Saturday, October 31, 2009

What Motivates Middle School Students?

One of the things that all of us as parents and teachers of 11-15 year-olds ALWAYS think about are ways to successfully motivate young people. We want them to become driven and self-motivated, and we want them to develop positive habits that will provide beneficial in upper school, college, and life. The million dollar question is HOW. I'd love to say that I'm going to provide the answer in this blog, but, unfortunately, there is not a "one size fits all" motivational model.

I've always been one of those people with a great appreciation for motivational speakers, thoughtful quotes, and inspiring stories. So, when I saw the advertisement in the Charlotte Observer for the Get Motivated seminar in Charlotte, I jumped at the opportunity to see Rudy Giuliani, General Colin Powell, Terry Bradshaw, and former First Lady Laura Bush speak (and it was a pretty darn good deal for $4.95!). All of the speakers in the day-long seminar were fantastic, but I was especially moved by the leader and co-creator of seminar, Tamara Lowe. Ms. Lowe spoke about the concept of Motivational D.N.A. In her mind, every person's motivation is based upon their Drives (internal forces that mobilize a person to act), Needs (core requirements that a person must have in order to feel fulfilled), and Awards (preferred compensation that a person desires for achievement). Within these categories, there are two main types of people.
Here are the examples for each D.N.A. segment:
*Drives: Most people are either Producers (competitive, task-driven and assertive) or Connectors (cooperative and people-oriented). Here's the motivation piece: Producers are motivated by results and Connectors are motivated by relationships.

*Needs: Most people are motivated by either Stability (like structure, facts and routine) or Variety (value change, new experiences, and freedom of expression). Stabilizers are motivated by facts and those who fall under the Variety label value fun.

*Awards: Most people are motivated by Internal (outcome, sense of accomplishment, private recognition) or External (tangible benefits, public acknowledgement, opportunity for advancement) factors. Those motivated internally are motivated by contribution and those motivated externally are motivated by opportunity.

There is a point to sharing the Motivational D.N.A. framework. Tamara Lowe pointed out her own challenges with motivating her two children. One of her children was "easily motivated" and the other was "impossible to motivate." She realized that her system of motivation (praise, tangible awards, etc.) didn't work with her son who was "wired" differently. When she & her husband changed their motivational tactics to fit his needs, they saw a significant increase in motivation.
As a result of this epiphany, Tamara decided to create a Motivational DNA test that anyone can take: I would strongly encourage all middle school parents and their children to give this test a try. If we can unlock the motivational DNA of each child, we can better motivate them.

Here's what I think about what (in general) motivates our middle schoolers at PDS:

1. I think that our students appreciate praise and positive reinforcement.

2. I think that most of our students possess a great deal of internal motivation. They want to do well in school and don't necessarily want public recognition.

3. I think that middle schoolers value structure and stability. At ages when so much about them is changing on a daily basis, stability and structure are valued.
4. I think that our middle school students are very aware of what their peers think, and peer pressure is a source of motivation. One of the best things about PDS is that fact that its a college preparatory environment. New students have commented that "everyone does school work here and cares about their grades."
I'd love to hear about your thoughts on motivation. Please let me know what has worked for you, and what you think might work for the entire middle school. Thanks for reading.

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