Motivating Teachers

Motivating Teachers: The What and How of Developing Enthusiastic and Engaged Educators

I am a teacher. That means that although my summer vacation has come to a screaming halt, my school bag is filled with shiny new brightly colored pens and notebooks and planners with spines that crack and pages that smell brand new! Back-to-school time is exciting because it’s a chance to start over with new ideas and skills. Many teachers around the country are preparing for the year ahead by participating in professional development and learning how to engage and motivate their students. As I start my twenty something-ish year of being an educator, I thought it was time to consider what motivates me. Why do I show up to school every day?

I currently teach in teacher preparation programs, and one of the mantras that I repeat to my students is, “If you don’t act like you want to be there, why would your students act like they want to be there?” As teachers, we regularly talk about student engagement and motivation, but I would offer that the number one thing that motivates and engages students is an enthusiastic, motivated, and engaged teacher! So let’s answer the question:

What motivates teachers?

For me, there are a million reasons why I love my job. If I am being 100% honest, I will admit that the new school supplies in September are a definite perk to being a teacher. But in all seriousness, there is so much more.

  • That minute when your students “get it,” and you know you’ve witnessed learning take place.
  • Those times when your students email you outside resources they think you would like because they were thinking about your course or content outside of the classroom exercises and activities.
  • The gift of lifelong learning that comes with being a teacher who teaches about teaching!
  • My students and my own research that keep me up-to-date on the newest research as well as the latest strategies and methods.
  • The opportunity to learn from and meet so many new people from so many walks of life.

Another thing that I find motivating, and what I tease my students with, is that as a mother I am rarely listened to, but every day I walk into a room of thirty people who pay money to listen to me speak. What a compliment and a rush! This alone gives me the energy to go home and be ignored when I ask for rooms to be cleaned or the piano to be practiced. But this is a surface list of just a few of the things that I like about my job.

What do the experts say about motivating teachers?
Todd Whitaker, author of Motivating and Inspiring Teachers, shares this experience: When he introduced a positive referral program in his school, student achievement increased. For example, teachers send discipline and failure referrals to notify parents and administrators about low grades or poor behavior. What if, instead, teachers sent positive referrals? Imagine how motivating it would be to call home and let a parent know that their child did a good deed or improved their grade in class.

Similarly, principals can write positive referrals about their teachers. When observing a class or during a conference, the principal can focus on the positives. Compliments are motivating. When teachers are told what they are doing well, they will keep doing what they are doing well!

After noticing that teachers submitted the most discipline referrals on Fridays, Dr. Whitaker did the following: “Well, I am a big believer in working smarter, not harder. So, I thought if one of the goals of the memo was to help the morale of the staff—and thus help my morale with fewer disciplinary referrals—then I might as well have it available on Friday morning. Thus, each Thursday before I left work, I would run off copies of the Friday Focus and put one in each staff member’s mailbox. The first thing people would see when they arrived on Friday morning, therefore, was the Friday Focus. The memo would help set the tone for the school on the day when everyone was the most tired.”

Sarah Caron of Education World (2011) suggests permitting teachers to have a casual Friday, sending positive notes to teachers, and offering teachers opportunities to participate in philanthropy as ways to motivate a faculty. On her blog, Vicki Davis shares her six most effective ways for motivating her staff. First, understand what teachers need as the first step. For example, give them time and a quiet work place to work. Second, allow teachers the opportunity to take a walk outside in the middle of the school day. She references a TIME magazine article that shares research that walking is a proven method to increase happiness. Davis also offers these ideas: that administrators and communities can realize the financial struggle that many teachers face; they can provide teachers with what they need to help the kids in the school; and they should tell teachers they are important on a regular basis. Finally, like Ms. Caron of Education World, Davis recommends administrators provide teachers with additional opportunities to give back.

Santosh Bhaskar K of EdTechReview provides a list of TED Talks to Motivate and Inspire Teachers. His list includes two of my all time favorite TED Talks: Sugata Mitra’s “The Child Driven Education” and Ken Robinson’s “Changing Education Paradigms.” At KQED, they share videos of teachers at a recent ISTE conference discussing what motives them. Lastly, take a look at Sandy Robert’s 28 Fun Ideas to Motivate Your Staff.

Finally, I offer that working collaboratively is a way to both motivate teachers and improve instruction and achievement. Let’s start now. Share your favorite ways to motivate yourself or your staff in the comments below.

Welcome back to school and thank you for being an educator!

1 Comment

  1. Tanisha Simmons September 16, 2015 Reply

    I enjoy special treats! Candy, my favorite donut, a piece of cake, or anything that creates endorphins motivates me to work hard to deserve it.

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