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What Parents and Teachers Get Wrong About Student Motivation

Parents and teachers want the same things for students: straight As, college degrees, and good career prospects. It’s understandable why anything that deviates from those expectations can be a cause of grave frustration. Students themselves often can’t give you a clear and concise reason why they’re not meeting your standards even if they want to. And then some seem indifferent and totally unmotivated to do well in school, and any discussion to examine their perspective is futile.

At the end of the day, what this boils down to is not who’s right or wrong but where the two sides fail to converge. Being in a position of authority, parents and teachers need first to address misconceptions that prevent them from collaborating effectively with students. Clearing up these erroneous notions can set the momentum for better classroom learning and home relationships that positively impact your students’ academics.

Different People, Different Motivations

Students, both at school and home, are frequently met with assumptions that they should be motivated by the same things. Don’t you want to get into a good university? Don’t you think about your career options? How will you support yourself if you can’t secure a high-paying job? These are all concerns that the adults around them maintain out of a desire to have a good future. It would be easier if they worked on every student all the time, but you have to acknowledge that different people want different things out of life. Just as you and the people you care for are moved by contrasting things, so are these younger people moved by people and influences you may not have noticed. It’s all about knowing what engages students and how to strike a balance.

They can be more attuned to their academics at school when there’s a competition or a challenge they want to overcome. Others still perform better when working as a team, while some prefer to achieve things alone.

One child may respond better to homework at home when they have the help of math tutors, and another child can be more productive when they discover ways to make their studies interesting by themselves.

Punishments Don’t Work

There are dated parenting and teaching styles that only do more harm than good. One of them is the use of punishments that supposedly instill good values and lessons to students. This gave rise to embarrassing and often depressing methods like denying students lunch breaks or setting them apart from their peers. While students do get something from these experiences, it’s rarely the motivation you want them to improve. Instead, they’re building negative associations with the things they’re being punished for. Failed exam? Depriving them of dinner can give rise to anxiety and hatred towards tests in general. Caught cheating? Humiliating them by announcing it to everyone leads them to develop indifference towards authority.

Parents and teachers shouldn’t let mistakes go unaccounted for, but punishments are the least effective way to uphold responsibility. One day, they’ll be forced to look back at their academic experience and remember all the negative associations they’ve formed that make them averse to learning later in life.

Focus instead on developing authentic and supportive relationships that they can depend on. Children and teenagers are going through many physical, emotional, and mental changes that can be difficult to manage along with academic pressure. Having your support not only in their studies but also in the other areas of life that affect it can significantly improve their performance.

teacher classroom

Rewards Are Only Skin Deep

Rewards work, that’s for sure. The problem with it is that it’s difficult to sustain. The bigger issue with it is its inability to transform inner motivation. Incentives often only tackle the surface, and when there’s no bait for them to go after, they stop performing the way you want them to.

Everyone yearns for fulfillment and satisfaction, no matter the person’s age. It’s only by working with students on these inner motivations and projecting them to their academics that they’ll see good grades and hard work as fulfilling rewards.

Make it a habit to note their improvements and praise them for them. Celebrate every win and be the first to encourage them when they face failures. These are lasting rewards that they’ll benefit from throughout their academic and professional journeys.

Emotional Intelligence Will Guide You

It’s by using empathy and knowing how to respond appropriately to situations that students benefit from their parents’ and teachers’ good intentions. Anyone who feels understood and sincerely connected with important figures in their lives can be easily guided to make the right choices and efforts in their academics.

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