If You Can't Send Them Home….Then What?

Posted on October 30, 2013, in Teaching

An alternative school for emotionally troubled middle and high school students is frustrated with those who aren't engaged and motivated. Three or four students seem to be demanding and getting all the attention from a committed and hard working staff. Those students who want to work seem to suffer at the expense of the few. Staff have considered sending students home even though they know home isn't the best place for the students.

They asked for my thoughts and suggestions.

I think every place (even the good places) that I have visited has a "line in the sand" when it comes to determining whether or not to send a student home. The line, in the healthy places has to do with safety. If a student creates a real threat or actually acts out to hurt others, exclusion has to be considered. Even then, sending a student home who is angry demands that supports are in place when she gets there.

With that said, exclusion as motivation rarely works since exclusion produces shame. Those shamed tend to disengage even more, or worse yet, may act out in rage. Think of the child who is bullied day after day and returns to the school with a gun. Sending kids home to places where support isn't available isn't helpful. It doesn't make any more sense to send kids home who don't know how to engage or manage emotions than it does to send kids home who don't get how to do math.

Here are some general thoughts on motivation and strategies that may be helpful. Realize that not all strategies work in all environments, with all kids, all the time. Some strategies may work once and then not again. It is a constant challenge to find the right hook.

1. When thinking about classroom motivation, first consider,"What do I do to motivate myself?" Consider how your ways can be attached to your students.

2. Atkinson suggested that motivation is a product of expectations (“I can do this”) X (times) the value of the activity (“I want to do this”). Jones/Jones and Feather went a step more and suggested that motivation is a product of expectation (“I can do this and it isn’t too hard or too easy”) X the value ("I want to do this") X the environment (“I feel safe in this place”). Notice that this is a multiplication formula - if any value is missing you get "zero".

3. When kids can, they generally do. Teach, try and think and then do it again until they get it.

4. Stay away from “dog praise”… praise designed to control or manipulate.

5. Expect kids to do well; don’t try to “catch” them being good.

6. Acknowledge the positive for those to whom it would matter the most.

7. Focus on the deed, not the doer.

8. Turn the pride back to the child whenever possible.

9.Avoid comparisons.

10. Don’t create praise junkies… don’t over do.

11. Spontaneous rewards are better than planned rewards. (When the group has done well, take a time out for simple fun... no strings attached) 

12. Invite success with your comments, physical environment, personal behaviors, and printed signs.

13. Teach students to become tutors or helpers.

14. Remember, the only person you can control; the only person you can truly motivate is yourself. When the student is disengaged and unmotivated, ask and answer these questions:

           1. Is it me? This is not to take the responsibility away from the student and place it on the teacher's shoulders but ask the question in the context of being a professional... Do I know my material and am I excited about it? Am I delivery the material in ways that makes sense to the student? Am I adjusting for his learning style? Have I asked the student why it isn't working for her; what I could do differently? Have I developed a dislike for the student for whatever reason (the student will always sense that dislike).


          2. Is it what the school is doing? Can I step outside the planned curriculum/assignments/schedule, policy or procedures for a while and let the student pursue his or her own interest (reading, drawing, playing an instrument, building a model car/plane, etc) and not feel like I'm letting him get away with something? Are points and policy getting in the way of being genuine?


          3. Is it you? Am I clear about the challenges that seem to cause the child to disengage and the accompanying feelings, thoughts and strategies used to disengage? What is going on right now that keeps the student from his work?

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