According to Dr. Allan Mendler Ph.D.: “A ‘time-out’ only works if a student prefers to be ‘time-in’, and a zero on a test only makes an impact if the student is driven by success.” Throughout this piece, we are going to explain why camps and summer programs have so much success engaging students in learning, while schools continue to struggle to achieve the same result.
I believe there’s really no such thing as an unmotivated student, merely an unfocused student. So how do we motivate this student who seems to have no desire to show effort, be better, or try harder? How do we help them discover their focus? How do we encourage them to take the steps to release their inner potential in a focused way? There is something they are currently passionate about, so here are seven ways we can redirect some of this passion to impact the things that affect their futures too:
- Start noticing their small successes. Everyone loves to be praised and acknowledged. It’s what makes us human. Even the simple act of showing effort is a success step for an unfocused student, so give praise when you notice that your child has shown even the slightest effort.
- Allow the student to make safe mistakes, where there is no threat of being embarrassed or belittled. While self esteem is being nurtured, protect them from receiving criticism or sarcasm. As confidence is boosted, he/she will be braver to try in future.
- Long-term motivators seem unattainable for a child who is not achieving. They have immediate thoughts of ‘I can’t’. Why not start with a short-term motivator. They will feel like they are working towards a goal, but this time, the goal is completely within their reach.
- Recognize just one strength at a time and build on it. By noticing and tapping into the child’s intrinsic strength; he will feel appreciated and understood and willing to do more of it. Something simple like maintaining a personal schedule and meeting deadlines is a great strength to have and is an example of a "childhood lesson that can help generate successful adults" (Read more about the 6 things to Teach Kids Now to Help Kids Grow into Successful Adults).
- We all have something we can teach another. If you can identify some small skill that they can do successfully, empower him/her to teach someone else that same skill. You can also make them part of a team approach, and have him teach and share that which he is an expert on.
- Mendler tells us that 85% of our daily conversations are with ourselves. Negative talk can become a habit. As mentors to these students, we need to help them remove the immediate thoughts that start with ‘I cant’, ‘it’s too hard’, or ‘I’m going to get it wrong’. Replace them with ‘I want to’, ‘I might need some help’, and ‘I’m going to try’. By doing this, you are interrupting the cycle of failure, and replacing it with a pathway to small successes.
- Connect with the student. Find something you have in common, or something from your past that he or she can appreciate or relate to. You can also change your perception of the him or her, and in turn, the child will sense your positive feelings. Instead of labeling them as stubborn and lazy, rather appreciate them for having a strong will and showing signs of becoming a potential leader one day.
Simply by being in a mentor role with a student, you are investing in his/her success. Reach this seemingly disinterested learner through his/her own intrinsic motivators and before long, you’ve tapped into their heart and soul. The rest will be learning - motivated and focused learning!