How to Motivate the Un-Motivatable

unmotivatedChris made group work nearly impossible. Chris was never prepared. Didn’t participate. Talked incessantly about nothing in particular moving everyone else off-task. Chris’ choices made learning difficult for everyone. Chris’ behavior was challenging.

Enter the theoretical approach of PBS – Positive Behavioral Support. “Positive behavioral support (PBS) is a broad term that describes a comprehensive, research based,
proactive approach to behavioral support aimed at producing comprehensive change for students with challenging behavior. ” [1]

PBS is different than traditional consequence and reward models of behavior management programming. Those using PBS are “determining not only what, where, when and how challenging behavior occurs, but also why.” [1]

Chris spent too much time talking to others in the hallway and was always late for class. Rarely organized, Chris’ desk was a mess and important work was often lost or damaged. Chris’ behavior was misaligned with expectations in the classroom and hallway, in small groups and whole class discussions, before class and during. We know what Chris is doing (or not doing). We know the where, the when, and the how of Chris’ behavior. Yet, no one has ever bothered to figured out WHY Chris, a 15 year veteran teacher, behaves in these ways, in these locations.

Like the assumption you made that Chris was a student, most of us assume we know why our colleagues or employees behave as they do. But what if, like effective teachers supporting a student, what if we as peers, as administrators, chose to use the concepts outlined in the PBS approach? What if we approached teacher support from the perspective of, well support, not assumed judgment?

Positive Behavior Support for Educators, I define as, a deliberate and collaborative proactive plan of support aimed at encouraging and facilitating positive professional change for teachers. Now I am not looking to coin a new theory here and run across the country forcing, yet another theoretical construct down your educational-jargon filled throats. I am simply asking you to consider a different perspective. The perspective of the “why behind the what”. There is always a “why” behind every “what”. The key to effective support is for educational leadership and peers to figure out why a colleague is so resistant to engaging in the assumed norms of a school or grade-level culture. What has Chris experienced in past roles? Gaining an understanding of Chris’ past will help rationalize the present and inform the path to growth in the future.

Why is Chris, a veteran teacher, disengaged?
Let’s go back to what we do for students and see if it applies to Chris’, our mythical grown-up, teacher person. Here are six potential reasons a student may lack motivation to engage. [2]

Motivation Deficit 1: The student is unmotivated because he or she cannot do the assigned work.

Could it be that Chris lacks the skills to do the work? Expectations and curriculum have changed considerably in the past 15 years. Maybe Chris has a skill deficit. Something to consider.

Motivation Deficit 2: The student is unmotivated because the ‘response effort’ needed to complete the assigned work seems too great.

Have you heard Chris, “Yea, I’ve seen this all before just with a different name. This will pass like everything else.” Chris’ past experiences can significantly influence the desire to engage in a new initiative because they’ve been burned in the past. Chris invested and then everything went back to the way it was. Maybe Chris isn’t lazy, or unable, just unwilling because they’ve been jaded by past experiences. Something to consider.

Motivation Deficit 3: The student is unmotivated because classroom instruction does not engage.

Irrelevant professional development offerings. Enough said. Something to consider.

Motivation Deficit 4: The student is unmotivated because he or she fails to see an adequate pay-off to doing the assigned work.

This may align with deficit #2 and the whole jaded from the past thing. It also addresses the experience inherent in the descriptor “veteran”. Chris, the seemingly unmotivated veteran teacher, may not be engaging because, in their professional opinion (which is based on years of experience) the new initiatives are simply ineffective or incomplete. Maybe tapping into Chris’ expertise regarding the design of the new initiative might inspire motivation. Something to consider.

Motivation Deficit 5: The student is unmotivated because of low self efficacy—lack of confidence that he or she can do the assigned work.

Chris may feel incapable. This differs from #1. Some teachers may not have the skill, but only because they haven’t had a chance to learn how. Teachers qualifying for the #5 deficit do not have the skill and do not believe they are capable of learning to do it even if they had a training opportunity. Maybe if  Chris had a mentor to guide them through the emotional and technical hurdles associated with the new initiative they would both believe and achieve.  Something to consider.

Motivation Deficit 6: The student is unmotivated because he or she lacks a positive relationship with the teacher.

Chris may feel the department chair or grade-level lead or principal doesn’t like them. A personal issue stemming form a past professional disagreement, may be inferring with the current level motivation. It would take a deliberate and candid sequence of conversations, but the air needs to be clear before the sun cane shine. Moving beyond the cheesy metaphor, maybe if leadership modeled the initiative to engage in a professional dialogue with Chris, the personal issues could be resolved and the professional relationship enhanced. Something to consider.

Positive behavior support for students examines the “why” behind the child’s behavior.I asked you to consider doing the same for your colleagues, for your teachers, for your “Chris”. Let me know how it went. Comment below. Be sure to subscribe and engage in future conversations. Oh, for those of you who were concerned, no “Chris”es were harmed in the making of this blog post. Something to consider.


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