These are difficult times for the field of education. In these unstable times it is important to leave our frustration with the state of education and finances at the door when working with our students with learning differences. This is especially so given what we know about how our students misperceive our messages of despair and frustration and often believe that it is something they are doing that makes us unhappy. In these stressful times it is vital that we focus efforts on hope, encouragement, purpose, and that we do this through the building of community, and the development of classrooms that are warm, trusting, and encouraging to make students comfortable enough to take the risks needed to make gains in learning.
So, how do we motivate our learners in these very un-motivating times? We begin by building community and support into our classrooms, helping to assure resiliency in our learners that will provide the strength necessary to overcome the roadblocks they will encounter as they maneuver through life. Richard LaVoie in The Motivation Breakthrough (2007) reminds us of the Six C’s to creating a motivating classroom: creativity, community, clarity, coaching, conferencing and control. He reminds us that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for motivation—in fact, motivation is very personal to each student.
In being creative we must assure that we meet the visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactual needs of students remembering that we are ‘teaching in a different time, for a different time’ (LaVoie, 2007 p.53). In developing the classroom community we must model for the class the type of environment that is responsive to our students by fostering a positive climate that embraces diversity, and recognizes the strengths of all of its members. LaVoie (2007) maintains that to build this community we must assure that students understand that being different doesn’t mean being bad and he offers a few simple strategies to improve classroom community. These include, but are not limited to, simple suggestions such as: greeting students at the door as you would a guest to your home; being attentive to students and using active listening, praise often and publicly—but be sure to give constructive criticism in private, avoid humiliating students, and to notice and acknowledge accomplishments, effort, and something about their personal life. Clarity of purpose in all that we do with our students who learn differently is also important in terms of classroom objectives, rules, and an understanding of our expectations as we move forward. Taking time to assure you are clear cannot be understated with our students—clear in lesson delivery, clear in our messages about effort, our behavioral expectations, and in our instructional expectations.
Coaching, conferencing and control are the last of the C’s. LaVoie (2007) reminds us that good coaches want all students to succeed, know their students, have individual and group goals, and use students’ strengths to help to alleviate weaknesses. Coaching and conferencing go hand in hand. We must take time to conference with students around common goals, and make that individual conferencing a major part of our teaching. Our students won’t often take the risk necessary to ask that clarifying question so conferencing time becomes a time of relationship building that is second to none with regard to motivating students within your classroom. If you don’t already conference on a regular basis—design a plan that allows you to meet weekly with your students one on one, and you will see the strengthening of your classroom community very quickly. Students get to see you in a different light, and you get to know more about your individual students as you build capacity with the conferencing model. Finally, in discussing the C’s LaVoie builds on the idea of control and the importance of choice and the value of decision-making for the child. To make your classroom more motivating for your students, work to assure there are opportunities for choice and decision-making built into your weekly plans. Teaching students to work within the given limits of your classroom will provide valuable life lessons as they grow. Avoid power struggles and look for ways to give the appropriate amount of control to your students whenever possible.
Robyn Jackson (2009) tells us that there are seven principles to become a master teacher. As this New Year unfolds, assure that while you work your students towards mastery, you work also to move yourself to master teacher status. Jackson maintains that master teachers ‘...start where their students are...know where their students are going...expect their students to get to their goal...support their students along the way...use feedback to help them and their students to get better...focus on quality...and never work harder than their students (p. 4). Master teachers motivate students. Make a commitment to determine where your master teacher work needs improving (commit to one or more of the C’s to improve) or focus on the master teacher principles above. Sometimes a mirror on our own motivation improves student motivation through some simple refocusing on that which is important—teaching children (not content!).
Jackson, R.R. (2009). Never work harder than your students and other principles of great teaching. ASCD, Alexandria VA.
LaVoie, R. (2007). The motivation breakthrough—6 secrets to turning on the tuned-out child. Touchstone, New York, NY.
Lois R. Favre, Ed. D. is Assistant Superintendent for the Lakeland Central School District in Westchester County, New York. She is a national and international presenter and writer on leadership, differentiation, inclusion, co-teaching, and special education topics. She serves on the Executive Board of Directors of the International Learning Styles Network, and as an Associate Editor for Insights on Learning Disabilities.