The world changes at an exponential rate and all the while human nature favors the perseveres and those who are determined to effect change; you may simply say those people are good at focusing their attention. It’s ingrained with us, as humans, to have the ability to achieve unfathomable things that revolutionize the world in which we live; the wheel, the compass, the clock (and thus calendar), printing press, the steam engine, vaccines, the computer, transistors, light bulbs, rockets, satellites that travel the solar system…..

I could go on listing our achievements as a species, and I want to because the ingenuity of humans and our ability to overcome is truly remarkable. Yet above all of these astounding creations and nestled subtly in the minds and attitudes of the men and women responsible for these advances lies an incredible emotional effect and often undervalued currency: motivation. 

What drives behavior?

There are a few different types of motivation; drive, goal, and change context to name a few. Drive being our physiological needs such as thirst or hunger, goals being a behavioral purpose that grasps our attention, and change is a contextual process that we need to overcome but often isn’t intrinsically motivating in itself and especially not so in the early days of action such as going to the gym.

Often we focus on the intrinsic because we enjoy doing that particular “thing” so see faster results and/or get a feeling of belonging which helps drive purpose in our actions. Our emotive response to this motivator certainly makes pushing through a challenge easier and adds a little gusto to our efforts. The flip side is extrinsic motivators, typically done for an external reward or simply to avoid a negative consequence yet often aren’t useful short-time however frequently become needed to attain the completion of a task that doesn’t appeal to us but we end up doing it anyway to save face. 

Consider your narrative

You hear yourself, but are you really listening? Perhaps a change in narrative is needed with our inner voice to accept the balance between both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to achieve an outcome/goal. In cognitive terms, the element of choice promotes longer-lasting autonomy for both procedural (e.g. choosing a task to complete) and organizational (e.g. having a dialogue on who sits where in your classroom with the students) tasks. This also transfers into teachers modeling their thinking routines and students sharing their thought processes when problem-solving, which we know from the EEF research helps reduce cognitive load on students’ working memory. 

Behavior is multi-motivated

Most behavior is multi-motivated, with several factors being met concurrently, therefore a flexible dynamic is at play with respect to both our physiological needs and our needs of feeling valued, safe, being respected, and so on. In Maslow’s updated model, transcending requires being motivated by values beyond our personal self, and according to Deci and Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory we “find that students will work harder if intrinsically motivated” if satisfying their human need for autonomy, competence or relatedness.  Ultimately, relationships are what matter most. It’s relationships that will bear sweeter fruit in the long-term compared to picking up an award, so involving those who matter most (family) and nurturing those relationships that will likely lead to satisfying our human need for relatedness and thus improved motivation. 

Competence & Cognition

Praising competence as opposed to inherent natural ability is also vital. In praising effort we remind students that their efforts lead to success and also offer the chance for us to remind students to reflect and see how far they have come with their learning, assessing which skills they’ve developed and the resulting outcome. In turn, aiding the development of student competence while also further developing metacognitive and self-regulatory skills in our learners (and ourselves). We know this aids explicit thinking about our own learning and serves as an opportunity to both strengthen the repertoire of strategies we use while also reteaching these practices, thus again promoting cognition, metacognition, and motivation. 


Fostering an autonomous classroom sounds a little far fetched and utopian, however, there are tacet links between motivation and the feeling of choice. Students setting collaborative goals raise their risk-taking, leading to becoming better within a chosen field, creates more buy-in, and thus aids motivation. We know from the work of Prof. Robert Coe that engagement itself is “a poor proxy for learning” so being involved at the time doesn’t imply learning has actually transpired for what was intended to be learned, measuring that intended learning can be even tricker and delves deeply into clarifying it as learning or performance which can affect the approach we navigate. 

Transparent Leadership

Another key tenet of motivation in schools is transparent leadership. We have to practice what we preach in order to foster a positive culture within schools, a key facet of this is knowing your staff and having a greater awareness and ability to keep openness, honesty, and clarity at the heart of what they do. This drives cultural values, respect, and motivation in an organization. 


The infographic above highlights a few ideas to ensure you and your students maintain motivation during online/distance learning, with the central box being specific to everyone. I presented this during a webinar for GESS Education on their #GESSTalks webinar series, once the video is published online I will put a link to it here. I was also invited onto #UKEduStories to present the infographic and you can watch this episode in the video below

Educator Motivation

As teachers we enjoy the transition of knowledge, you don’t have to delve far into #edutwitter to see most teachers have focused on developing a skill during online learning; whether that be reading, attending free CPD via watching presentations/discussions on
ResearchE home or #LearnLiveUAE, or upskilling themselves digitally with the tools they use in schools. When challenged for time we can often lose sight of the need to break up our goals into manageable chunks so that we can specifically monitor our own progress, however, during the pandemic by and large educators have had more time to invest in themselves. More often than not, the challenge of developing a skill is consistency and patience to form a new habit. By adjusting our own internal dialogue, using the power of words, we can change our discourse.

Student Motivation

Students, as previously mentioned, need the chance for autonomy and this can be achieved through choice in tasks. Where possible make the tasks and new learning experiences grounded and relevant to them to ensure authenticity as this will drive their motivation. We also know the power of feedback in a classroom context, whether face to face or virtual, we still need to give clear and honest feedback in a positive light to celebrate successes and identify the specifics of improving while embracing error(s) along the way.

It is wise too, during the current pandemic, to ensure that for our own wellbeing we limit our time online, exercise both mind and body to get those endorphins going and get away from the desk as often as you can! Focus on the change you can make and see the good in each situation while also spending time, albeit virtually, with those closest to you so that you continue to nurture those relationships as well as that with yourself. Do things that feed your soul not your ego, and you will be happy. 

So what motivates me? Helping colleagues in my school, designing learning experiences for my students that foster what I’ve spoken about in this blog post, growing teacher efficacy by reaching educators across the region (and globe) through #LearnLiveUAE and being the best version of myself that I can be for my family. 


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