Motivational Strategies

Keeping students not only engaged but empowered can be a huge challenge when we are faced with so many other obstacles throughout the school day. Yet, so many of our teachers on campus are doing just that – empowering students, meaning that their learners are applying their strengths and interests and they feel that their voice and choice is being recognized in their learning.

As I have been able to reflect over my years at Feaster and observe so many great teachers doing their jobs so well, I have noticed patterns and similarities in each classroom where the students are empowered. To sum it up, these teachers know how to motivate their learners and they know how to keep them wanting to learn more. The list below is not meant to be a complete list of everything that empowers students; instead, it is a starting point based on what I have seen work with our population and our students at Feaster.

Build Relationships

One the greatest ways to truly make sure your students want to learn is to build relationships with them. Get to know your students through trust circles, conversations during snack, and by learning about their personal interests. Think about what your students most appreciate and work together to make sure that you respect that.

I recall having a conversation with my class about what was most important to them. Unsurprisingly, they shared that it was really bothersome to them if I kept them late from lunch because I went over time in a lesson. I understood this and we agreed that lunch time would not be taken away unless it was a whole class issue where we had to discuss a major concern. I am not saying that I promised to never keep them behind for a minute during lunch, what I am saying is that I understood something that was important to them and we came to an agreement that lunch would only be taken if there was broken trust or a behavior issue we had to address immediately.

Encourage your students to also build relationships with their buddy up partners from other classes! This can really help a large school feel like a tight-knit community!


Set Goals and Reflect on Progress

Do your students know what their learning goals are? Do you they have social goals? Are they able to communicate these goals and share how they are progressing towards these goals?

How powerful would it be if all of our students could communicate academic and social goals and share the strategies they are using to reach those goals? If our students are not sure where they are going, how are they supposed to get there?

These questions are meant to get you to think about what is happening in your classroom from the student’s perspective. We can set goals for:

  • tech programs – like reaching a certain lexile level on Achieve3000
  • reading books
  • problem solving
  • math quizzes
  • doing acts of kindness
  • improving on one component of a writing rubric
  • ask your students – get them involved in their own goals setting

The second part of this one is getting everyone to reflect on their progress! How are they growing and progressing towards these goals? What will happen when the goal is reached? Consider having these conversations with your students.

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With goal setting comes accountability. If you are giving an assignment, what is its purpose? How will it progress students towards their goals? Are the students able to communicate how they will be held accountable for their assignment?

Some ways that I have seen teachers hold their students accountable is by:

  • Exit tickets
  • Grading
  • Giving specific feedback
  • Having students share their learning with another student
  • Sharing learning in front of class (only if student is comfortable)
  • Posting a picture to Class Dojo Portfolio for parents to see


Growth Mindset

Remind students that their brains are still growing and they can have control over their own learning. Hold conversations at the end of the day that reflect on learning. Have students share one new thing they learned each day during a class closing ceremony. You can also have students message this to their families at home via Class Dojo or another parent communication system you have set up. Keep students motivated by reminding them that their brains are still growing and they are in control of that.


Positive Interactions

Taking time to build positive interactions throughout the day can be so beneficial because it sends the message to your students that you truly care. Positive interactions can happen in the classroom, but the ones that I have seen with the biggest impact have happened outside of the classroom:

  • Play with your students during recess
  • On Wednesdays, invite your students to run 2.1 miles around campus with you and the track team
  • Show up to your student’s games
  • Take an interest in learning about what they like
  • Ask them about what they enjoyed during the weekend
  • When you ask how they are, get more in-depth and ask them why they are feeling that way

These positive interactions will help students feel connected to you, which, in turn, will help keep them more motivated.


Ask Questions

Get to know your students better by building relationships and asking questions. This can help motivate students because it is giving them some power in their learning and showing that you truly want to get to know who they are a person, not just a student.

Ask your students what motivates them! This reminds me of the Five Love Languages Languages for Children book:

  • Words of Affirmation: saying kind things
  • Gift Giving: rewarding with small treats or tokens of appreciation
  • Physical touch: high fives and class handshakes
  • Quality Time: eat with students during snack or lunch
  • Acts of Service: help them clean their desk or give them special classroom jobs

Getting to know what makes your students feel special is a key motivator because it lets you know what they appreciate and what makes them mentally prepared to learn and face challenges.

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Include Learners in Deciding Consequences

When you need to have consequences, talk to the students early on (meaning well before the consequence needs to be given) about what they think is fair. Come up with different situations that may occur and talk to them about they feel would be fair and effective in each situation.

This will help the students stay motivated because they will understand that you are coming from a place where you have their best interest at heart. You want them to be successful learners and you have included them in the process so they know what to expect that does not happen.



I remember hearing from one teacher who said that she had another student tally the number of positive and negative comments she made throughout the day. If students are constantly being talked down to, they will not be motivated to learn. The biggest motivator that we have in our teacher toolbox comes from the relationships we have built. I am not saying that your students have to be your best friend; instead, what I am saying is that students are more likely to want to learn if they feel supported in accomplishing their academic and social goals.

Take time to reflect on how your students are feeling in your class and hold those reflective conversations with them. Have empathy for their struggles and share your thoughts and feelings too.

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I understand that this post may have left you with more questions to consider. That was the intent because these are conversations that should be held during your trust circles so that you can converse with students about what decisions are being made and, when possible, you can include them in the conversation as well!

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