Motivating Education

Mark Milliron Catalytic Conversations Civitas Learning Space

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Watching a group of Scottish college students talk about the importance of their motivation was interesting—and pretty funny at times. It seems that access to food has a lot to do with instructional inspiration. They went on to explain that more often than not they also feed off the motivation of their teachers and other college employees.
It’s not just what they say, it’s how they say it. How they make us feel about being here, it affects us. If they aren’t happy, we know it. We can see it in how they act toward us. When they are having fun, we have fun. When they are interested, we get interested. I think it’s that simple.
When you listen to these students, it becomes pretty clear that we own a shared responsibility for creating a positive and productive learning environment. Like it or not, it impacts their learning. This is one of the underlying premises of the Scottish Further Education Unit’s (SFEU) Motivated College Initiative. The initiative began as their adaptation of Alan McClean’s book, The Motivated School and has since morphed into a higher education take on the topic. This session was another in a series of seminars SFEU has sponsored to dive deeper into this topic. Of course students have the primary responsibility to own their own learning—and we should help move them to a place of being more hardy, self-motivated learners. But we kid ourselves if we think their motivation to learn is all about them. The environments we foster, the cultures we contribute to, even the “aura of a classroom” (as one student put it), all make a difference. Moreover, most talented and highly successful education professionals want to work in positive and inspiring environments. This premise is at the heart of Fortune’s “best places to work” research. It’s the reason why Google is scooping up a good number of the top IT scientists in the world. So, it makes sense to ask how motivating our education environments might be. If you read Daniel Goleman’s Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, you’ll see just how connected this human system really is – down to our collective mirror neurons! Put simply, our collective motivation matters. How’s your motivation these days? How’s the motivation level of your colleagues? If you work in education, what impact do you think these motivation levels have on the learning of students? If the only motivation our students hear about is testing excellence for NCLB or documented learning outcomes for accreditation, what impact does that have? In primary and secondary schools, what if the real trick to motivation is reaching them with beauty, art, or music. What impact does all but eliminating these subjects in an effort to “raise standards” have on student motivation? In colleges, can we come to grips with the Emersonian notion that who we are is screaming so loudly that all the strategic enrollment management strategies and Web 2.0 technologies in the world won’t have the same impact that authentic positive engagement will? Read Parker Palmers’ A Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life for a wonderful exploration of this topic. The students who presented at this seminar have a message for us: they know that their motivation matters in advancing their learning. But they also know that in the connected human endeavor that is education, so does ours!