This issue of Educational Leadership is about motivation – how to fire up the mind and not to necessarily fill it as a vessel, to paraphrase Plutarch. Most articles on motivating students focus on teaching strategies; e.g., being enthusiastic, teaching topics in more than one way or to more than one modality, curricular content, etc. Intrinsic motivation begins with understanding the whole person – the social and emotional needs of students, especially in middle and high school where the adolescent need for identity is particularly important. Orchestrating the climate and culture of a school to nurture social and emotional learning like self-awareness, self-regulation, and resiliency are critical for success for academic success and life-long achievement. Indeed, this is the conclusion of neuroscience research that these lessons are more important for success than IQ. (Learning and the Brain Conference, 2014). The article gives examples of structures and processes in a school to nurture these important lessons.
When considering reluctant learners, the question to be asked is, “Under what conditions do human beings learn best?” To answer this question, we turn to the psychology of motivation. Alfred Adler a contemporary of Freud, identified two psychological needs of human beings: the need to feel significant as an individual and the need to feel connected with others. Abraham Maslow identified these as esteem needs and social needs. During adolescence, these two seemingly opposing needs surface strongly. Thus, some adolescents may sport pink hair to stand out but insist on wearing the latest fashionable hoodie to blend in. Some may act the part of class clown, trying too hard to be something they are not. What appear to be opposing psychological needs are actually two sides of the same coin. When students accept themselves, they are more likely to accept others, thus building community. When they feel connected, they feel safe to be themselves. They trust their peers to accept their mistakes and to respect their opinions. They don’t need to act up—they can relax instead of trying hard to be “popular” or “different.” As a result, student engagement and achievement increase.
The developmental needs of adolescence should guide how one creates a school’s “implicit curriculum,” a term coined by John Goodlad to describe everything else beyond a school’s explicit curriculum that also informs students. The article discusses what are these needs and how schools can support these social and emotional needs such that they acquire the dispositions that support them learning successfully.
Whether teachers intend to or not, they teach values. Teachers’ behaviors are, in fact, moral practices that are deeply embedded in the day-to-day functioning of the classroom. Likewise, a school’s culture communicates values through the ways in which faculty, parents, and students treat one another and through school policies on such issues as discipline and decision-making. In his eight-year study of more than 1,000 classrooms, Goodlad found a “great hypocrisy” in the differences between what schools espouse as values and what students experience. This disparity produces cynical students who don’t take seriously what schools say about character.