacity to act…

For school motivation, I suggest then following definition criteria:

  • school motivation cannot be established,
  • it is built by interacting with others (students, professionals and parents),
  • it is registered within an identified temporal-spatial context,
  • it is linked to the person and his or her life story,
  • and it is personal.

This work process is based on three beliefs:

  1. All human beings are unique and constantly evolving. In order to take up their own place in society and in the world, they need to believe enough in themselves and in their possible evolution. Collective evolution depends, partly, on their actions.
  2. All human beings have a sense of their own existence and thus motivation, inside. They need situations and references to see it rise, within an identified socio-economic, cultural and media context. Suggesting students which tools reveal a sense of learning and project, and suggesting adults the means to help students along, both mean acting on the educational essence.
  3. All human beings build their own motivation by constantly interacting with other people’s motivation, both individual and collective, within a system’s dynamics.

This work is articulated around three concepts which act as points of reference: the systemic approach, Rogers’ theory and the Palo Alto theory. It is also nourished by Emmanuel Mounie and Paul Diel’s work, in relation to the person.

It finds meaning while articulating proposals for all the protagonists of a learning situation. I believe that understanding their complexity and the need for them to have a systemic approach are very current and even urgent: they allow us to respond to the needs identified in the situation’s reality, where all axes and protagonists are taken into account.

This is, in my opinion, the only chance to build that famous three-pole triangle: the student, the parents and the teachers and educational professionals, who are all invited to take up their places and communicate with others, in their appropriate places. This is how the motivation space can open up. If everyone acted in their place and if the others acknowledged them, we would undoubtedly speak less about failure and school difficulties…

Each student’s motivation is articulated around the following questions: «do I study and learn… for me with others?», «against me, against others?», «for me, against others?», «against me, for others?».

A process of taking on responsibilities invites us to abandon a defeatist immobilism, that is, to have access to a personal evolution that may lead to a new viewpoint, new representations of learning and school. This allows for each and every one to develop autonomy and to appropriate the tools to build a personal project within a collective project: that of a classroom and of an institution.

As regards professionals, the identification of possible fields of action requires team work, which assumes that every one is part of the system and that educational and pedagogical priorities in common should be defined, in order to achieve professional credibility and coherence of practice. The educational work in connection with school motivation takes into account the individual and collective axes, which are intrinsically linked: the teacher and his field of action in the classroom and in the team. This is a great job, since this last notion is still embryonic, even non-existent in practice, in France.

In any case, taking part in the development of school motivation is registered within the approach committed to fight infantilization and miserabilism, in favor of an adult professional stand. Now more than ever, students need to find teachers positioned as such, far from having a demagogic attitude and a stiff stand surrounded by fear.

In order to find motivation, students need clear answers to three questions:

  1. what to learn for?
  2. why learn?
  3. and how to learn?

Helping students answer these questions today presupposes the following, for teachers and education professionals:

- Asserting oneself in authority and not having a lax attitude or power. That is, being the «author» of what is suggested to enable students to be their own «authors», to build their person, their knowledge, their «savoir-faire», their knowledge of how to be and of how to evolve.

This is connected with inhabiting their own space to allow students to take up their own. For example, in a situation with a student or a class making up the 100%, teachers’ field of action and shared responsibility make up 50%. So does the student’s.

If the adult inhabits 80% of the territory (if students are spoon-fed, helped, manipulated, etc.), students fail to have enough room to try their thing. Similarly, if adults inhabit only 15%, their practice is not grounded enough and students fail to find their places: they have too much space, even too much power, to «do», to «act».

Adults’ change of attitudes open up a life space for students. If they are prepared to receive what they’re suggested, their attitude towards learning can change and it may allow them to find the motivation, moving forward their competences. If they are not prepared, they might need time. What is key, then, is that adults act in their own spaces.

The strength that a change in attitude based on personal growth can never be stressed enough. One example of this is when a so-called “difficult” second-year class changes attitude when a teacher stops fearing it. This teacher had asked for escorting for a class about which the professional had said the following: «You are the adults». These few words had provided him with new legitimacy and the necessary energy for a new professional stance in class. The students had sensed that fast and changed their behavior with him.

Let us stress the importance of taking, to the field of action, the capacity of a person, of a protagonist in a situation, to overcome prejudices, to transform representations, to understand, to recognize and integrate their own complexity and inner interactions. At school, especially nowadays, this entails overcoming their own fears and the fears induced by others. Taking on responsibilities means rejecting what may stop or even inhibit these.

The key can be found in the answer to these questions: «What do I choose to kill in order to move forward, to build in me, for me, with and toward others?» and «What do I renew and give birth to? » Ethically.

- Proving information about his or her current school situation. Many of the students I meet today have very little information about their support points and needs, which are key elements of their motivation. They only stress their «deficiencies», expressed with vague and definitive terms (difficulty, failure, «can be better», etc.).

How can we prop up motivation then?

At school, devices and tools can be implemented to open up the space: effective differential pedagogy, clarity when evaluating and marking errors, legibility of objectives and terms, definition of the student’s real school situation, effective progress and achievement assessment, and correct identification of those needs that require a solution, etc.

With these aims in mind, students can answer their recurrent questions: «why spend six hours a day sitting down?, «How to work and learn for me, with others?», «How to finally show who I am – and not 20% of who I am – through my grades?», «What does the teacher expect from my work and behavior for next October 12?» and «How can this be done?».

- Suggesting balanced communication to fight infantilization and blame, respecting everyone’s (students’ and adults’) space and words. For adults, this means the identification of his field of action and responsibility, his abilities and needs to position himself as a professional open to change, living change.

Such « assertive» attitude allows for the construction of team work and of a network for coherent practices on priorities. If taking their things to class is a priority for the ten teachers in a team, if «it goes without saying», this rapidly becomes a priority for the students! When this coherence is effective, it accounts for common values which federate in turn professionals’ and students’ motivations. Every person can then be recognized in their own place and recognize themselves there too.

For professionals, «arousing the desire to learn» in a child or teenager entails moving from the position of program executor to that of professional carrier of a project based official programs and instructions, as well as having thought about his own motivation, the meaning of his actions, and his pedagogical choices beforehand, linked with a living conception of the world, of society and of man, without which the bet for anyone’s education - key for the appearance of individual and collective motivation - cannot exist.

This approach allows them to identify their own motivation and learning representations. Now more than ever, students’ motivation takes adults back to the nature of their own motivation. Their interaction may lead to the promotion or de-valuing of each other’s work and of the learning act.

In this sense, let us stress the importance that healthy parents-children communication has nowadays, communication beyond fear and away from such close-minded images as that of the «good» or «bad» teacher which might be assimilated to that of the «good» or «bad» parent, and towards a common objective: the child’s or the teenager’s school achievement, within a personal construction process.

In the same section

» The State of Student Social and Emotional Health

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