6 Motivation Techniques

“What are you doing to motivate them?”

I was talking with a friend this afternoon about her class. She is a second year teacher. She taught elementary last year and is teaching seventh grade this year. What a change! In the process of our conversation, I asked her, “what are you doing to motivate them?” She had no clue.

Why motivate?

Without motivation, your class is just another block of time that the students have to suffer through. With motivation, you hear things like “hi, favorite teacher!” and “I love this class!” As a teacher, those are the kinds of things that we absolutely love to hear. They say that about half of all teachers stop teaching before their sixth year. I am on the home stretch or my fifth now. I would guess that most teachers who quit teaching do so because of they lack of these kinds of comments; they do so because they do not have enough motivated students.

Steps to motivating?

As I have written before, “Motivation comes from … loving what you do.” That is the crux of the issue. If you do not love what you do, then you cannot create blissful followers. So now we’ll look at some steps to successfully motivating people.

  1. Love what you do
    I cannot stress enough how essential it is to love what you do. This applies for everything in life. Dave Ramsey talks about it. Steve Jobs talks about it. Po Bronson talks about it. Andrew Wee talks about it. Success in any endeavor demands that you love doing what you are doing. If you don’t, and you don’t love the idea of doing it, then get out before you regret wasting time and wasting lives of children. But what if you love the thought of teaching, but don’t enjoy the reality of teaching? If this is the case, then there is still hope for you. Stick it out.

    Before I started my first year, I was given the advice by a friend that when I accept my first job, I should make a mental commitment to myself that I will be there are least three years. This allows me to work toward long-range goals and respond to incidents accordingly rather than just reacting in a self-centered kind of way.

  2. Emanate passion
    Passion is defined as the trait of being intensely emotional. You must be intensely emotional about children, about teaching, and especially about teaching children. If you are, then they will feed off of that energy.
  3. Have fun
    If passion is the key, then having fun is the way to activate that passion. I joke around a lot. I mess with other teachers when they come in. I make fun of myself. I make up lyrics to go along with the music we play. I talk about my puppies. I ask them what they did over the weekend and then make some fun (non-critical) comments on whatever they did. I smile. A lot. I laugh. I say stuff to the kids when I see them in other parts of the school. I have a cool website for my class. I have a blog to keep parents updated on what’s going on in our world.
  4. Stop being selfish
    Whenever kids don’t do what I want them to do, I have come to the realization, that it is usually because I didn’t tell them to do exactly what I wanted them to do. I try to avoid getting mad when they do normal kid stuff, especially if it is not a specific violation of what I told them to do. Admit you made a mistake whenever you do. That makes you more real and more relateable.Look at people when they are talking to you. I am trying to do that more. talk to parents. About good stuff and bad stuff. Let the students be nice to you. Let the students be mad at you. Your life is not going to end if a child hates you. At the same time, you don’t get too many bragging rights with friends when you tell them you have a fan club made up of people half your age or whatever.
  5. Be prepared
    Kids can sense fear and unpreparedness from a mile away. Why do you think subs are so much fun for them? I have come to realize that no matter how good the discipline is when I am in the classroom, anyone else will get different results if I’m not there. After I started to begin figuring out classroom management, that used to really bother me. I would get back from a day off and have a report from the substitute saying that certain students had talked back or argued or whatever. Or I would get reports like, “good class, these six people were talking.” Now that I am prepared for those kinds of comments and realize that most people don’t expect as much out of the children as I do, I am fine.I also have found that my least productive teaching days are those where I am not fully prepared for the class. Or when we don’t have enough copies of something. I am getting better about these things more and more. I find that as I get better about them, classes run much more efficiently.
  6. Continue learning
    Read books about teaching. Read books about your subject. Read books about personal development. Read books about art. Read books about customer service. Read books about productivity. Read books on motivation. Some great specific books:

Bus 3: a case study

So what was so special about Bus 3? Absolutely nothing. Despite that, I was able to create a little community.As a band director, I get to go on out of town trips with the high school band. On those trips, I end up being assigned to be in charge of one of the buses. Last year, it happened to be Bus 3. We had a tire blow out on the way to one of the games in September.

I took that opportunity to hype the students up about being on “Bus 3: the bus that cares.” If they were too loud, I would say something like, “You’re too loud, that kind of noise belongs on Bus 4.” If an individual got out of the seat, it’d be something like, “Do I need to make you ride on Bus 1?” When I saw the kids at rehearsal, I would flash the Bus 3 sign and we would nod in understanding.

So what was so special about Bus 3? Absolutely nothing. Despite that, I was able to create a little community. We all had to ride a bus to get to the games. I was either going to have to fight with the kids to get them to behave, or I was going to have to get them to buy in to my system. So I pretended that they were in an elite club; that they had insider information that nobody else had.

The established procedure is for the students to arrive somewhere and all force their way to the front of the bus as quickly as possible. The result is that people get upset, they leave trash everywhere, and they get out of the bus and don’t know where to go specifically or when to be back. So I fixed that, Bus 3 style.

Whenever we get somewhere, I stand up, ask them to be quiet, and then give them information before they get off the bus. I tell them and have them repeat how much time we have or what time we need to be back on the buses. I go over bus departure procedures. Finally, I ask if there are any questions and then we begin disembarking. It works every time. At the completion of the trip, I make sure they all check for trash before they get off the bus. This saves the time of the driver and parents. It’s a win/win situation.

And it worked. It still works. Now they understand my system. The parents and bus drivers love taking my bus. The kids have fun. I am able to relax and have an enjoyable trip even though I am in a school bus. How much better could it be?

About Joel Wagner 522 Articles
Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

4 Comments on 6 Motivation Techniques

  1. Motivation is a perplexing concept for me. I was one of those kids who was very intrinsically motivated, and did not look to my teachers to do it for me. I had teachers which inspired me, but, when it came to doing what I needed to do, then, it was on me. So, while you make a number of provocative points, Joel, there has to be some degree of motivation emanating from the students.

  2. My favorite book on teaching: “Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire” by Rafe Esquith. It has completely reinvigorated me while I’m taking a semester off.

  3. This was a very inspirational post! One thing that was mentioned that I agree with is that to maintain motivation, a teacher must “emanate passion” in front of students. I also agreed with the idea that as a teacher, you cannot take it personally or get angry when students don’t do what you’ve told them to do. I am currently studying to be a music teacher, and I have learned by observing other teachers that another very important aspect in maintaining motivation is to communicate with other teachers and bounce ideas back and forth- which is what you are doing here!

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