The definition of the word “leverage” used figuratively is “the power to influence a person or situation to achieve a particular outcome”.
For a teacher it would probably read something like this:
“the power of a teacher to influence and motivate a student to try diligently to learn in school, apply themselves to their work, and to achieve good grades”.
We believe that there are three kinds of leverage; parent motivation, teacher motivation, and relationship motivation.
This kind of child has a parent who really cares, and the child knows it. The parent expects their child to make good grades, rewards them when they do, and punishes them in some way if they do not. They regularly ask their children how they are doing, help them study, and communicate their expectations to them. The parent has already done all the motivation work and the teacher doesn’t usually need to do much of anything.
These types of students really aren’t too concerned about their achievement in school until the teacher stresses it. Then a “light” seems to go on in their brains and slowly they start more paying attention, making comments, answering questions, and “connecting the dots”. When this happens, they bring me pictures they found in other books they are reading on their own about things we studied at school, their grades improve, and they seem to genuinely enjoy school.
Honor roll parties are a really big deal at our school. We go to a lot of trouble, but it works. They students really want to make honor roll.
There are many ways for teachers to do this, and these will be presented in another post entitled, “Student Motivation”.
This last group of students are the hardest to reach and motivate. Their parents don’t sincerely value education. They give their children the impression that things like trucks, hunting, and making money are way more important than school. And the students believe it. We have actually had a parent seriously tell us that he only let his children go through the eighth grade because, “We like to keep our children a little dumb,” he stated. We were aghast.
So, this third group is not motivated by their parents, neither are they usually motivated by any rewards the teacher presents or offers.
But, we believe that with 99% of students, there is some way to reach them. I have done some strange things to try to figure out what each of theirs was.
Sometimes it just takes letting them know that you care. Ask them if they turned their work in. Call them to you privately and show them their grade. Tell them you think they can do better. Repeat for a few days and sometimes this will work. It helps if you have previously taken an appropriate interest in them, have asked about their family and hobbies, and talk to them outside of school.
Every once in awhile this won’t work either. Here are a few ideas to try if plans A, B, C and D haven’t worked yet.
Put his (or her) desk closest to yours and keep a close eye on him, encouraging him to get his work done, and to do it well. I once had a little one who never got his work done. We tried everything. No reward motivated him. He was very smart and could easily finish, yet he never did. I put an extra desk adjacent to mine. At lunch and through choir he would sit there, and he finally began getting it done-- albeit two hours later. Then I had the “desk idea”. When I went across the room to teach the older students, I would drag his desk over there. I would diagram a sentence on the board for the eight graders, then take a few steps over and keep him focused on his paper. After a few days of this he began finishing his papers on time. I would grade them quickly and then announce his 98% or 100% to the older class, which would then cheer loudly for him. It worked. He began finishing his work on time, without dragging the desk across the school, and making great grades.
Offer small personal rewards. Tell the student, “If you can get your work done with an 85% or above all week I’ll buy you your favorite mini candy bar,” or stickers or any little thing. No, this isn’t permanent, it is just to “get them over the hump” so that they realize they can achieve if they just try a little harder.
We also use what I call “positive peer pressure”. I once had a student who was very hard to motivate. I had tried just about everything. He was twelve, not a child. At first he never even finished his work. I would have to go and dig it out of his desk after school because he never turned it in, and he’d get about a 50% because only half was even done. I tried the front desk thing and that helped a little. We kept him in from recess if his work wasn’t handed in. He gradually began finishing his work, though it still took a lot of effort on our part. Then one day we had a great breakthrough. I graded his paper and saw that he had gotten a 97%. I was shocked. As he walked by my desk at lunch that day I called him over. I showed him his grade with a big smile. Then I unknowingly, almost on accident, fixed the whole problem. I told him that he’d gotten the highest grade of the day. That did it. From then on he finished on time, with very high grades, and often asked me if he had the highest grade of the day. I would have never figured that one out if I had not persisted in trying to figure out what specific thing would motivate him. I was glad I did, even though it took a few months to figure it out. He has continued to make fantastically high English grades for the past three years.
Good teachers don’t give up, they just keep trying different approaches.
So, what motivates your students? Is it their parents? Do you have extrinsic motivations as a teacher which motivate your students? Or do none of these work and you have to figure out what works for one of them individually? I encourage you to try. It could make all the difference for that one starfish, or student.