How To Motivate Your Students | The Highly Effective Teacher How To Motivate Your Students | The Highly Effective Teacher

How To Motivate Your Students

Marie Amaro

how to motivate your students

‘There are no unteachable students only the professional limitations of teachers….I never met a child who did not want to learn, did not want to be smart and did not want to achieve.’

Esther Rothman

Have you ever taught a student who just didn’t seem to care about achieving at school?

They don’t seem to care about their work, they may or may not be disruptive, but their lack of achievement and drive is understandably disturbing for a teacher. The student may even be quite capable but they do not seem to have any motivation.

These students can be the most challenging because their lack of interest may push our buttons, particularly if they are apathetic about our subject or class!!

Avoid putting all the blame on the student. You don’t necessarily know all the factors that have impacted on this student prior to the current situation.

According to John Hattie, our role as educators is to develop a positive relationship with students so that they feel safe to try, to have a go and to make mistakes in our classroom. Lack of motivation in the classroom can often hide a fear of failure, and the behaviours the student displays may have saved them embarrassment in the past. For ways to build a positive classroom culture read here.

Dan Pink in Drive- the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, has researched human behaviour and uncovered the three motivating factors in our lives. These can be directly applied to our classroom practice to motivate students, especially those who seem totally disengaged.


Having voice and choice about the work that they do

In the classroom this means students have a say in what, how, when and with whom they work. Consider using Ralph Pirozzo matrices or David Langford self-directed learning strategies. Teaching students to be self-directed, promotes responsibility, independence and self-reliance for students. Use student-centred learning strategies can be very effective in engaging them and maintaining motivation. For ways to use variety to engage students see here.

Find out what students are interested in and their strengths. If they are good at sport, music or art perhaps these could be incorporated into the learning and used to motivate them in your class e.g. magazines for reading, project work on a famous sportsperson or musician or delivering a piece of work using a variety of modalities. Parents can often help find ways to engage students.  For ways to enlist parental support see here.

Make the learning relevant to student lives i.e. getting a job or pursuing an interest they have. Let them see that their learning matters.  Examine what it means to be a lifelong learner and the valuable skills and attitudes students can develop.

Lack of literacy skills can inhibit autonomy. investigate whether there are literacy issues that underlie incomplete tasks.

For more ways to motivate students see here.


Getting better at a skill or developing deep knowledge

Robert W. White, Motivation Reconsidered wrote this paragraph in his book, The Concept of Competence (1959):

“Human beings are novelty-seeking; that they are eager to experiment because such occasions offer opportunities to develop competence and to demonstrate mastery of the environment; and that they derive satisfaction from such activities as exploring, investigating, and manipulating an unknown environment.”

We all enjoy the feeling of getting better at something that is meaningful to us. The joy of improving your skills is what keeps you practising guitar, cooking more difficult recipes or taking art lessons. Mastery is achieved through deep learning and engagement, rather than teaching a curriculum that is ‘a mile wide and an inch deep’.

When you demonstrate your own passion and enthusiasm for a subject area this can translate to the students; they can ‘catch’ your excitement.  When they feel your care and interest for them, combined with the relevance and fervour you bring, they can become motivated to learn.

Explicitly teach students how to be motivated, how to concentrate, how to learn. Let them know that it can be difficult to concentrate at times and that is ok. Problem solve strategies to use when students are not feeling motivated: do they need a brain break, a drink of water, to move, to have some quiet time?


What they are doing is contributing to something outside themselves

Give students opportunities to give back to their communities in meaningful ways, raise money for charities, help out at another school, clean up a community space or mentor younger students.

Give difficult to engage students, leadership opportunities in your class. By giving them responsibility you can tap into their need to feel important and valued in the school. We have all seen students step up to the challenge when given responsibility, especially when they are working with someone less fortunate than themselves.

Some students can feel as though they are invisible or that they only get attention when they have done something wrong, so giving them responsibility can make them feel important and needed in the classroom.

How do you motivate your students?


Marie Amaro

Marie is the author of Habits of Highly Effective Teachers and is a passionate educator, with over 30 years experience working in education. Marie is a speaker, presenter and specialises in positive behaviour management, teacher wellbeing, restorative practices and school culture.