Monday, January 30, 2012

Motivation: The Power of Why

I was at a presentation today that began almost mid-stream, with the presenter launching right into the features of the software she was demonstrating. She didn't begin with explaining what the overarching benefits were, or what the product was for.

In other words, as we got underway I had no concrete idea why it was I was sitting there. It got me thinking: We start off our new semesters laying down the law, explaining to kids what to do, and how to do it.

We get angry when they don't listen, and by gosh, there are consequences! Our students need to know what we are teaching them, and we will try strategy after strategy, from mild to extreme, to get the job done.

Do we ever tell them why?

Why they should bother to jump through what they likely perceive as our endless supply of hoops? "Because I said so," and "I'm an adult!" have certainly never worked with a stubborn donkey like myself. Why should abstract lines of reasoning, and seemingly arbitrary rules, work for our kids?

Maybe we should begin our instruction - all instruction - with why. Why leads to an explanation of our common, collective values. Why also leads to explaining the equation of hard work + responsibility = success.

Taking for granted that our kids understand the reasons behind instruction might be a misguided idea. Shifting values and sketchy environments have served as corrupting waves, washing away what were once safely assumed, collective societal anchors.

But knowing why leads to everything from buy-in, to heightened motivation, to ... dare I say ... genuine excitement for learners. I'm going to start with why, from now on - as a reminder to my students, and to myself.

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