We spend a lot of time talking about how to motivate our students, but we hardly spend any time talking about out own motivation.
And that’s a shame, because after working with thousands of teachers over the years, I’ve learned a really important truth about motivation:
Unmotivated people can’t motivate anyone.
Think about it. If you are exhausted, or frustrated, or bored, or resistant, there is no way you are going to inspire your students.
If you’ve secretly given up because you’re tired of trying to “drag” your students through the curriculum or because you’re frustrated and overwhelmed by the new policies that seem to create more work without more benefits, then it is really hard to get students excited about learning.
If you’ve lost your own passion for teaching and learning, it’s hard to inspire that passion in your students.
So the secret to motivating your students is not some strategy or trick. The real secret to motivating your students is to feed your own motivation.
Remember, it’s hard to motivate your students when you’re not really motivated yourself.
So, how do you stay motivated in the midst of everything that you are facing? How do you keep yourself going when you’re tired and overwhelmed? How do you hold onto your passion for teaching and nurture your own learning while trying to master new standards or new evaluation processes? How do you juggle the competing demands on your time, energy and attention and focus on what’s really important?
If you’re like most of the educators with whom we work, you probably started the school year motivated and excited. But, right about now, you may be starting to see your own motivation lag. Maybe you’re frustrated because you have tried things that haven’t worked or maybe you’re discouraged because your students aren’t responding to your best efforts to motivate them in the way that you hoped. Maybe you’re just counting down the days until the holidays so that you can just get a break and recharge.
If you’re feeling this way and you’re beating yourself up about it, don’t. It isn’t your fault.
The culprit is something we call “The Fall Slump.”
The Fall Slump is when you’ve started the year with a ton of enthusiasm and energy and somewhere around the end of October, your enthusiasm and optimism begin to drop.
Does that sound like you?
If so, it’s not that you don’t want to be motivated, it’s that you don’t have the right technique to sustain your motivation in the face of the very real challenges that you are facing right now.
So I want to share with you the 5 powerful ways to stay motivated through the fall slump:
1. Focus on what you can do right now. In times of high stress, it is easy to become overwhelmed. When you clearly see the work before you, it can feel really overwhelming. But, instead of focusing on what can’t be done, focus on what can be done right now. Don’t try to do it all. Instead, figure out where you are right now and what you need to do each day to get you one step closer to your goals. If you take it step by step, you’ll make real progress without getting overwhelmed.
2. Focus on the root and not the symptoms. A lot of motivation strategies out there focus on dealing with the symptoms of unmotivated behavior rather than addressing the root causes for a lack of motivation. Here’s the problem. When you treat the symptoms, you may get a temporary boost, but you won’t get long-term results. Instead, focus your motivation efforts on the root cause. That way, you can achieve real results that last over time and you aren’t wasting your time on tricks and strategies that will not last.
3. Find your tribe. Seek out others who are constantly growing and refining their practice. Look for colleagues who are on the same path as you are and can offer you encouragement. If the staff lounge has become a toxic place full of grousing and complaining, find another place to eat your lunch. If your colleagues spend their time complaining about “those kids,” RUN! Don’t let them infect you with their negativity. Look for people who are focused on the solution, not the problems. If you cannot find them in your own building, find a group online of like-minded teachers from all over the country to share resources, get useful support, and find inspiration.
4. Focus on getting better rather than being good. One of the things that can frustrate us the most is that we try to be good, even experts right away. Mastery doesn’t happen that way. It only comes as a result of consistent and deliberate practice over time. Mastery is a progressive process. You don’t get good at teaching or at anything else right away. Focus your efforts on getting a little better every day and over time, you’ll be good. Very good.
5. Take Control. One of the biggest drains on your motivation can be the feeling that no matter what you do, it won’t make a difference. The good news is that you can take control. If you’re not getting the support or the help that you need, you can find it on your own. If you don’t like the direction that your career is taking, you can change course. If you’re frustrated with your current level of expertise, you can get better on your own. You can take control of your own career and your own learning. Right now. This moment.