Friday, 27 May 2011 21:50

Inspiration: The Nurturing 6th Force of Intrinsic Motivation

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 In this blog post I continue describing the forces that nurture intrinsic motivation.  Instead of trying to gain temporary obedience from our students through the use of rewards and punishments, these forces help us in our attempts to win our students’ hearts and minds and enlist a genuine commitment to the worthwhile aims and objectives we are trying to promote in our classrooms.



Focusing on and emphasizing these forces helps teachers create an engaging, productive classroom environment that brings out the best in students.  For teachers who may be a bit nervous about the prospect of managing a group of children without relying on rewards and punishments, these forces offer a far more powerful, far more genuine alternative to traditional classroom management approaches that are rooted in Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and depend on extrinsic motivation.

These forces work synergistically to create an environment where quality can flourish.  No extrinsic motivators, either alone or in combination, can come close to producing such results.  No student has ever been rewarded or punished into excellence.  True success comes only when we bring out the very best in our students.  And in order for us to bring the best out of our students, we must appeal to the best in them.  These forces do just that.  

In addition to promoting student desire to engage in specific tasks, these forces benefit a classroom more generally.  Collectively, they build morale and enthusiasm for learning, enhance self-esteem, deepen the sense of connection individuals feel to the classroom and to one another, and increase student willingness to put forth sustained effort.

Nurturing Force #6: Inspiration

One of my favorite things about being a teacher is that I can read something in the newspaper or see something on television one day and share it with my kids the next.  I’m always on the lookout for stories that I can use to inspire my students.  Every so often, an athlete rises from extreme poverty to achieve fame and fortune, or a performer overcomes significant obstacles to become a star, or a citizen seeking to help his or her community seeks and wins elective office.  These stories remind us that anything is, indeed, possible with enough hard work, perseverance, and dedication.  

Students need to hear these stories.  

Hearing about people all over the world who overcome long odds to realize their dreams, make great lives for themselves, and contribute to society powerfully impacts their own motivation.  Children will be better able to appreciate the value of perseverance and other important qualities when they see how others have benefited from them.

Inspiration doesn’t have to come only from newspapers and television.  It’s all around us.  There’s inspiration in poetry, song lyrics, and the rich family histories students bring to school.  Invite your kids to share examples of inspirational stories and writings with their classmates.  In addition, encourage them to keep some of this material on a bulletin board or inside their desks for easy reference so they can look at it whenever they need a morale boost.

An effective way to incorporate examples of inspiration into your daily routine is to feature the “Quote of the Day” activity I described in Teaching Tip #9.  When the students come to the rug to begin our morning circle time, I choose a volunteer to read the quote that’s written on the board.  I take these quotes from a variety of sources; occasionally, we create our own.  These quotes relate to, and reinforce, the important ideas we often discuss, such as character, discipline, and quality.  After our volunteer reads the quote, I first give everyone a few moments to think about it.  Next, I ask them to share their thoughts with a partner, and then I call on several students to offer an interpretation of its meaning to the group.  We also talk about the significance of the quote, as well as how we can apply it to our lives.  This conversation only takes a few minutes, but it’s a valuable exercise because it encourages the kids to think deeply, because there’s a high tone to the dialogue that appeals to the best in us, and because it allows us to start our day on a positive note.  

My desire to incorporate more inspirational stories into the school day also led me to write Brushes with Greatness, and as often as I can, I try to read aloud to my class these 1-page biographies of well-known individuals who used education to make better lives for themselves.

Look for opportunities to inspire your students and for them to inspire one another.  You never know which stories will resonate with which children. 


New Blog Posts appear every weekend of the school year.

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