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School Leadership: Motivational Techniques for Teachers

School Leadership: Motivational Techniques for Teachers


Teachers, principals, and other bodies that are involved in the motivation of students to study should first and foremost know how to motivate and do its right. This does not mean that there is wrong motivation, but there is the wrong way of motivating students.

Every person has a certain level of stubbornness that a person who motivates others has to overcome. Teachers always encounter stubbornness on its different levels with students.

But in an article written by Ted Hipple and Tricia McClam (2002) titled “Tips for Better Teaching,” they suggested ways on how to teach better that can help motivate students in learning more. The article was a culmination of their observation of college professors. Although the article is about the practices observed on college faculty members, it is also applicable to elementary and secondary schoolteachers.

The better practices by college professors are (Hipple and McClam, 2002):

Ø    They go to class five to ten minutes earlier. This way they can informally chat with the students.

Ø    They plan their lectures in advance. Although they do this, they also practice ‘birdwalking’. Birdwalking is the term used to say that a teacher is getting off the syllabus. A syllabus is good, but if they add a little birdwalking, they are adding flexibility to the discussion. It can also be used to add humor to the class.

Ø    They vary routines. These professors let the students to an oral report and pick up the discussion from the report. Or they do group discussions and join in every once in a while.

Ø    Good college teachers help students get to know each other. This helps students have acquaintances in the class, which more often than not will not know anybody in the class until the end of the semester. They do this by having the first name of the student on their desks and addressing the students on a first name basis. In elementary and secondary schools this can be applied to transferees who still does not know anybody in school.

Ø    They expect good work from their students. Teachers that receive good commendations from students and parents will surely demand good work. It is already expected because they received good comments it means that the students were able to understand the topic.

Ø    They expect good works from themselves. Of course, I teachers receive good comments they would always try to outdo himself next time.

Ø    They consider how they grade. No matter how objective a test is it is always undergoing subjective criticism from the teachers. A point for a student may only be a half point on another student, maybe because the second students always come into class late.

Ø    They talk to their students about teaching. They ask their students to comment about the way they teach. In an example by Hipple and McClam, they said that a teacher they knew makes his students evaluate him in the middle of the term that way the students will benefit from the changes and not their predecessor.

Ø    They talk with their colleagues about their teaching. The better teachers, sometimes asks their colleagues to evaluate them by attending a lecture. This way they can have a professional view on the faults of their style on teaching.

Ø    They reflect on their teaching. They think about how they teach, their behavior in class, their prepared activities, and they think about what their students learn from them.

There are a lot of writers that are also teachers that has found ways of motivating students. Hipple and McClam (2002) had discussed what better teachers do in order to catch the attention of students, and how to teach topics, which students could see as boring, and turn into a more interesting lecture. But the article did not tackle what the students are expecting of their teachers.

According to Barbara Gross Davis of University of California in her article “Motivating Students (1999),” she said that there are students who are naturally enthusiastic about learning. But many of these students need or expect their teachers to be inspiring, challenging, and stimulating. And that, whatever motivation the students have can be transformed by what happens in the classroom.

Since every student is different from the others, a multiple of ways to motivating the students are applied every time. Students that can be related to normal daily lives should be taught. Still according to Gross Davis (1999), researchers have identified the aspects of motivations for students. The teachers can do the following to encourage students become motivated (Gross Davis, 1999):

Ø    Give frequent, early, positive feedback that will help students to support their beliefs in doing well in school.

Ø    Give students tasks that are neither too easy nor too difficult to ensure success.

Ø    Help students find personal meaning, and value in the topic.

Ø    An open and positive atmosphere can enhance the motivation of students.

Ø    Make them realize that they are valued members of a learning community.

Gross Davis (1999) also stated that students respond positively to a course that is taught by an enthusiastic instructor with genuine interest in students and what they learn. This statement should be able to promote a better students’ motivation undertaking for the teachers. The paper by Gross Davis (1999) included general strategies in motivating students, incorporating instructional behaviors that motivate students, structuring the course to motivate students, de-emphasizing grades, motivating students by responding to their work, and motivating students to do the reading.

Under the general strategies there are three strategies that teachers can use. These are: capitalize on students’ existing needs, make students active participants in learning, and the teacher should ask the students to analyze what makes their classes more or less “motivating.” Capitalizing on students’ existing needs will make students learn more by giving them incentives that will satisfy their own motives for enrolling in the course. It suggests that the teacher should design assignments, in-class activities, and discussions that will address their needs. (Gross Davis, 1999)

In making students active participants in learning, the teacher should pose questions that will make students learn by doing, making, writing, designing, creating, and solving. The teacher should encourage students to suggest different approaches to problems or to make them guess the results of an experiment. The teacher should also practice asking the students for something rather than telling them. (Gross Davis, 1999)

Lastly under the general strategies, the teachers should ask the students to analyze ways to better motivate the students. For this, Gross Davis (1999) cited an example made by Sass (1989) who is another author. In the example, Sass asked his students to recall two class periods, in one they were highly motivated and another were their motivation was low. Then he asked his students to make a list of specific aspects of the two classes that has influenced their motivation. After that the students formed small groups and discuss the characteristics that contributed to their motivation. Sass did the study in over twenty courses and came up with the same eight characteristics that contributed to student motivation. The characteristics were (Gross Davis, 1999):

Ø    Instructor’s enthusiasm

Ø    Relevance of the material

Ø    Organization of the course

Ø    Appropriate difficulty level of the material

Ø    Active involvement of students

Ø    Variety

Ø    Rapport between teacher and students

Ø    Use of appropriate, concrete, and understandable examples

For incorporating instructional behaviors that motivate students, Gross Davis (1999) stated the following as ways of implementing instructional behavior that can motivate students:

Ø    Hold high but realistic expectations for your students. Students performance can be affected by the expectations of the teacher. If the teacher shows that he expects his students to be motivated, hardworking, and interested in the course, then they would more likely to be so. “Realistic” means that the standards should be high enough to motivate students but not high that frustration will build up on them just to meet the expectations.

Ø    Help students set achievable goals for themselves. Students get frustrated when the goals set to them are not attained. The teachers should encourage students to concentrate on improvement rather than focus only on grades on their test or assignment. The teachers should help the students be a critique of their own work, let them see their strength and weakness, to motivate them to do better.

Ø    Tell students what they need to do to succeed in your course. The teacher should not let their students struggle to figure out what is expected of them. They should be reassured that they will do well in the course. And also, the teacher should tell them what they need to succeed.

Ø    Strengthen students’ self-motivation. The teacher should not give emphasis on his authority as an instructor or extrinsic rewards.

Ø    Avoid creating intense competition among students. Building competition can produce anxiety and this can interfere with learning. The teacher should not encourage comparison between students’ work.

Ø    Be enthusiastic about your subject. This is a crucial factor in student motivation. Should the teacher be bored, then the students will too. Usually, enthusiasm from a teacher comes from his confidence, excitement about the content, and genuine pleasure in teaching. If this enthusiasm does not find its way to the teacher, the instructor should think back to what attracted him to the field. Else, he could challenge himself to devise the most exciting way to present the material.

For structuring the course to motivate students, Gross Davis (1999) stated the following to help teachers apply this:

Ø    Work from students’ strengths and interests. The teacher should find out the reasons of the students of why they enrolled in the course, how they feel about the subject matter, and what their expectations are. Then he should try to devise examples, case studies, or assignments that relates to what the students’ interest and experiences are.

Ø    When possible, let the students have some say in choosing what will be discussed. The teacher should sometimes give the students options about term papers and assignments. Let them decide between two locations for a field trip, or what topics to explore in depth in class.

Ø    Increase the difficulty of the material as the semester progresses. Let them succeed at the beginning of the semester, and then gradually increase the difficulty level. If students are exposed to easy and hard questions, they will better chance of succeeding more advanced challenge.

Ø    Vary your teaching methods. When the teacher applies this, he will be able to reawaken the involvement and motivation of the students in the course.

By de-emphasizing grades, Gross Davis (1999) means for the teacher to:

Ø    Emphasize mastery and learning rather than grades. The quality of learning should be the main concern of teachers and not grade performance. Let the students have a chance of improving their work and thus, improving their knowledge of the material.

Ø    Design tests that encourage the kind of learning you want students to achieve. Teachers should give more emphasis on practicing skills rather than memorizing.

Ø    Avoid using grades as threats. Threatening students by their grades can motivate others to work harder, which is good, but majority would rather resort to cheating, and other counterproductive behavior.

For teachers to motivate their students by responding to their work, Gross Davis (1999) stated the following:

Ø    Give students feedback as quickly as possible. The teachers should practice returning tests promptly, and commend students publicly and immediately. Give them an idea of how well they have done and how to further improve.

Ø    Reward success. Researches show that positive feedback and success affect students motivation more. Praise helps build self-confidence, competence, and self-esteem. Even if their performance is weak, let them know that you, as their teacher believe in them and that they can succeed over time.

Ø    Introduce students to good work done by their peers. Teachers should learn to appreciate what students have accomplished, and share it with the class as a whole.

Ø    Be specific when giving negative feedback. Since, negative feedback is very powerful, teachers should make it clear that comments relating to the students’ weakness is for a particular performance only and not to the student as a person.

Ø    Avoid demeaning comments. The teacher should be sensitive on how they phrase their comments and avoid off hand remarks that might prick their feelings of inadequacy.

Ø    Avoid giving in to students’ pleas for “the answer” to homework problems. Let them think for themselves, and do not rob them of the chance to think. Let them know that it is all right to have an instant answer. This will also develop their patience.

The following can help motivate students to do readings (Gross Davis, 1999):

Ø    Assign the reading at least two sessions before it will be discussed. Let them have sometime to work and prepare for the assignment.

Ø    Assign study questions. Prepare handouts that would alert students about the key points of the reading assignment. And as an added incentive, tell them that the exams will be based on the questions.

Ø    If your class is small, have students turn in brief notes on the day’s reading that they can use during exams.

Ø    Ask students to write a one-word journal or one-word sentence.

Ø    Ask non-threatening questions about the reading. Pose general questions that do not create resistance.

Ø    Use class time as a reading period. If there are a lot of students who were not able to complete the reading assignment, have them read it silently or call students to read aloud. Tell them that the teacher did that because many have not completed their assignment.

Ø    Prepare an exam question on undiscussed readings. Let the class know that the readings will be included in the next exam. Then remind them of it the next time, this way they would come in to class prepared.

Ø    Give a written assignment to those students who have not done the reading. It is suggested that this technique should not be used more than once in a term. This is because those who have not done the reading will be given an assignment that will not be graded but acknowledged.

The discussed motivational techniques are used and practiced even before it was acknowledged. It is merely the creativity of the teachers on how they can motivate their students. But the best way to do that is to not threaten the students with what they know that the teacher can do. Yet they should also not tolerate the insubordination that the students will show. There should be balance and a boundary should be set. This way the students will know if they have gone overboard.



Gross Davis, Barbara. (1999). Motivating Students. Tools for Teaching ©Jossey-Bass. Berkeley, California: University of California.


Hipple, T. and McClam, T. (2002). Tips for Better Teaching. Chronicle of Higher Education. Syracuse, New York: Center for Support of Teaching and Learning at Syracuse University.


Sass, E.J. (1989). Motivation in the College Classroom: What Students Tell Us. Teaching of Psychology. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

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