Chuck Sandy

Staying healthy and motivated – Chuck Sandy

Listen CarefullyChuck Sandy

Listen. When I hear people say things like, “I can’t seem to get myself motivated today,” or, “I’d like to spend the whole day doing nothing” I know what they mean because sometimes I feel that way, too. Yet I also know that no one really ever does nothing. I never do.

My nothing consists of walking nowhere in particular, pulling little weeds from my garden, and needlessly reorganizing my books. While doing these things I might look unmotivated and unproductive but it’s this doing nothing that motivates me to do more. It’s when I dream and think things through and I am telling you because I want you to know me. You understand this, right?

I also want you to know that this is why I love the procrastinators, the dreamers, and the nothing doers in my classes so much.  Getting to know who they really are is something else that motivates me. I think about them as I weed and walk and reorganize my books.

I know from experience that thinking of these people as unmotivated and taking them to task for not doing the things we think they should be doing will cause us to lose them. We don’t want that to happen. We want to pull these people in. But how? It’s simple: Listen.

Make them realize you believe their lives matter.  Do this by taking their lives seriously, believing in their potential and demonstrating that — visibly. In a culture where taking anyone’s internal universe seriously is increasingly rare, you just might be the only person who’s ever done such a thing for them. Talk about motivation!

If you are suffering from motivation problems yourself and think this sounds nice but wonder where it’s  leading, then I’d like to give you a challenge: Go to class, pick your most unmotivated student and find something to compliment him or her on. Say, “Where do you usually go shopping. I love your style” Or ask a question. Say, “You look really tired. Were you up late last night?” Then, listen. Repeat this process over the next few classes. I guarantee you’ll start to notice a change in both yourself and in your unmotivated student.

Now, start keeping an eye open for this student and other dreamers. Whenever you see them, stop for a chat.  Invite them to join you for coffee if appropriate. Listen and share. Talk about your day, about whatever is going on with you, about how you’re tired because you were up late watching stupid YouTube videos.  Tell them about your partner if appropriate. Refer to that person by name, as if these students were a part of your life. When they begin to understand they are a part of your life, they will start telling you about what’s going on in their lives.  When they do, listen carefully. Of course, this process works with colleagues, too, and I mean both those colleagues you see every day at school as well as the ones who make up your professional community online.

We don’t listen to each other enough. Even as teachers, we rarely talk with each other about what’s going on in our lives, yet I have come to believe this is absolutely necessary. We need to share more and  listen more carefully to each other. If we consciously do this, we will start to feel better about who we are and what we do. We will become less fearful, our confidence will increase and we will become more motivated.

This is what I was thinking about today as I weeded the garden and I wanted to tell you about it because I want you to know me. I want to know you too. That motivates me.

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Chuck Sandy

Chuck is a teacher, teacher trainer, author & educational activist with 30 years of experience in the US, Japan and Brazil. His many publications include the Passages and Connect series from Cambridge University Press and the Active Skills For Communication series from Cengage Learning. He is a frequent presenter at conferences and workshops around the world. Chuck believes that positive change in education happens one student, one classroom, and one school at a time, and that it arises most readily out of dialogue and in collaboration with other educators. This is the reason he has built a Facebook group with over 9000 teachers from 24 countries that meet for ongoing educational discussions. It is also the reason he has worked to introduce Design For Change into Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, and Russia.

19 thoughts on “Staying healthy and motivated – Chuck Sandy”

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Chuck, and for the good advice, too! I wonder how many of our acknowledged “great minds” were often accused of lack of motivation before they were finally recognized for their social contributions.

  2. Thank you Chuck, that is really inspiring.. I actually had this in my mind, coz I frequently notice how students would open up with me when things go down to a personal level of discussion..
    It’s not they are demotivated, but that they are not exactly hooked to what you wanted them to be hooked to.. and might not be your fault, that’s when giving them an attentive ear would solve your problem with them.. so I totally agree with what Check proposed here.. cheers!

  3. Thank you Bill, Mahmood and Naomi for the lovely comments. It’s true, I do love the dreamers and nothing-doers in my classes and while I do work to pull them into the circle, I’m also really respectful of and inspired by the interesting things they are doing in other areas of their life. These students certainly aren’t problems outside of the school context, and even in school they’re often very successful socially. It’s just they often don’t manage to get work in on time or even show up for class sometimes. They’re too busy doing stuff that really does interest them. Among my “unmotivated” students I have a dancer, a star BMX cyclist, an up and coming DJ and master mechanic. Of course I also have people in love, people going thru a break-up with a partner, people troubled by the direction their life is taking, and people with an assortment of self-doubts and issues. Not problematic: just distracted, and interesting too, as people. And this is it, finally, isn’t it. We teach people and always have to remember that. When we do, our deeper connections with our learners (and colleagues) allows us to teach and learn what really matters. Language is just a tool in the process.

  4. Such a great post, Chuck. Thank you so much. You are absolutely right. Making students feel that they matter is the most important lesson we can pass along. Language is just the tool to teach what really matters: sharing and caring. As the saying goes “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel”.

    1. Thank you so much Sophia. I know you know what this is all about: making people feel (and understand) that they matter is so important: students, colleagues, friends, family, and all the people we meet as we go about our day. My friend and mentor Kiran Bir Sethi points out rightly and repeatedly that the biggest problem we face in the world is that so many people feel they are invisible. With 8 billion of us here, it’s easy to feel that no one notices. Often those students (and colleagues) who act out by not doing what the system requires of them are, in some way, seeking attention, and dare I say it? Love. I said it and it’s true. It doesn’t cost anything to spread a little. Making those people who are in danger of falling through the cracks because of their rule breaking understand they have value, and are not only appreciated but even loved is the most important and motivating work we can do. I know you know this 🙂

  5. Thank you for this inspiring post, Chuck. It reminded me of a story of mine. Whenever it was raining when I was a little girl and I got sad because I couldn’t play outside, my dad used to tell me: “look at the rain…now look closely to all the beautiful flowers in the garden…be very quiet and listen to them. They’re all happy, smiling and singing songs thanking the rain – it gives them life and makes them more beautiful than they already are. Now, get yourself a book and just like the rain, give the story life and listen to all the beautiful sounds in it. Then come and tell me.” So, this was how I learnt to listen to all the sounds of the world. And this is how I listen to all my students, especially the ones who seem to be doing “nothing”. I do agree that they have so much to share, whatever it may be. We just have to stop, listen carefully and show them they’re part of the class, the group, the school and most importantly, part of life.
    Thank you for bringing me such good memories!
    I’m proud to have had a dad like mine. I’m proud to be a teacher. I’m proud to be part of this community.

    1. Thank you for sharing this great story, Malu. I have a Dad like yours who spent his life sharing good wisdom like this with me. It resonates still. True: everyone has something to share if we’re willing to look for it. One of the wise things my father said once is “I only met two people in my life I didn’t like, and it turned out I was wrong about both of them.” Everyone gets a chance, and then another one, and another. There are all kinds of flowers in the garden and weeds are only flowers growing where we don’t expect them to be thriving. A lot of students are like that. Give them some room to grow in their own way, in a way that allows them to shine without invasively taking over the garden, and you’ll see good things. I know you know this 🙂

  6. Amazingly eye-opening reading. The art of listening is an essential skill for every one of us.
    I would love to read Momo by Michael Ende again.
    Thank you so much for sharing uplifting and liberating thoughts!!!

  7. Thank you so much for this post. I remember when such a wonderful thing happened to me. I have this very interesting 9-year-old student who is forced to study English by his parents but who doesn’t really want to. And the only thing that helps me here is to listen to him. And you know what I have inadvertently heard the other day when my student was talking to a receptionist in the school? ‘Olesya is the coolest teacher.’ That’s where I got I’m doing the right thing. Thanks for reminding me that.

  8. What can I say but I totally and undreamingly agree with you! I’m very much a listener more than a talker so it’s easy for me to notice how so many school teachers are too busy rushing through the coursebook, with one-and-a-half eyes glued to the syllabus and the exam results, that they forget the human in the student who “doesn’t pay attention in class”. And they forget that they had probably been like that once upon a time, too.

  9. Advice that’s simple, and also not so simple. I totally agree that there isn’t enough true listening in the world (from me as much as from anyone else). Yet, to really be *heard* is so important … For validation, motivation, just to know that you’re part of a bigger picture. Taking extra care to *hear* the ones that don’t match the stereotyped “good student” … I’m sure that’s a motivator for them. Also, a *heard* person is more willing to *hear* in return. That’s a benefit to the teacher as well. (Do some of us teach partly because of a need to be *heard*? Got to give that some thought!)o

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post,

  10. I came across this late, but it is all well said. It feels like everyone here is talking about genuinely listening, without an agenda. One thing I would like to add to that is a personal story. When I was about 14, I was doing some things with “friends” that I knew were wrong. One evening, I sat in the kitchen with my mother (who had been a 9th grade English teacher in a tough neighborhood before I was born) and I told her about it. She listened. And she said nothing. Somehow, intuitively she knew that I knew better, and if she said anything she would lose me. Saying nothing, letting me tell her so that I knew somebody knew, allowed me take responsibility without being found out or berated.
    If someone comes out with something, don’t hit them with it. That may just be the most empowering thing you can do for them – trusting them to do what is right.

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