Motivating Unmotivated Students

Based on the research of Rita Pierson, Dr. Daniel Pink's "Drive" and "The Puzzle of Motivation: 5 Questions About Motivation", ", and the American Psychological Association's "Psych Learning Curve"

"No significant learning occurs without first a significant relationship." - James Comer

The Puzzle of Motivation

In his motivation theory, Daniel Pink states that leaders should use a new approach to motivation which is based on self-determination. According to it, people have an innate drive to be autonomous, self-determined and connected to one another.

"Kids don't learn from people they don't like." - Rita Pierson

Most problems with behavior and motivation really do have their root causes in places and factors outside of school. We really have to commit to maximizing the 10, 20, maybe 30 percent of that influence that’s ours to really influence their behavior.


Students act very differently in certain teacher’s classes. A teach that hold high expectations, treats students with respect, and emphasizes the positives (effort) gets very different results than a teacher that is negative and/or constantly points out the negative to students and holds very low expectations for them.


Teachers should recognize when students struggle, praise their efforts and point out that even if they don’t get it right away, they can always do better. Teachers should also remind students that they will neither give up on them nor let them give up on themselves.


Reinterpret students’ weaknesses into strengths. Instead of seeing a student who doesn’t do anything or is set in his own ways as lazy, consider him to be strong-willed or determined. Students reactions are often predicated on our reactions. Sometimes finding something good in them creates a spark of enthusiasm and motivation.


Give students more than one chance to do an assignment whenever possible. There also needs to be a message to kids that says ‘I believe in you and I am not going to give up on you. I’m not going to accept mediocrity from you.


Greet students with high fives at the door, apologize when necessary or send home birthday cards, listen to them, find out what interests them, make a personal connection; these little things can make a big difference. With students who shut down and have hard time connecting, teachers can also use a two-minute intervention where a teacher takes two minutes a day for ten days to get to know a student. She can talk to that student about anything which doesn’t pertain to discipline or motivation.

“Every child deserves a champion—an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.” “I gave [my students] a saying to say: 'I am somebody. I was somebody when I came. I'll be a better somebody when I leave. - Rita Pierson

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