Staying healthy and motivated – Scott Thornbury

Scott Thornbury

What Motivates You As A Teacher? 

— Scott Thornbury

It’s not the best of times to be a teacher. In Spain, where I live, and in response to the deteriorating economic situation, the government has just announced an increase in class numbers and an increase in teachers’ hours. Not only is this likely to reduce the quality of education, but it reinforces a perception that teachers are undervalued (there’s no concomitant increase in teachers’ salaries, of course) and it contributes very little to teachers’ self-esteem. Not very motivating!

It’s worth reminding ourselves, though, that – even if our governments don’t value us – our students do. Who, apart from their parents and siblings, has made the biggest impression on their lives, after all? Ask anyone to name a formative influence on their lives and chances are, they’ll name a teacher.

What do teachers do, then, to validate their role in education and to retrieve a measure of self-respect?

I decided to ask my Twitter followers. My question: What motivates you as a teacher?

These are some of the answers I got:

As I sifted through the responses, I found they fell into four main areas:

  1. Learner feedback/ results. For example: “I love when the light comes on in a student’s eyes and you know that they’ve ‘got it”
  2. External validation: “Appreciation also helps to raise motivation..whether from students or from your boss”
  3. Intrinsic drive: “Continuous professional development & using my new knowledge to help students”
  4. Peer support/community: “What keeps me going is the experience of knowing extraordinary people every year”

Each of these areas is within the teacher’s control. 1. You can get results, because you know what you’re doing, and you do it well; 2. Your students – and even your boss – will appreciate you if you do your job; 3. You can push yourself even further, because you’re always learning; and 4. You can become part of a community of teachers who you care for, and who care for you.

And (with regard to point 4) that’s why ITDi is such a great idea: it extends the notion of community to a global level.


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Motivating our students – Chuck Sandy

Please Stop Talking About Motivation — Chuck Sandy

Chuck Sandy

When we say someone is unmotivated, what we often mean is they are not doing what we think they should be doing. When we say we ourselves our lacking motivation, what we often mean is “I don’t feel like doing anything today” or “I don’t feel very well” or even “I don’t feel like I belong here.” It sounds like depression, doesn’t it?

Openly confessing to being unmotivated is sometimes a small act of personal rebellion and sometimes a call for help. When it’s a call for help, having to listen to someone talk about motivation will just make things worse.

Our students don’t usually use words to describe their inner states. They act them out in ways that can look like a lack of motivation but isn’t. When we see someone doing this, we have to stop and say to ourselves, “No, I am not going to walk over and give a lecture on the importance of being motivated.” Yet, sometimes we do what we have just told ourselves we shouldn’t. Why do we do this?

Often it’s because we mistakenly feel it’s about us.  It’s not about us, yet we look at a student acting out and looking openly unmotivated and think, “I am not reaching this student, do not know how to reach this student, and the only thing I can think to do is stop this behaviour because it’s a threat.” Such thoughts occur to all of us. We’re human.

I’ve got a student who worked hard getting me to notice how unmotivated he is. Every time he slouched down or pulled out his mobile or indicated he has no book, pen, or paper, he looked at me to see if this would be the moment I walked over and used the voice of authority on him – the one he’s probably had used on him all his life.

He acted out. I responded in a normal way. He stopped what he was doing, and then started doing something doubly annoying. I ignored that because it wasn’t bothering anyone except me.  Instead I commented on something else and walked away. It was a stand off that lasted until one day he could stand it no longer.

As I approached his group to talk to another student, he looked up and said in a loud angry voice “I’ve got a headache, alright?” I was completely taken aback. He glared at me, repeated this line in an angrier voice, and then waited. I confess, I almost said something different from what I did say, but what I did say was, “I’m sorry to hear that. Why don’t you go to my office and take a nap. The door’s open.”

He picked up his bag, turned to me, and said, “I’m not stupid, you know.”  I said, “I know that. I didn’t say you are. I said maybe you could use a nap. My office is a great place to take naps.” He stormed off without another word.

An hour later, he came in, sat down, asked someone what we were doing, and started doing it. At the end of class, when the room was empty he said, “You have a nice office” and left.  That was about a month ago. Since then he’s become what some might call a motivated person. He’s pleasant, brings his materials and participates.

Why do people act like this and what happened there? I have no idea, but clearly there was much more than a nap involved. Some wall fell down. A new understanding was born between us and something important happened.

People sometimes work hard at putting up fences to keep others from coming in their inner world and messing things up. I don’t know why people do that, but they do. If you’re going to be a teacher, you have to understand this has nothing to do with motivation and nothing to do with you. Your job is to wait patiently, look for an opening in the fence and when you see it, reach in and say the right thing. A miracle happens when we are able to do this.

It’s as simple and as complex as that.  —  Chuck Sandy

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The Special Needs Issue – Tamas Lorincz

A First (?) Day — Tamas Lorincztamas

I have thought about this day for a long time.  I feel my heart beating in my throat; I’m not able to breathe deeply enough.  The closed door lies just ahead, and behind it my future.  I hear the bell, again and again.  I can’t put this off any longer. I have to go through it.

It was a journey for me to get to this stage.  My parents insisted I remain with people like me, to make it easier.  But I had greater ambitions.  My hopes were high with what I wanted to achieve and the people I wanted to inspire. All this to be abruptly halted, one minute after the bell, by two pathetic inches.

People turn to look at me and the first impression I have made is the last I had wanted to.

“Open the other door so he can get through,” they all say to each other, to no one in particular.  I wheel myself back a little to give the gathering crowd space.

“I can’t, the latch is stuck,” says another, as I feel myself disappear into the blackness I have occupied so often throughout my life.

Another person tries the latch, then a third, before it finally gives and they are able to open both doors so that my wheelchair can pass.

I haven’t inspired awe, I have attracted pity.  The students look at me with a mixture of curiosity, doubt and a bit of fear. They have no idea what to do with me.

When did the word ‘special’ become fraught with so much derision?  I am not ‘special.’ I am not ‘unique.’ I do not have special needs and I am not ‘differently abled’. I’m just not able to move my legs.

This…..inconvenience, hindrance, even idiosyncrasy, will mean, inevitably, that I will have to deal with the humiliation of the door, and others like it, everyday.

I remember all too clearly the trauma of my last school, where I had to fake sickness before class performances to avoid being carried down the stairs to the auditorium.  Where I had to wait until lunchtime to go to the toilet because the only one fitting a wheelchair was near the basketball courts outside.  I could go on, and on and on and on, but it gets boring, as you can imagine.

I wheel myself into the middle of the room.  The students clearly have seen nothing like it before. Surely, a teacher isn’t supposed to be in a wheelchair.  There’s going to be a lot to get used to.

“I bet you’re wondering how you’re going to get me to sit on a whoopee cushion,” I say to the faces staring at me.  I wait for laughter.  Slowly, it comes.  The students lift their eyes from the ground to look at me, seeking my permission to laugh properly.

“A funny teacher!” says a boy in the back of the class, as if he’s just discovered oil. The rest of the class, fortunately for me, agrees. I have plenty more of these at hand, enough to last a year probably.

So I settle in.  I don’t know what the rest of the year holds in store. More laughs, I hope. And maybe some of the students may grow to dislike me, to complain about homework and grades, and realise that I am not so special.  Quite normal, actually.

I dedicate this post to every teacher who overcomes their own personal obstacles to bring the joy of learning to classrooms around the world. I wish there were more of you to teach us all. For further insight you might wish to read Dorothy Lepkowska’s November 12th, 2012 article from the Guardian, Where Are The Disabled Teachers?

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Technology in your classes – Nour Alkhalidy

Truly Integrating Technology — Nour Alkhalidy

I am a computer teacher who works at a school in a poor village where technology is kind of a big deal.  Some of my students don’t have access to the Internet in their houses. Many do not even have a PC at home. At school, some teachers don’t know how to use computers. Others only utilize them in some way. It is rare to find teachers who are really integrating computers and technology into their classrooms. I am one of the few who is trying to do this. I have been working at this for eight years.

Being a teacher who is trying to integrate technology in such a context has been a little bit challenging for me.  Still, although I have had some discouraging moments, my mission has been and is to create a rich environment for my students by introducing new technologies into my classroom – technologies that actively engage and motivate learners while helping me successfully deliver content.

Before planning to integrate a new technology I always consider two issues:  my students’ weak basic computer skills and the school’s limited Internet access.  Given these parameters, I always look for simple tools that can be used offline. As I design my lesson, I think about how a simple tool can be used to enhance clear curriculum goal and try to incorporate a strategy (often a cooperative strategy) related to such a goal. Then I design activities, making sure each separate group within my class has a task or problem to solve. I also think through how much time a task will take, what roles each student in each group will have, what instructions to give, and what the final output will be.

Personally, If the technology tool I have chosen fulfills subject content goals, improves computer, thinking, and collaboration skills,  engages and motivates students, and more importantly convinces me that I cannot proceed without it, then for me I have successfully integrated technology in my classroom.

I usually prepare my lessons using Powerpoint — the old tool that will never die — to explain tasks and instructions.  Sometimes I use it as a learning tool to design a virtual tour or micro-lesson.

I also use Microsoft’s FrontPage to design webquests,  online scavenger hunts or 5Eonline research modules. Multi-media tools, mindmaps and word cloud applications are also at the top of my technology list to promote visual literacy.

For project work, I tell students they can bring their parents’ cell phones to class in order to capture pictures, record their voices and do interviews. We also use cell phones along with Microsoft Photo Story or Movie Maker  to create videos that showcase work, summarize ideas,  display knowledge on a subject,  or share thoughts about the project we’re doing. They also use cell phones to gain internet access that allows them to extend their learning by finding additional information they then add to a FrontPage website made by them.

I’ve been involved in some global projectson Twitter like Michal Ann C’s (@CernigliaSharing Perceptions Project in which my 9th grade students in Jordan shared their  thoughts about the U.S. with Michael-Ann’s 6th grade students.  In Jordan, my students and I used Tagxedo and Wordle to present brainstorming ideas, and Vokito express our thanks for being involved in the project.

Sometimes, I have 10-15 minutes  at the end of a class for a group game. Playing games enhances students’ attitudes and motivates them. For example, a simple game like FreeCellor Tetrisoffers some opportunities for group collaboration and improving thinking skills, while a Rapid Typing Game improves  basic computer skill and kills classroom boredom.

I may not have iPads, iPods or laptops in my classroom and my students aren’t adequately digitally savvy learners equipped with the needed skills, but I certainly believe that any technology can be powerful — even the simplest one if it is being used in the right way. It’s not about what tool to integrate but how to exploit its effectiveness and add real value to the learning process.

As a computer teacher, my role is to mainly help my students benefit from technology’s opportunities, improve their computer and information literacies skills (along with other 21st century skills), and finally to reduce the big gap between what the world is like in my poor village with the life my students will have in college and beyond. If I can do those things, then I consider all the challenges I face worth every effort.


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Working with difficult students – Vladimira Chalyova

Meeting Everyone’s Needs   — Vladimira Chalyova

I believe in second chances. In fact, I believe in giving second chances for as long as they’re needed. That’s basically my attitude towards difficult students, though I cannot really relate to putting the word difficult next to the word student. For me, such students are either lacking something or have more to give than the teacher is asking them to give.

I am convinced that such students would thrive if they were given enough opportunities to express themselves.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely they’ll come right out and explain what they need. They might not even realize what they need. That’s why it’s so important to be a careful observer and an active listener.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a good frame of reference.


There’s probably not much you can do to help with the basic physiological needs at the bottom of the pyramid, but you can work to understand where students are coming from and how that might be contributing to classroom behavior.  With such understanding you’ll know that students who are falling asleep aren’t bored. They’re lacking a basic need: sleep, and there’s a reason for that. Talk with them privately learn about their situation and thus avoid misunderstandings. With higher level needs such a love, esteem, and self-actualization you’ll probably find something lacking in every challenging student you encounter. Think about:

  • The way you teach: your beliefs versus their needs and expectations.
  • The atmosphere in the group: is it supportive, safe and friendly?
  • Your own personality: are you always fair, open and understanding?
  • The bigger picture: do students know why they are doing what they’re doing?
  • Space: is there space and time for students to put their personalities into their work.

If I’m able to eliminate issues related to basic needs, I can focus on belonging, esteem and self-actualization by asking myself questions like those in this illustration:

These ideas from John Medina’s book Brain Rules is also a framework:

  1. We can fully concentrate for only 10 minutes. Then it is time to wake up the brain with a break that is somehow related to the topic.
  2. Our brain loves balance so provide a combination of rules and improvisation. Make it clear how things work but give time and space to practice it in various situations.  Don’t let students wander around hopelessly in exercises or feel stupid because they can’t get a rule from context because their brain works differently.
  3. The more senses you involve while learning, the stronger the memory path that is created and I presume the more students will remember. Definitely, learning will be more enjoyable.

By paying attention to brain rules like these  — especially with teens and young adults — we make learning actively purposeful and therefore increase the level of class satisfaction.

Psychologist Ed Diener writes thatpeople evaluate their own lives more highly when others in society also have their needs fulfilled. Thus life satisfaction is not just an individual affair, but depends substantially also on the quality of life of one’s fellow citizens.”

Replace the words lives/life, society and citizen with learning, the class and classmate.

The spirit of a class is as important as the information we pass to our students. If everyone in class is learning happily and needs are being met, challenging students are less likely to be difficult.

~  Vladimira Chalyova

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