Motivation essential in crafting a positive learning experience

As the superintendent of schools for Lufkin ISD, one of my primary responsibilities is to effectively motivate leaders to lead, teachers to teach and students to learn. Motivation has been defined as “the willingness of a person to expend a certain amount of effort to achieve a particular goal under a particular set of circumstances.” With current federal and state legislation requiring schools to meet accountability standards on high-stakes tests, the issue of motivation can be challenging. The most important educational goal is for students to learn.

Another important goal is to make this newly acquired knowledge meaningful to students so that it may be retained and useful in their everyday lives. Motivation is the essential factor necessary in meeting these goals.

Each school year, we strive to implement innovative motivational strategies for all leaders, teachers, and students in our district. My philosophy of education is rooted in the humanistic approach, which focuses on the non-cognitive aspects of learning. As educational leaders and teachers, we must embrace this approach by addressing students’ needs, emotions, values and self-perception by providing relevant learning experiences for all students in an environment where students feel safe, have a sense of belonging, and experience increased self-esteem. This practice is the key to motivating students to love learning.

Many times, students are unmotivated because one or more of their needs aren’t being met. This is especially true for students who come from low socio-economically disadvantaged homes where there is not adequate food, clothing or shelter. Because their lives are inundated with inadequate resources, these students don’t feel safe, they lack a sense of belonging, and exhibit low self-esteem. Maslow defined human motivation as a search to meet basic needs that includes a five-level hierarchy of needs that begins with physiological needs at the bottom followed in ascending order by safety, belongingness and love, esteem, and self -actualization needs. Students who have any of their needs unmet may exhibit a lack of motivation.

I am proud to serve in a school district where teachers work fervently from the first day of school in the fall to the last day of school in the spring to create positive classroom experiences that make learning inviting to students. Learning is evident when teachers create warm and accepting classroom environments, which promote persistent effort and favorable attitudes toward learning. These environments stimulate learning and motivate students to learn.

To increase motivation for students to achieve at high levels, we must continuously emphasize goal setting and self-regulation. Teachers who embrace self-regulated learning encourage learners to take control of their own learning. Self-regulated learning is defined as the “systematic efforts to direct thoughts, feelings, and actions toward the attainment of one’s goals.” Students are able to focus on their own progress in mastering skills and acquiring knowledge. Research has shown that people are more inclined to engage in behaviors that they believe will contribute to achieving their own goals.

Our campus leaders in Lufkin ISD encourage a schoolwide climate of high expectations and positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is “strengthening the likelihood that a desired behavior will be repeated by presenting a stimulus immediately after the behavior has occurred.” When students are praised in front of their peers for an appropriate behavior, they feel validated and appreciated and the appropriate behavior is more likely to occur. At every opportunity, a zealous effort is made to provide faculty and students with authentic praise for their many strides toward improving academically.

The quote that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is certainly a true statement. Students are no different from adults. They want to feel validated, appreciated and encouraged to achieve their personal goals. My primary responsibility as the educational leader at Lufkin ISD is to make sure that this mission is accomplished.

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