Pansies seeded from the baskets on the barges of the Leeds and Liverpool canal, Gargrave UK.
Motivation and emotion
What makes kids motivated?
And how can teachers and senior leaders get all kids working hard?
In a five-post series, I’m exploring a few different ways of thinking about these questions.
This week, I want to look at expectancy, emotions and trust.
According to ancient Greek legend, Pygamalion invested so much love and care
in sculpting a statue of the most beautiful and inspiring woman he could imagine,
that the gods fulfilled his hopes and metamorphosed her into reality.
Teachers’ expectations have an impact on pupils that is hard to overstate.
In 1968, Rosenthal & Jacobson ran a landmark experiment.
When teachers were told that top sets were actually bottom sets, results declined.
When teachers were told bottom sets were actually top set, results improved.
This has been replicated ever since. For instance, in a landmark study,
researchers told teachers certain students had performed well on a test of intellectual ability, though they had actually been randomly selected.
After 8 months, these students significantly outperformed their peers,
and the teachers described them as better motivated to succeed than other students.
Researchers have dubbed this the Pygamalion effect.
(I’ve heard this described as the Halo effect.)
What a teacher thinks of a class impacts on their motivation.
People live up to your expectations of them. Student success depends on teachers’ beliefs.
As a student, what makes you look forward to the lesson?
It’s not so much you have next, as you have next.
Emotional interactions between teachers and students are some of
according to Robert Marzano, as they are ‘.
This chiasmus enlightens us to an enduring truth about influence
recognised long ago by the Ancient Greeks.
Rational, forceful persuasion is far from the most powerful form of influence:
it comes third out of the three charioteers of and.
This philosophy helps us see a teacher’s influence on pupils’ motivation
through the eyes of the pupils. There are questions that all pupils implicitly,
subconsciously ask of teachers when being taught by them:
Who is my teacher? What do they want for me? Do they mean what they say?
The subconscious mindset is this:
How much do they care about me as a person?
How much do they understand and encourage me?
The unspoken mindset is this:
What do they have to teach me? Do the challenges they set make me feel successful?
The subconscious mindset is:
I suggest that the more pupils (implicitly) answer these positively,
the more pupils feel motivated to work hard by their teacher.
Given that these questions are always subconsciously asked by pupils,
there are some things that teachers should be thinking about:
How can you demonstrate that you want great things for them?
How can you encourage their efforts with genuine, sincere praise?
How do you model hard work and self-control?
How can you take the time to understand each pupil by asking them about ?
How can you affirm each pupil, catching them making the effort?
How can you show you see their viewpoint –
How can you trust them with rewarding challenges?
How can you hold them to ever-higher standards?
How can you support them even more patiently?
Trust is the best motivation.
It is a better predictor of teacher success than expertise, according to Hattie & Yates (2014).
A teacher can know their subject inside out, but if their pupils don’t trust them,
they won’t feel very motivated. It works both ways, though: subject expertise builds trust,
as pupils love being taught by someone who loves their subject and knows how best to share it.
“There was only one catch and that was Catch-33. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didsn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to.”
The difficulty is this: while pupils with the most difficult emotions are precisely the most difficult
to deal with, they’re precisely the kids in most need of emotional affection,
affirmation and encouragement. All too often I hear difficult conversations between a pupil
and a teacher where the teacher is saying, ‘
The message Adam hears is: ‘ Eventually, interactions turn hostile, and both teachers’ and pupils’ emotional reactions are resentful.
If pupils grappling with the most tangled emotions are the ones most at risk of a downward spiral
of complacency, negativity, resentment and hostility, what can we do about this?
Levelling the unlevel playing field for those who experience negativity at home
by rewarding their intermittent efforts whilst neglecting those pupils who quietly and consistently work hard seems unpalatable: when the ,
the school perpetuates disruption and disincentivises effort.
Ultimately, this is a dilemma as much for school leaders as for classroom teachers.
Every kid has to find a way to internalise the that will last them a lifetime.
A culture of trust is vital, and it starts with modelling: unless we as teachers
and the school at large practise what we preach on being motivated and loving learning,
how do we hope to inspire enduring motivation in kids? The happier teachers are in their work,
the happier pupils are to work hard. The higher the standards of behaviour that we hold kids to,
the more they realise that we care about them in the long-term.
We shouldn’t permissively indulge them by placating and pleading, then lose patience
and snap into anger and annoyance. Instead, we should embody purpose, not power,
as guiding adults making tough choices, especially when it gets difficult.
So here are some things school leaders might think about across the school:
How can we make 100% on task every task in every lesson the enforced expectation?
How can we follow through relentlessly with consistent consequences?
How can we encourage everyday effort with public, sincere positivity in assemblies?
How could we survey pupils on how committed they feel to the school ethos?
How could we share the results of the survey visibly and see their viewpoint?
How can we know every name, to affirm pupil’s individuality in corridors?
How can we teach all pupils to understand their emotions and self-control?
What teacher training can we run on how to help pupils with ?
Which roleplay scenarios could we play out on what to do when it gets difficult?
Emotions matter. Those of us excited by the potential of to improve instruction should not blind ourselves to pupils’ emotional connection with us.
To neglect the affective domain is to miss an important piece of the puzzle of pupil motivation.
And the more difficult the emotions the kid brings to the classroom, the greater the emotional impact we have a chance to make on their lives. Tender, loving care can make all the difference.
Next week, I’ll look into pupil mindsets, and borrow from choice architecture
to see how to turn the growth mindset into the default option for all our pupils.
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