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Motivation or Manipulation?

Angry Teacher.jpg
A common yet misguided motivational tactic involves praising some students for the purpose of redirecting other students. A classic example of this is when teachers call out, "I love the way Groups 1 and 4 are sitting," when what they really mean is "I hate the way Groups 2, 3, and 5 are stirring."

This not only has little chance of compelling students in Groups 2, 3, and 5 to get their acts together; it's also unlikely to reinforce the behavior of students in Groups 1 and 4. In fact, by the time the teacher coaxes Groups 2, 3, and 5 into cooperating, it's inevitable that Groups 1 and 4 will no longer be cooperating.

The main reason this approach doesn't work is that children can tell whether what's coming out of your mouth is what's really on your mind. And look out when it isn't, since disingenuousness spells disaster when you're working with kids.

A better approach is to acknowledge students in Groups 1 and 4 as promptly and privately as possible, In other words, if you really like how Groups 1 and 4 are behaving, walk over to them, crouch down, look each student in the eyes, and express genuine gratitude for their cooperation. Now you've validated those students rather than manipulated (correction: tried to manipulate) other students.

Sure you may still need to redirect Groups 2, 3, and 5, but you're less likely to lose Groups 1 and 4 in the process, since kids are more likely to sustain their cooperation when you genuinely acknowledge them for it. And the more you do this, the more likely students in all groups will feel motivated by you rather than manipulated.

Image by Mjak, provided by Dreamstime license

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