"What does a teacher do?" the leader asked.
One of the answers given was that we are motivators. We motivate.
"What does that mean?"
"It means we inspire students."
"Again, what does that mean? What do you do?" The emphasis was on the word do.
The best anyone could answer was, "It means we make kids want to get better."
Now, if any answer ever sounded lame, I think that one did. It's probably exactly how I would have put it in those early years, but the question has never left me: What does it mean to motivate?
Recently, we've thought a lot about Growth Mindset. We've considered brain research. We've noticed patterns in behavior. We've collected data and created individualized interventions. We've seen model schools and master teachers. We've included physical movement in our lessons. We've discussed levels of engagement. We've emphasized the importance of taking students to higher levels of thinking. We're conscious of multiple intelligences, cooperative and collaborative learning, depth of knowledge, team-building, and positive behavior supports. Now, we are cross-curricular, whole-brained, open-ended, high-ordered, small-grouped, learning stationed, standards-based, and common-cored.
If you're a teacher, you feel like you're juggling all of those balls. At the very least, you may have felt like you're expected to juggle them. Don't let a single one fall, lest you fail!
This is why I encourage my peers to take it and leave it. Take the things that work from the paragraph above, and leave the things that don't work for you. Add what works to your teaching muscle, and drop the fat - the things that do not benefit your students or patrons.
That said, Growth Mindset is one of the most sensible things to come around in a long time. It adds to the definition of motivation. No longer do we make students want to get better; now we can lead a student through conversations and relationships to persist through mistakes, stretch toward goals, and visualize his/her potential. There is an art and a heart to it, and it cannot be done by reducing kids to numbers on a graph or a data wall. While the information in those scientific tools can be useful, if I am more focused on the tool than on the person developing before me, my focus is blurry and misdirected.
I like what I'm seeing regarding the Learning Zone model, as well. I don't need to dig too deep into research to realize that this makes sense. First, however, let me say that I enjoy my comfort zone. I like comfort, don't you? At the same time, I have come to realize that I need to be more flexible regarding my treks into the learning zone, and I've known for a long time that the panic zone is dangerous and life-threatening.
- The target moves. My comfort zone expands when I learn new material and methods, which results in reshaping my learning and panic zones, as well.
- Each person's zones are different. That means each student has different triggers and learning strengths. I have to be conscious of differences.
- Things change with a person's mood, a person's choice of breakfast in the morning, and the interactions and experiences a person has before getting to my class.
The foundation to success, I still believe, is the relationship that the teacher builds with his/her students. That means the key word - the thing I must establish up front - is trust. That may not be earth-shattering, tech-heavy, or broadly marketable, but it's true. When students trust me, they are more inclined to follow me into zones of varying colors. They can endure discomfort, knowing that their stretching is for gain. When they trust me, they will understand that I will never purposefully lead them into the thorns of panic and that I will not knowingly allow them to step off of a cliff.
I've had a similar illustration hanging on the wall in my classroom for a couple of years now, but I'm going to use the graphic above in a more explicit manner, this year. I have already queued it up as one of the first things we'll consider on the first day of school, this upcoming year. I plan to point students to the graphic more often throughout the year, as well.