Motivating our students – Chiew Pang

Without The Egg, There Can Be No Chicken

– Chiew Pang

Before you can motivate your students, you yourself must first be motivated – that’s the first step. Students can tell if their teacher is in a bad mood, if they’re tired, or if they aren’t happy with the material. Strong feelings rub off; if you’re enthusiastic about your lesson, you’ll make your students enthusiastic. If you’re excited about a project, they will be too. For some tips on keeping yourself motivated, read up on iTDi’s posts on staying healthy and motivated.

This time, however, we’ll take a look at some ways we can help our students.

Know your students

This is so basic yet so neglected. If you treat your students as mere names and numbers on your register, then you might as well start looking at the classified ads for something that will suit your talents better. Show you care, show you have feelings and they will reciprocate. Try to adapt your lessons to their interests. If you’re using a coursebook, be bold enough to modify or supplement it. Why do a text on Madonna if they’re more interested in Lady Gaga? Why discuss polar bears when the pandas are more real to them? Students will have more interest if they can relate to the topic.

Be realistic

iTDi Ways to motivate your students

Set realistic expectations, appropriate to their level. Go step by step. Set achievable short-term goals and praise them when they managed to reach the goals. The higher you get, the further you’ll fall. Go gradually. If they fall, help them up. By all means, push them, but know their strengths and their weaknesses, know their limits and push them just beyond that. Guide them. Encourage them. Demonstrate how tasks can be done.

iTDi Ways to motivate your students
Images by C. Pang

Sing high praise

As mentioned above, praise them for accomplishing their tasks. Display their work on the walls. Consider setting up a class blog where their projects can be posted and discussed. Encourage parents and other classes to participate. Promote it via your PLN (Personal Learning Network) – perhaps you can succeed in getting students from different parts of the world to visit and comment on the blog.

Let’s work together!

Involve the students in creating rules and punishment. Set roles and rotate them. Put them up on the wall so that everyone knows their own responsibilities. Examples are: marking attendance, tidying the class, wiping the board, posting to the class blog, and collecting homework.

At the end of some classes, try asking them these questions:

  • What have you learnt today?
  • What did you like about today’s class?
  • What did you not like about today’s class? How would you change this?
  • What would you like to do in the next class?

These questions may have some unexpected results. Click here to see what it has done for a couple of teachers.

Do group work often. Relating to one another is important and sometimes they learn more from their peers than from the teacher.

Extend the classroom

From time to time, if possible, take the students on a field trip, or even to the schoolyard or playground, anywhere outside the confining classroom walls. They are in the classroom for many hours and it can be very mind-energising to have a class outdoors, to feel the breeze, to see the sky and to touch the earth.

Open up!

Try your best to create a positive helpful learning environment. Be accessible. Let them know that they can approach you for anything that is troubling them. I know teachers who take advantage of social networks to maintain accessibility out of classroom hours but not everyone is willing to go this distance. How much you’re willing to give is up to you but knowing that there’s a teacher who cares for them can be extremely motivating. And motivated students can be incredibly motivating for us, too.

Without the egg, there can be no chicken.

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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

Connect with Chuck, Scott, Tamas, Vladimira, Nour,  Ann and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

Like what we do? Become an iTDi Patron.

Your support makes a difference.


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


Motivating our students – Vladimira Michalkova

Motivated Students Motivating Teachers

The more I think about it the more I think that motivation is a sort of Holy Grail everyone is looking for even though nobody is sure what it looks like or where to find it. It is a miraculous ingredient that solves every problem and misunderstanding. Whatever you do in your life, you surely know that motivation is this something that’s hard to grasp and hold yet fills your whole mind and body with light when it is there.

Honestly, I could usually say that I am Miss Motivation herself, so it is very surprising that when the time has come for me to write about it, I have found myself going through days filled with the utter lack of it. It is not tragic, nor disastrous, and in a few days I will surely come to understand that this actually had been the best time to write about it. However, all I can offer you now are three things I have on my mind on how to get out of this state.

First, I have realized that the personal life of a teacher is more important than I’ve ever thought. Second, I have learned that teaching and life in the classroom is a symbiosis to which everyone brings something to help the others thrive. Third, I have learned how to accept the gifts my students have and want to offer.

I have been lucky enough to have wonderful students this year, and I like to believe they can motivate me now as I have been doing for them all year long. I don’t need to share my problems or express my moods when I am with them. Students respond from within the atmosphere a teacher builds for them by responding in a similar way to what they are surrounded by. They don’t have to tell me “I had a bad day”. I know.

These days, I feel empty-handed when entering the classroom – no ideas, no enthusiasm, and no great solutions. Yet, I always come to my students with love, understanding and trust. I trust in their power to motivate me. I guess it will take me a few days to get over this, but I can tell you now:  they are doing it. They come closer, share more about themselves and tell me what a good teacher I am. Did I build that in them? Yes, I’d like to believe that I did.

Well, just forget everything you’ve learnt or have been trying to learn. Go and treat yourself. For the first time in a long time, I am reading a book not at all related to teaching. I notice the world around me – the clouds, the flowers and the little bugs.  I try to concentrate on what is here and now. I do what I have advised my students so many times. I do all of that because I think that whatever it is that took my motivation away will vanish sooner or later. Until then, there is no use spending too much energy, time and thought on pondering over it and sinking even deeper into the lack of it.  Could it be time to recharge, time to walk off the worn paths that lead nowhere anymore, time to re-evaluate my priorities again? Yes, I’d like to believe it.

I stepped out of that way a bit today by taking an uneasy and kind of silent step. Hoping no one would notice and at the same time hoping for a spark, I reached out and revealed what I am going through to my friends on Facebook. I got a tight hug back from them. Is this how we motivate ourselves? Without a perfect theory, do we appreciate the leap of faith others take as we reach out to them with a helping hand?

Yes, I’d like to believe it.

Motivating our students – Vicky Loras

The Teacher’s Role As MotivatorVicky Loras

Motivation – one of my favourite words in education. It plays a very important role in the classroom, making learning a pleasant and creative experience.

I am a great proponent of the notion that if the teacher is motivated and enthusiastic, that he or she can work wonders in the classroom. Students can immediately realise which teacher is there because they love being there and which one is the opposite.

The presence of a motivated teacher can be so important for students. Many are the times when students came into my class with problems of their own or with a low interest in learning, but then told me afterwards that they saw how happy I was to be in class with them. They really appreciated it and it gave them the boost they needed.

Once, a student came in looking rather worried; I thought he must have had some kind of personal issue eating away at him. He later started laughing and smiling with me and the others, and at the end he came up and said: “I came into class today feeling I could not handle it and when I saw your smile, and I started talking to the other students, I completely forgot about my problems!”

A great source of motivation can come from good, constructive and genuine praise. Taking students aside after the lesson, or even during the lesson, and letting them know where they are doing well or remarking on something they did great that day can work wonders. You can immediately see them light up!

Sometimes teachers focus on mistakes their students make or on what students do or not do. Sometimes we tell them, “Be careful with your gerunds”, or “Today you didn’t use the present tenses that well”, or “Your relative clauses need work”.  It is important to remember to give praise where it is due! Regardless of age, people benefit from, and are lifted up by, knowing that they are doing well and in what areas they are doing especially well.

If educators are lifelong learners and are sharing their learning experiences with their students, that can also boost the students’ motivation. Students see that their teachers are also interested in becoming better and empathize with that. That empathy can develop into something of great significance. The learners have in front of them someone who is also in the process of learning: someone who can understand them.

Two months ago, I was attending two courses in pedagogy at the college where I teach in the evenings. These courses were in German – a language I am currently learning. My students were interested in seeing how I faced difficulties (and there were lots of them, I assure you!), in how I studied and in what gave me the strength to continue. Sharing these things with my students were moments in which we bonded more. They could see that I also have problems in my studies and got to hear how I managed to find solutions to these problems. That’s very powerful.

Working to motivate students takes patience and tempered persistence. It’s been my experience that students acknowledge and appreciate an educator who cares not only about their learning, but also about them as individuals.