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Motivating the Unmotivated

By LeaderTalk Contributor — January 29, 2010 2 min read

A few years back, I heard Dr. Robert Brooks speak about motivating the unmotivated student. I enjoyed listening to him and took some notes to help me remember later. Of course, life happened and I moved away and started a new job and forgot about his lecture. While cleaning out some folders recently, I came across those notes and decided to talk about this topic to my staff during a recent inservice day.

I am the Director of an alternative school and also the Director of Special Education for several districts. Encountering unmotivated students is not uncommon in my work. I work with teachers who want to reach these kids, but quickly realize the challenge in doing so.

During our inservice discussion, I shared some of the root causes of unmotivation for students such as: feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, helplessness; feeling unaccepted and misunderstood.

One of the suggestions Dr. Brooks had to turn this around was to invite students to engage in contributory behaviors. Once students experience success and feel that they can make a positive difference, they are more likely to tackle the responsibilities that they have avoided in the past - like school work.

This example was shown to me the following week. One of our jr. high male students loves to holler and swear loudly up and down the halls when he is mad. He is quite bright, but has trouble with authority figures and gets into trouble often. He gets bored easily and walks out of class and wanders the halls. We found he had an interest in the younger students in our school who also have behavior issues. He wanted to join them in gym time and the teacher said he had to get permission. He quickly came to my door and asked if I would give him permission. I heard the enthusiasim in his voice and although he should have been in class, I walked with him to the gym to see if the request was legitimate. It was and so I gave the OK.

Since then, he has been helping out in other ways in the classroom and encouraging the younger students to stay in class and do their work. At one of our latest staff meetings, several adults had positive comments to share about this young man. It was great to hear that maybe we had given him something to feel good about. Maybe we have been able to help him experience success and a feeling of being worthy.

Unmotivated students are a challenge to reach. It takes thinking outside the box and being willing to try different things to make that connection that will hook them into school. As the leaders, we have to be willing to allow creative thinking from our teachers and from ourselves. Because, as we already know, it’s not a “one size fits all” educational system.

Reggie Engebritson

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