Steven Herder

Motivating our students – Steven Herder

A Message For Teachers By One Teacher

Motivated teachers can inspire and motivate their students – and the opposite is just as true. It’s all a part of the circle of life in education.

While it is important for us teachers to continually look for ways to motivate our students, I’ve been reminded this weekend about how empowering it is for teachers to get reinvigorated, rejuvenated, refreshed, and re-inspired by hanging around other passionate teachers. Allow me to share a brief, but timely story.

I have just spent the weekend at the Executive Board Meeting (EBM) of the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) in Tokyo, Japan. As this year’s conference co-chair for the International JALT 2012 conference in October, I joined some 100 educators from all over Japan for conference planning meetings and two days of general JALT business. To be honest, I’m pretty tired from the work hard/play hard pace of the weekend; but more importantly, my motivation tank has been refilled well beyond the top. The inspirational impact that this community of teachers has on so many friends who have gotten involved at the national level is quite mysterious. I remember when I first got a glimpse of its magic.

In 2008, I took on a somewhat daunting personal challenge by volunteering to help with organizing the PR for the international conference (with my great friend, “MB”). Traveling to Tokyo in January for the first planning meeting of the year, I immediately fell in love with the teachers I met on the night before the meetings began (I’ll never forget meeting “SB, AM, CK, DT, HN, MS, AK,” et al). Collectively, they oozed wisdom, experience, passion, maturity, generosity, openness and some of the warmest and genuine smiles I had ever seen among teachers in Japan. It was blatantly obvious how happy they all were to be together and how they all fed off the synergy of the group. I felt “home” among teachers like I never had before. Again, this weekend, I came home feeling motivated and somewhat blessed to be a teacher. This feeling was nurtured through a series of meetings and social events.

The meetings were polite, professional and productive. Enough said.

The social aspects of the weekend were… well, priceless. Over two days, I spoke to dozens of people over coffee breaks, lunch, a stand-up dinner buffet and an evening trip into Shinjuku with some of my adventurous comrades.

I’d like to offer just a glimpse of the range of discussions that were happening:

Raising bilingual children – fathers both younger and older shared challenges and wisdom from the ongoing battle to equip our children with a fair balance of English and Japanese language ability.

Writing a book – a few of us brainstormed ideas to write a book reflecting our similar deepening understanding of the classroom experience of EFL students.

Doing a PhD – In Japan, many, many teachers now have an MA degree. So, if you want to get ahead, you need to do a PhD or the Doctor of Education degree (Ed.D. or D.Ed.) and a bunch of young teachers (mid-30’s) who I spoke with are now doing one. It is great for them and scary for the rest of us who remain on the fence.

Collaborating on writing projects – I found two other teachers who love teaching writing as much as I do. We shared our best experiences and so many common approaches that we are now looking for ways to collaborate on either research or a writing project together.

There were a number of other discussions as well. Of course, different people talked about different things, and I’m sure everyone found topics that matched wherever they are in their own teaching journey. Some other discussions that I don’t have space to go into include: Colleague’s new projects; Speaking opportunities over the summer; Balancing curriculum with student needs; The EFL context in Japan, and various hopes and dreams for the future.

So, I hope you can see what happens when you put a whole bunch of active teachers together, people who are willing to step up and give their time and effort to not only developing themselves, but also developing the education industry as a whole…

Overall, it is a pretty motivating experience.

For any of our readers who have yet to take a chance and get involved beyond their immediate teaching context, can you share any of your stories about being motivated by other teachers?

As a kid, this library in Japan would motivate me to read!
Simple truths motivate me
Clever ideas inspire me


Published by

Steven Herder

Steven has been teaching within the Japanese EFL context since 1989. Having over 20 years teaching experience at the elementary and secondary school level, he is currently an associate professor in the International Studies department at Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts. He is also extremely active in professional development within the ELT community. He co-founded MASH Collaboration in 2007, an online community devoted to professional development through collaboration. He is an avid user of Skype and can often be heard saying, “Collaboration creates just the right amount of tension to get lots done.” He also spends time editing numerous articles, academic volumes and proceedings, and leading teacher training seminars for various companies throughout Japan. Steven works from the perspective that, “being a teacher means a never-ending commitment to learning”.

21 thoughts on “Motivating our students – Steven Herder”

  1. Nicely said, Steve. JALT is such a great group, with so many different roles to challenge and motivate us. I’ve been a chapter president, helped to organize conferences big and small, written a monthly column, proofread and peer-reviewed articles, the list goes on. And best of all, built a great network of friends across Japan and the world. Sometimes I wonder why there isn’t a line stretching around the block to volunteer!

  2. Hi Steven,
    Great post as usual. I wonder what all those initials stand for 😉 I think I can guess a few. It was great seeing you this past week-end. Wish we’d had more time to catch up. What you say about getting together with colleagues is absolutely true. I always feel motivated after a JALT meeting or a conference. Speaking of conferences, I hope you won’t be offended if correct you. It’s not the National JALT conference. It’s the JALT International Conference. I know that it’s going to be better than ever with you and Deryn as conference chairs. Jim George and i will be starting a blog challenge to publicise the JALT International Conference, and i hope you will take up the challenge whne we make it. I’ll let you know more as soon as I can.

    1. Thanks for the correction, Michael.

      Yes, I wish we had talked more as well. I missed having a good ole chat with you, Kevin and a few others…

      That’s why there is next time.

      Thanks, as always, Michael.

  3. Great article it’s uplifting to read your comments. When I go to similar events in Scotland I always leave fully charged and ready to go back into the classroom with something new that I can experiment with. Just what I needed this morning.

    1. Monday is my marathon teaching day.

      Seeing your message at the end of round 1 is all I need to plough through the rest of the evening. Thanks for that!

      I hope you’ll come back again.

  4. Steve is correct. The experiences I have had with JALT organizing conferences, working with other educators who work towards providing a platform for the exchange of ideas, stories and networking has not only been a great addition to my professional development but more importantly a wonderful addition of so many new friends, and that is “totally cool.” Wicked post and wicked Saturday night! Catch up with everyone soon enough.

  5. It’s the first part of the article that resonates most for me. We motivate without being entertainers (primarily). Hopefully we motivate because when we are teaching (at least some of the time) we are in our own authentic and creative energy. When we are being our creative spontaneous selves it seems to raise the group energy level, (I hope that is not too wacky a thought here).

    1. Well said, Richard. I would love to hear more about when you are “in the zone” because That’s where all the magic happens. By thinking about it and capturing the images, feelings and connections that you both create and witness, you have a better shot at replicating again in your classroom (i hope THAT doesn’t sound wacky).

  6. Similar thoughts and feelings here, Steven. Thanks for expressing them so eloquently here.

    @Richard Ingate: Not wacky in the least. That’s excellent food for thought. Thanks for posting!

  7. Bob – Yup, I’ve seen both how much you put out for JALT and the satisfaction that you receive from giving to the greater good. Glad to know you and have a chance to work with you.


  8. As always, so well articulated, Mr. Herder. Reading your post leaves me with that ‘natsukashii’ feeling. I miss those EBMs and all that positive energy. I could not have found a more hardworking, positive and dedicated group of volunteers – ever. That’s what made the entire experience so much fun!

    1. So glad you caught this week’s blog, Ann. I hope others out there get a sense from our collective experience of all the good things waiting for them if they simply take the first step and make it known to others that they would like to get involved.

  9. Hi Steven,
    Too much noise about PHD”s. Not all those who hold the degree are able enough to offer solutions and can do much. Some believe that they are omniscient but have problems understanding others. If asked questions, they feel it beyond their status to respond. . However, there are many holding MA or lower degrees but they have low expectations and are very helpful. Therefore, it is better to think of what people, regardless of their degrees, can offer.

    1. Hi Shahram,

      I’m glad to see you back with a reply to my post!

      I should have explained a little better that the PhD talk is particular to my context in Japan. There are so many MA holders in Japan now that the universities are all looking for PhD holders for the tenured jobs.

      It can be frustrating because, as you say, a PhD doesn’t guarantee anything in particular… other than having the perseverance to finish a PhD.

      A group of friends and I had a few discussions about doing a PhDX. We came up with this name ourselves and decided that it would be all the work of a PhD (done collaboratively on our own topics) with the intention of each person writing a book that would be strong enough to publish. If it led to a good job as well, that would be icing on the cake.

      Finally, I heard a quote the other day, “Universities are not really known for their teaching” – that made me sad – mostly for the students who are very often ready to learn a lot.

      What do you think?


      1. Thanks for your comments.
        That “universities are not really known for their teaching” is not thoughtful. I would think of teachers and students as “group dynamics”, the term used by Anthony Gaughen to describe a great lesson, whereby both are invovled in a process of rapporting to move towards change.

  10. Hi Steve,
    Your post is wonderful. Yes, motivation usually comes from the energy of our community of colleagues in the teaching world. Sometimes I get over-motivated, ah … now what? :-) Believe me that over-motivation is also something I have to deal with.
    The most wonderful thing is that motivation is contagious, so students perceive this inside of us, and open their hearts to let them enjoy learning too. These are magical moments in my class.
    Thanks Steve,

  11. Great post and quite inspiring. Remind me that I have been sitting on the fence too long. Time to move on. It is true to be competitive further education is necessay in spite the fact that we may be grandfathers now, but what the hell, the spirit never gets old do let’s give it a shot.

  12. Whenever we have a chance to take part in/attend a conference, seminar, webinar, workshop, etc. it is a great chance not only to listen to the presenters, but also to exchange ideas with other participants, teachers… This way we get motivated and excited about trying new ideas in our classrooms.

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