Find the Fire–Motivation

So a friend of mine asked me about what motivates my students, and then another friend calls me to tell me that they aren’t sure why they are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in a graduate program–he is unmotivated.  So, actually, really nothing happens by coincidence.  In that spirit, I spent my waking moments wondering about motivation.  What motivates me to want to go to the gym even after I’ve missed my appointment, what motivates my students to want to read for pleasure and love learning, what made graduate school so frustrating for my high school friend that he is now unmotivated to actively pursue and finish his graduate degree? What is it about motivation that makes the most challenging tasks uncomplicated  and the most uncomplicated tasks challenging?  How does that relate to success: personal success, financial success, romantic success, just plain life success?

One my grad school professors introduced me to the 7 building blocks of reading comprehension, and though I only remember 5 of them on a given day (don’t say anything ot her, she would have my head) the one that made the most clout in my success this year is motivation.  So you are probably thinking, yes, you teach a child the letters, their sounds, word solving techniques, give them some background knowledge and they are just going to become these amazing readers. It’s as if you have all the ingredients to make the best meal in the world and you forget that you need a stove cook it all.  Motivation is the fire, literally and figuratively that makes your meal cohesive.  You may need a lot of motivation to do something, or not that much, but without it, you may just have really awesome potential.  Okay so maybe the analogy is all off, but I hope you get the point.

Motivation also works in the opposite direction also, if you have a pot of water to make your famous mashed potatoes, but you forget the knowledge the potatoes, you may burn all of your water away. Then you are left with a fire and a burned pot (which honestly so not fun to actually clean).  It really is a combination of tools, knowledge and motivation  that make people successful because if you have the motivation to find the knowledge then you’ll have the knowledge and therefore fuel your motivation.

So how does this relate back to my students?  SO today my student says to me that she doesn’t like to read because it takes too long and the words are a lot and she can’t find her place.  So she really likes the books but then looses motivation when it is time to read for a while.  Most teachers would tell her to try harder and give her a highlighter ruler (which i fully intend to give her) and then sort of send her on her way.  I actually think it has to do with the fact that the books themselves don’t interest her.  She wants to be chef, but hasn’t read many books about food.  So sitting at the dining room table today we chose three books that we will use to study food.  The chemistry of it, where they come from and the best ways to prepare them.  We sat and read only the reviews and the synopses online and I saw her eyes light up.  It was a spark and it was the best thing ever! Maybe we will have a project on all the knowledge she acquired.  The sky is the limit.

As far as my friend from high school, the jury is still out.  I think with adults the motivation actually comes from purpose.  When a person has purpose then motivation is a by product.  I am not saying by any means that this person lacks purpose, but i will say that they have to spend sometime rekindling the spark.  It is harder with adults because we get really set in our ways, and rekindling becomes harder and a little more difficult.

In his book Drive, Daniel Pink talks about what motivates people and it isn’t always monetary.  It is doing something that matters: something that matters to them, to others, to anyone.  Knowing that what you do matters helps to make that rekindling less challenging.  I think that that’s what it is for my student, so reading and knowing that what she is doing will help advance in her career long after the fourth grade will impact her the most.  I know that what motivated me to spend seven years in school in undergrad and both graduate degrees, was that the work I did in undergrad made me a better person and the work in grad school made me a better teacher, professional and has helped me to impact people like my students and my friends surprisingly enough.

When the going gets tough, I would say find what matters and play around with it.  And if you can’t find what matters soul search until you do.  Ask your kids what matters to them when you find that they don’t want to do what you want them to do (or they said they wanted to do yesterday, but then realized that they really don’t want that anymore).  Find out what really makes you tick intrinsically and the extrinsic reward will happen.  I think that is why we have so many awesome teachers running around.

I’ll leave with this talk from Daniel Pink where he talks about extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation.  It really made me think the first time I listened and I still find new insights each time.

Remember that there are no coincidences, just wonderful acts to make you amazing.

Don’t forget the stove on your next big meal.



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