How can teachers motivate their pupils to improve their behaviour? Dave Stott continues the SEAL approach to improving classroom behaviour, offering practical tips

Feedback from pupils regarding what motivates them in the classroom reveals an interesting range of issues. While some of the motivators will certainly have a positive effect on pupil behaviour, there are several more worrying influences that clearly link innappropriate or unacceptable behaviour to negative motivation.

A Pure Dictionary definition of ‘motivation’ describes it as:

‘A set of reasons that determines one to engage in a particular behaviour. According to various theories, motivation may be rooted in the basic need to minimize physical pain and maximize pleasure, or it may include specific needs such as eating and resting, or a desired object, hobby…or it may be attributed to less apparent reasons such as altruism (the deliberate pursuit of the interests or welfare of others) or morality (a code of conduct linked to right and wrong).’

Pupils whose behaviour is a cause for concern may well be experiencing negative motivation from a range of factors:

  • peer pressure
  • lack of understanding of boundaries and expectations
  • parental perceptions
  • poor social skills
  • low self-image.

For motivation to play an important role in improving in class behaviour, we need to develop strategies and interventions that enable pupils to:

  • be able to set goals for themselves and consider the long-term consequences to themselves and others
  • be able to make considered choices about how activities and tasks can be tackled, that in turn lead to successful outcomes
  • be able to make a positive contribution and share the responsibility of shaping the ethos of both classroom and school environments.

The third point above is certainly an important outcome for the pupil who is positively motivated and possesses a sense of responsibility and belonging. The concept of taking responsibility for your environment is increasingly difficult if you do not feel a strong affinity or community spirit to that same environment. How many readers of this article, for instance, still live within three or four miles of their birthplace? For those who, like many, now live many miles away, the feeling of ‘going home’ is still very strong when visiting their childhood home, even though they moved away some time ago. Schools need to work hard to develop that same sense of belonging that motivates pupils to make a positive contribution to their teaching and learning environments.

Practical Tips
As in previous articles discussing the various aspects of successful behaviour management, the issue of positive motivation should be considered on three levels, namely:

  • whole-school
  • group
  • individual.

Whole-school
Consideration should be given to the physical environment, ethos and the involvement of all stakeholders. Policies should be relevant, up-to-date and take into account the observations of all users of the environment. Pupil voice, school council and general questionaires all help to strengthen a sense of belonging to the community. Where comments and views of stakeholders are acted on, motivation is high. Pupils and teachers who feel that they have no direct say in the organisation feel unmotivated and uninvolved.

The physical environment (appearance, lighting, temperature, access) is also an influence on feelings and emotions. Creating an environment that is both fit for purpose, welcoming and stimulating will act as a powerful motivator to users of the building.

The groupGive some consideration to the social make up of the teaching groups. Peer pressure and social rejection will most certainly act as an obstacle to learning and good behaviour.

Seating plans, differentiation arrangements and practices such as circle time approaches enable pupils to develop self image, enthusiasm and essential skills such as active listening, turn taking and social skills.

Class rewards based on appropriate behaviour are again strong motivators within a group setting. Setting class goals and teaching the specific skills to achieve those goals will enhance pupils’ ability to be resilient and help them to understand how their behaviour has an influence on ethos within the classroom.

The individual
Effective and age-appropriate reward systems which embed a feeling of ‘I can’ will contribute to the positive motivation of individual pupils. Use a positive model of teaching behaviour rather than the less-motivating ‘model of failure’. Many pupils are unmotivated simply by the approach teachers use in their teaching of behaviour. To enhance pupils’ motivation, behaviour should be taught in just the same way that we teach other aspects of the curriculum.

When the primary focus remains on correcting negative behaviour, pupils are less involved and less stimulated; self-esteem is low and pupils become unmotivated.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2009

About the author: Dave Stott has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a writer, consultant and trainer.