What Motivates Your Students?

Picture a cartoon character standing under a cloud, hands raised, yelling, “All mine! It’s all mine!” as gold coins fall from the low hanging cloud.

Picture an employee whose annual appraisal is due and has learned to fear the meeting because of the score. That dreaded score is a valuation of the employee. It’s not just the work being judged, it’s the person.

And the employee uses the score to value her own life. A poor score is a rejection of the person, and a good score is an affirmation of worth and meaning. [pullquote align=”right”]Will it be on the test? [/pullquote]


It’s seemingly impossible to avoid it, but we are constantly seeking the valuation and validation of others. The mirror is never enough.

In many ways, the same is true for students.

What motivates your students? There are certainly many things, but what are those primary motivators embedded in your school culture?

No doubt, you’ve had the chance to hear a teacher state, “If I don’t grade it, then no one will do it?”

Wow. Is that really the culture of motivated learners we want? It’s certainly one type of culture that is the product of industrialized public education in America. [pullquote align=”left”]If I don’t grade it, then no one will do it![/pullquote]

Or, you’ve heard, “Will it be on the test?” Both students and teachers have asked it. In these cultures, it seems that if it’s not – or can’t – be tested, then it’s not valuable.

Nothing could be further from reality.

Follow the storyline from your school into higher ed, and you’ll find millions of students racking up college debt attempting to achieve the minimum work to pass (or even ace the course), but little else is done for creative thought and originality of work.

Maybe it’s because the story harkens back to how students are motivated early on in their educational career.

What if we change the narrative for our students?

What if we decide that quality work, habits of curiosity, and the synthesis of creative ideas are more important than the traditional motivators of grade point average, honorable accolades, and completed coursework?

What if?