Picture Success: How to Get Students Motivated

By Ron Shumsky, Psy.D., and Susan M. Islascox, M.A., coauthors of The Survival Guide for School Success

11-30-successWhen students are self-motivated, they have a better chance of staying focused and succeeding at school. How can we help students find this motivation? Praising or celebrating successes can have short-term benefits, but these benefits aren’t likely to last because they come from the outside—from us. But, teaching students how to visualize the benefits of working—to see reasons to work and goals to strive for—can teach them how to find internal motivation to work and, ultimately, to succeed. Here are two easy techniques to foster that.

The Mind’s Video Screen
In order to work hard and really strive, one needs to see the upsides of hard work—the reasons for doing it. Essentially, we all have a video screen inside our minds wherein we can visualize self-motivating images. For schoolwork, common motivational images include good grades, receiving a college acceptance letter, and finishing the work with feelings of satisfaction. Other images may be less laudable and more in the moment, like finishing homework quickly in order to watch videos on YouTube.

To help students master this technique, you can:

  1. Set up a Video Screen CAFE. Images motivate us best when they include Color, Action, Feeling, and Exaggeration. You can create a “Video Screen CAFE” area in your classroom with empty video screens (TV and computer screen frames you make out of construction paper). Have students create their own images that include the four elements of Color, Action, Feeling, and Exaggeration. For example, Vlad can make a picture of getting a good grade and dancing joyously atop his desk while classmates cheer in adoration. Then, have students post their images inside the empty screens. Be sure to update images regularly.
  2. Encourage image sharing. Have students meet and share with one another what video images work for them for a given assignment or task.
  3. Pull in positive imagery from outside of class. Many not-so-motivated students in the classroom are quite motivated on the ball field or in the music room or art studio—mainly because they are generating positive images there (hitting the game-winning home run, performing the next smash hit, creating a masterpiece). Help them see that connection and show them how motivating images outside the classroom can work inside it, too.
  4. Check for negative imagery. There are also many students who are generating negative images on their video screens: poor grades, external criticism, visions of failure. With those images in mind, they see little reason to apply themselves. When you see students with really low motivation, ask them, “What’s on your screen? How well is it motivating you? What else can you visualize that would motivate you better?”

The Mind’s Cheerleader
Another key part of self-motivation involves self-talk, the messages we say to ourselves in our own minds. Basically, these messages can be self-cheering (“I can do this,” “keep at it”) or self-booing (“I’m no good,” “I’m stupid”). So, to teach and promote self-cheering in your classroom:

  1. Convert self-boos to self-cheers. Post a chart like the one below. On the left column, students can write in self-boos—statements they make to themselves that discourage working hard. On the right, that student and/or other students can counter those with self-cheers. Below, for example, Sarah has shared her main self-boos, and Irving has responded with effective self-cheers.11-30-chart
  2. Do class cheers. For many cheers, the actual words matter less than the feeling that the cheers generate. So create with your students a class-wide cheer. For example, one middle school teacher encourages his students to go wild with whistles, clapping, and the roar of the crowd when he rings a bell to start the weekly grammar lesson, thus creating a motivating feeling for what is typically rather unmotivating content. In keeping with that spirit, the ending bell is the cue for students to boo and show their displeasure that the lesson is over.
  3. Play psych-up music. Music can often touch us at a level words just can’t reach. Indeed, it’s used regularly to psych up for physical effort, and we hear it all the time at sports events, at the gym, and more. Use it for mental effort, too. For example, before a test or an arduous task, select a student to share a psych-up song for all to hear. Additionally, use psych-up songs to brighten feelings during dreary time periods. Another teacher we know has a repertoire of motivating songs that she plays on Monday mornings as students enter class. You can even keep a “Top 10 Mental Psych-Up Songs” list on a class music player, and update it as new psych-up hits come along. Here’s a short list of classics:
    • “Rocky Theme Song” by Bill Conti (this one actually has research evidence as being the most psych-up-ing song ever)
    • “Eye of the Tiger” (Rocky III) by Survivor
    • “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi
    • “We Are the Champions” by Queen
    • “We Will Rock You” by Queen

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Less clichéd, but no less true, is our version: Praise a child’s success in first-period biology, and you psych her up for maybe two periods. Show a student how to motivate herself, and you impart lifelong skills for the classroom and beyond.

Ron ShumskyRon Shumsky, Psy.D., is a U.S.-trained and licensed clinical psychologist and child neuropsychologist. He specializes in child development and learning, as well as converting psychology-education principles into meaningful and practical use. Ron lives in Tokyo with his wife, two kids, and their dog Pickles.

Susan_Islascox_photoSusan M. Islascox, M.A., is a learning support teacher at the American School in Japan, who is charged with the often daunting task of helping high school students get focused, organized, and motivated. Her successes and failures in that endeavor inform just about everything in her book. Susan lives in Tokyo with her husband and son.

The Survival Guide for School SuccessSusan and Ron are coauthors (with Rob Bell, M.Ed.) of The Survival Guide for School Success: Use Your Brain’s Built-In Apps to Sharpen Attention, Battle Boredom, and Build Mental Muscle.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Happy ThanksgivingWe’re celebrating Thanksgiving today in the United States, with family and football, turkey and traditions, wishbones and whipping cream. Our office is closed today and tomorrow while we take time to remember all the things we’re grateful for.

Most important, we are grateful for you, the educators and parents who dedicate their lives to helping children succeed.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
—John F. Kennedy

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Teaching Children to Be Empathetic Givers: 5 Tips to Avoid the “Othering” of Need

By Jenny Friedman, Ph.D., author of Doing Good Together

Teaching Children to Be Empathetic Givers: 5 Tips to Avoid the "Othering" of NeedTo celebrate the 30th anniversary of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, public television stations held sweater drives. The idea came from Fred Rogers himself, as a way to encourage giving without promoting an “us” and “them” attitude. His note to PBS stations contains important words for every parent:

“All of us at some time or other need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving a sweater, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That’s one of the things that connect us as neighbors—in our own way, everyone is a giver and a receiver. It’s far better to say to our children that we are gathering sweaters for people who are cold and don’t have the money to buy warm clothing, rather than ‘for the needy’ or ‘less fortunate.’ It may also help to let our children know that people who have money to donate or who have a sweater to give to a clothing drive have other kinds of needs. And those who receive the money or sweater or food have other strengths.” (From The Giving Box by Fred Rogers, Running Press Kids, 2000)

Most parents want to raise children who value generosity, act with kindness toward others, and have compassion for suffering. We want them to be grateful for what they have and to use their strengths to help others.

But we must also recognize the danger of becoming patronizing or feeling we have the answers to other people’s struggles. We must guard against seeing the world, as Mr. Rogers worried, as divided into “givers” and “receivers.”

To avoid this, remind your children that everyone needs help at times, that all of us have something to offer others, and that the world is a better place when we help one another out.

These tips can help you raise kind, giving children while avoiding an “us” and “them” perspective that can become an unintended consequence of serving others.

  1. Remember that the benefits are two-sided. Help children understand that doing for others brings as much (or more) to the giver as it does to the receiver. Giving can expand our understanding, develop skills, and give us a sense of purpose.
  2. Talk about times when you and your family needed help. Yes, we should encourage our children to help, but it’s equally important to tell stories about times when your family has needed help and how it felt to get it. Have you been ill and counted on others for meals? Needed help with childcare, a loan, or a roof over your head? Had a mentor? Tell your child about the people who’ve stepped up in your time of need and what it meant to you.
  3. Do 180s with your child. Have your child imagine the world from the point of view of others. How do you think your teacher feels when the class isn’t listening? How do you think your classmate feels when he’s laughed at? How do you think Grandma felt when she got your thank-you card? Do the same with the characters in books you share or movies you watch together.
  4. Focus more on similarities than differences. We have more empathy for people we consider to be like us. When we get to know people, they no longer feel so different. Help your children see the similarities between themselves and the woman you visit at the nursing home, the shy child in their class, or the man in a developing country who is seeking a loan to start a business. This practice will help your child resist forming stereotypes.
  5. Explain the issues behind the troubles. Rather than blaming those struggling with homelessness, food insecurity, or other challenges, help your child understand that these problems are often systemic. Homelessness can result from a lack of affordable housing, job loss, a fire or other natural disaster, domestic violence, or divorce. Personal issues such as mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, and physical disabilities can also play a role. Talk about how you and others might work to solve the larger problem, not just alleviate the symptoms. And be careful about making assumptions with too little information.

These ideas will help build your children’s “compassion muscles” as they try to make sense of the disparities in the world and work to make a difference.

Jenny Friedman, Free Spirit AuthorJenny Friedman, Ph.D., is founder and executive director of Doing Good Together. She is a leading, national expert on family volunteerism. She works with schools, businesses, youth-serving organizations, and congregations in addition to families and groups of families. A sought-after speaker, Jenny has volunteered with her family of three children for more than twenty years. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Doing Good TogetherJenny is the coauthor of Doing Good Together: 101 Easy, Meaningful Service Projects for Families, Schools, and Communities.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Weathering the Storm of Education Reform

By Andrew Hawk

Weathering the Storm of Education ReformIt is almost 2016, and that means a presidential election year is almost upon us. At this point, campaigns are not yet in full swing, but candidates on both sides of the aisle are already vying for their party’s nomination. One thing that educators can be sure of is that at some point in the election process, education reform will be mentioned. Here are some things to keep in mind as well as some do’s and don’ts that will help educators navigate through the political crosshairs.

Keep in Mind

  • Politicians are trying to get elected. This is usually accomplished by campaigning on changes that will improve the country. Often incumbent politicians will campaign on keeping things the same. However, most challengers develop a platform meant to improve the country. Education has been a hot topic for years, and it does not look like this will change any time soon.
  • Parents are concerned about their children’s futures. Most parents want their children to have a secure future. This is a fact that is easily exploited by politicians who are trying to gain an office.
  • Education statistics never show the whole picture. Politicians often present statistics that show that American schools are behind other countries, especially in the areas of math and science. What’s not clear is whether other countries test their entire student body. In the United States, standardized tests evaluate everyone. This includes special education students and students that have emigrated from other countries and are still learning English.
  • Many people are critical of teachers. This can make it very difficult for teachers to speak out about education reform. Whenever teachers go public with complaints, one of the first replies circulated in the media is that teachers have no reason to complain. Many Americans think it’s unfair that teachers don’t work during the summer and get most holidays off. It’s a common misconception that teachers are paid for all of these days off. They don’t understand that even if we have our paychecks spread out over twelve months, we’re only being paid for the days we work.
  • Reform is necessary . . . somewhere in our country. I am fortunate enough to work in a well-run school district. When I hear politicians criticizing public education, it’s hard not to take it personally. On the other hand, when reviewing files for students that have moved to my school district from another state, at times I have been appalled about some of the practices that are going on in other parts of the country. This is especially true regarding the criteria that some states use to qualify students for special education services. When teachers read about a reform and think it is unnecessary, we should consider ourselves lucky. Politicians, especially the ones in Washington, D.C., have to view the country as a whole. If reform is being suggested, it is necessary somewhere.
  • Change will come at some point in your teaching career. Teachers get comfortable with the policies and practices in place when they are in college. The problem is, change is guaranteed to take place sometime in your career. Even if politicians do not make changes to policies, new practices are being developed or recycled every year. This is especially true regarding technology in the classroom. Teachers should expect change and be ready to embrace it.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do stay informed. Whether you get your news from the television, newspaper, or Internet, pay attention to what is being said about education reform on both the state and federal level. Do not wait to hear about something from your colleagues.
  • Do get involved. Some people are satisfied to wait and have policies dictated to them. This is fine, but I do not see how these people can complain after something happens that they disagree with. If you are informed, you will know what policies are on the horizon. If you disagree with these policies, send an email to your congressman or woman stating your concerns. It’s also a good idea to join a professional organization that is aligned to your personal views.
  • Do embrace change once it comes. Once a policy is put in place, complaining about it is a waste of time and energy. Educators were incensed by the No Child Left Behind legislation, but the policy endured. Any time spent complaining about policies could be spent helping your administrator(s) formulate a plan to move forward.
  • Don’t get defensive. Most negative things said about schools and teachers are a result of political posturing by politicians. If you hear something that does not apply to your school, keep in mind that you are fortunate. If it does apply to your school, you may want to consider if there is anything you can do to improve the situation.
  • Don’t complain all the time. A loose definition for a toxic environment is an environment that is resistant to change due to its employees’ attitudes. One person complaining all the time can have a huge impact on the morale of an organization. It’s great to voice concerns and oppositions to changes in policies or practices, but restating the same complaints multiple times is redundant and irritating.
  • Don’t forget why you became a teacher. No matter which education reforms are put in place, children still need good teachers. Most teachers I have spoken with say that they became teachers because they love working with young people. No politician can take that away.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grade as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth grades. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Friday Link Roundup

Free Spirit's Friday Link Roundup

Educators and parents this week are faced with the difficult task of talking with children about the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, Baghdad, and Beirut. To help, Cool Mom Picks has scoured the Internet and pulled together an annotated list of the best online resources for parents, teachers, and other caregivers on how to talk with kids about tragedy. The article includes hotlines offering help, too.

And, while some American politicians (and citizens) are calling for the United States to close its borders to Muslim refugees, it’s heartening to see that an increasing number of U.S. schools are choosing inclusiveness by observing Muslim holidays.

For the New York Times, Julie Scelfo writes about “Teaching Peace in Elementary School.” As Free Spirits have long known, social-emotional learning is correlated with improved outcomes in students’ lives. According to one expert: “We, as a country, want our kids to achieve more academically, but we can’t do this if our kids aren’t emotionally healthy.”

Here’s one simple way to support kids’ social and emotional development: Let them cry.

With Thanksgiving coming up, We Are Teachers provides “15 Ways to Teach Kids Kindness and Gratitude.” It’s sponsored by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital so many of the ideas involve hospital activities and programs, but they can all be universally applied with a little creativity.

If your school will be celebrating Thanksgiving, be sure to provide students with accurate information and avoid harmful stereotypes about indigenous peoples. Teaching Tolerance provides straightforward guidelines for teaching Thanksgiving in a responsible way.

Back at the end of October, President Obama proclaimed November as Native American Heritage Month. Indian Country Today Media Network provides six guidelines for educators and parents who want to talk about Native American heritage with kids.

Here’s a story from NPR about a principal who is improving a troubled school by focusing on attendance. Research shows that chronic absenteeism in elementary school is a red flag for dropping out in high school. Principal Mark Gaither’s community-oriented approach is inspiring.

Speaking of getting kids to school, several schools in Minneapolis are improving achievement by changing how kids get there—with more biking and walking. The activity stimulates the brain and improves focus and mood. Plus, it’s fun.

Are autism spectrum disorders being over diagnosed? Enrico Gnaulati, writing for Salon, thinks so: “That’s not autism: It’s simply a brainy, introverted boy.”

If you want to make writing assignments more authentic, have students blog.

If you want to reduce stress in students, have them do transcendental meditation. (Yes, in class.)

If you want to encourage girls—or any students—to learn to code, sign them up for a free tutorial to learn to build a game based on the new Star Wars movie.

For adults who like video games and books, here’s something fun: In the new Fallout 4 game, players must return overdue library books in order to fully complete the game.

Finally, click here to meet the adorable Peach, the Shedd Aquarium’s latest rescue dog. Happy weekend!

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2015 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.



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