ERIC Identifier: ED346558
Publication Date: 1992-07-00
Author: Renchler, Ron
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
School Leadership and Student Motivation. ERIC Digest, Number
Much of the recent research on student motivation has rightly centered on the
classroom, where the majority of learning takes place and where students are
most likely to acquire a strong motivation to gain new knowledge. Making the
classroom a place that naturally motivates students to learn is much easier when
students and teachers function in an atmosphere where academic success and the
motivation to learn are expected and rewarded. Such an atmosphere, especially
when motivation to learn evolves into academic achievement, is a chief
characteristic of an effective school.
HOW CAN SCHOOL LEADERS GENERATE STUDENT MOTIVATION?
environment that nurtures educational motivation can be cultivated in the home,
in the classroom, or throughout an entire school. One of the most effective
avenues for engendering student motivation is a school's culture. According to
Deal (1987), school culture can be embodied and transformed through channels
such as shared values, heroes, rituals, ceremonies, stories, and cultural
Davis (1989) suggests using a wide variety of activities and symbols to
communicate motivational goals. "Visible symbols," he says, "illustrate and
confirm what is considered to be important in the school." He suggests using
"school newsletters, statements of goals, behavior codes, rituals, symbols, and
legends" to "convey messages of what the school really values." Staging academic
awards assemblies, awarding trophies for academic success and displaying them in
trophy cases, scheduling motivational speakers, and publicizing students'
success can help them see that the desire to be successful academically is
recognized and appreciated.
Klug (1989) notes that school leaders can influence levels of motivation by
"shaping the school's instructional climate," which in turn shapes "the
attitudes of teachers, students, parents, and the community at large toward
education." By effectively managing this aspect of a school's culture,
principals can "increase both student and teacher motivation and indirectly
impact learning gains," Klug says.
CAN SCHOOL RESTRUCTURING PLANS BE USED TO INCREASE STUDENT MOTIVATION?
School administrators can take advantage of times of
educational change by including strategies for increasing student motivation.
Acknowledging that school restructuring is inevitable, Maehr (1991) challenges
school leaders to ensure that "motivation and the investment in learning of
students will be enhanced" as a result of school reform. School leaders have
seldom "considered motivation vis-a-vis the current restructuring movement," he
says, "and few have considered that the school as an entity in its own right,
may have effects that supersede those of individual classrooms and the acts of
A positive "psychological environment" strongly influences student
motivation, says Maehr. School leaders can create this type of environment by
establishing policies and programs that:
* stress goal setting and self-regulation/management
* offer students choices in instructional settings
* reward students for attaining "personal best" goals
* foster teamwork through group learning and problem-solving experiences
* replace social comparisons of achievement with self-assessment and
* teach time management skills and offer self-paced instruction when possible
HOW DOES A SCHOOL'S ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE INFLUENCE LEVELS OF STUDENT MOTIVATION?
School structures sometimes perpetuate
feelings of low self-worth and low levels of motivation among students. "Teachers and parents worry that [students] are unmotivated," Raffini (1988)
says. "In reality, they are highly motivated to protect their sense of
self-worth." He suggests using individual goal-setting structures, outcome-based
instruction and evaluation, attribution retraining, and cooperative learning
activities to remove motivational barriers and redirect student behavior away
from failure-avoiding activities in academic settings. Raffini describes how
these four strategies can aid in promoting the rediscovery of an interest in
Individual goal-setting structures allow students to define their own
criteria for success.
Outcome-based instruction and evaluation make it possible for slower students
to experience success without having to compete with faster students.
Attribution retraining can help apathetic students view failure as a lack of
effort rather than a lack of ability.
Cooperative learning activities help students realize that personal effort
can contribute to group as well as individual goals.
Several other researchers have criticized current instructional practices
that sometimes hinder the development of motivation. Representative of these
critics are Stipek (1988) and Eccles, Midgeley, and Adler (1984). Stipek makes a
strong case for strengthening the degree of intrinsic motivation students feel
for learning. While she does not argue for the complete elimination of extrinsic
reward systems, she believes that "there are many benefits to maximizing
intrinsic motivation and many ways to foster it." Challenging but fair task
assignments, the use of positive classroom language, mastery-based evaluation
systems, and cooperative learning structures are among the methods she suggests.
Eccles, Midgeley, and Adler argue that motivation would increase if students
were asked to assume "greater autonomy and control over their lives and
learning" as they proceed through higher grade levels. They note that this
process rarely takes place in most schools and recommend that school leaders
create an "environment that would facilitate task involvement rather than ego
involvement, particularly as children enter early adolescence."
DOES A SCHOOL LEADER'S MOTIVATION TO SUCCEED INFLUENCE STUDENT MOTIVATION?
The work of Leithwood and Montgomery (1984) is
especially helpful in understanding the connections between a school
administrator's motivation and the level of motivation that exists among
According to Leithwood and Montgomery, school administrators progress through
a series of stages as they become more effective. At their highest level of
effectiveness, they come to understand that "people are normally motivated to
engage in behaviours which they believe will contribute to goal achievement. The
strength of one's motivation to act depends on the importance attached to the
goal in question and one's judgment about its achievability. Motivational
strength also depends on one's judgment about how successful a particular
behavior will be in moving toward goal achievement."
Personal motivation on the part of the principal can translate into
motivation among students and staff through the functioning of goals, according
to Leithwood and Montgomery. "Personally valued goals," they say, "are a central
element in the principal's motivational structure--a stimulus for action."
Establishing, communicating, and creating consensus around goals related to
motivation and educational achievement can be a central feature of a school
leader's own value system.
WHAT ELSE CAN SCHOOL LEADERS DO?
The complex array of
problems that contribute to low levels of student motivation makes it impossible
to devise a single, programmatic approach that will suddenly turn poorly
motivated students into young people hungry for knowledge. Engendering student
motivation is an ongoing process that requires creativity and energy.
Grossnickle (1989) provides useful charts and inventories for monitoring
motivation levels and lists many helpful ideas for promoting positive attitudes
Here are a few other steps school leaders can take to improve student
motivation at the school level:
* Analyze the ways that motivation operates in your own life and develop a
clear way of communicating it to teachers and students.
* Seek ways to demonstrate how motivation plays an important role in
noneducational settings, such as in sports and in the workplace.
* Show students that success is important. Recognize the variety of ways that
students can succeed. Reward success in all its forms.
* Develop or participate in inservice programs that focus on motivation.
* Involve parents in discussing the issue of motivation and give them
guidance in fostering it in their children.
* Demonstrate through your own actions that learning is a lifelong process
that can be pleasurable for its own sake.
Davis, John. "Effective Schools, Organizational
Culture, and Local Policy Initiatives." In EDUCATIONAL POLICY FOR EFFECTIVE
SCHOOLS, edited by Mark Holmes, Keith Leithwood, and Donald Musella. New York:
Teachers College Press, 1989. 191 pages.
Deal, Terrence E. "The Culture of Schools." In LEADERSHIP: EXAMINING THE
ELUSIVE, edited by Linda T. Sheive and Marian B. Schoenheit. Alexandria,
Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1987. 144
pages. ED 278 154.
Eccles (Parsons), J.; C. Midgeley; and T. F. Adler. "Grade-Related Changes in
the School Environment: Effects on Achievement Motivation." In ADVANCES IN
MOTIVATION AND ACHIEVEMENT, Vol. 3: The Development of Achievement Motivation,
edited by John G. Nicholls. Greenwich, Connecticut: JAI Press, 1984. 347 pages.
Grossnickle, Donald R. HELPING STUDENTS DEVELOP SELF MOTIVATION: A SOURCEBOOK
FOR PARENTS AND EDUCATORS. Reston, Virginia: National Association of Secondary
School Principals, 1989. 30 pages. ED 309 332.
Klug, Samuel. "Leadership and Learning: A Measurement-Based Approach for
Analyzing School Effectiveness and Developing Effective School Leaders." In
ADVANCES IN MOTIVATION AND ACHIEVEMENT, VOL. 6: MOTIVATION ENHANCING
ENVIRONMENTS, edited by Martin L. Maehr and Carol Ames. Greenwich, Connecticut:
JAI Press, 1989. 293 pages.
Leithwood, K. A., and D. J. Montgomery. "Patterns of Growth in Principal
Effectiveness." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American
Educational Research Association (New Orleans, Louisiana, April 23-27, 1984). 71
pages. ED 246 526.
Maehr, Martin L. "Changing the Schools: A Word to School Leaders about
Enhancing Student Investment in Learning." Paper presented at the annual meeting
American Educational Research Association (Chicago, Illinois, April 1991). ED
Raffini, James P. STUDENT APATHY: THE PROTECTION OF SELF WORTH. WHAT RESEARCH
SAYS TO THE TEACHER. Washington, D.C.: National Education Association, 1988. 36
pages. ED 297 198.
Stipek, Deborah J. MOTIVATION TO LEARN: FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE. Englewood
Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1988. 178 pages.