February 16th, 2010

Finding Motivation


It’s that time of the academic year when enthusiasm for teaching and learning are harder to find. Spring semester or term courses are no longer new. Even though the feedback has clearly indicated that this course won’t be an easy A, many students have yet to buckle down and start studying seriously. The winter drags on … especially for those of us who are unaccustomed to major snowstorms and way behind due to cancelled classes.

I was re-energized by a chapter on the characteristics and skills of a motivating instructor in the fairly recent third edition of Ray Wlodkowski’s venerable book, Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn. He writes, “Motivating instructors are not entirely magical. They are unique; they do have their own style and strengths. But research, observations, and common sense all point to essential elements that are the foundation of their instruction. These core characteristics can be learned, controlled, and planned for by any one who instructs adults [and I would add even young adults].” (p. 49)

And what are those essential elements that characterize instructors who motivate students? Wlodkowski’s chapter explores five: expertise, empathy, enthusiasm, clarity, and cultural responsiveness. The list doesn’t contain any surprises, although Wlodkowski’s discussion of each includes many helpful insights and ideas.

But it’s his idea about how we become motivating that can help us face classes this week and the rest of the semester with a renewed sense of energy and purpose. “Instruction is a pragmatic art, a craft. We create, compose, and perform for the benefit of learners. Every professional artist has a practice regimen, and fundamentals make up a considerable portion of it. Just as exercise is an inherent part of the lives of fine dancers and daily practice is a continual ritual for outstanding musicians, so too are those basic elements the foundation for motivating instruction. If we use them steadily and strive always to refine them, they can be developed and enriched. They are achievable.” (p. 50) So carry on, make the effort and if Wlodkowski is right, we will motivate students and find motivation ourselves.

Reference: Wlodkowski, R. J. Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn: A Comprehensive guide for Teaching All Adults. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008.