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.
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.
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 evaluation techniques
* teach time management skills and offer self-paced instruction when possible
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."
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.
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.
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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.
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