5 Tips on Developing Self-Motivation in Students

7 min to read
A student works on her laptop with her learning coach.

Online school often offers a learning environment that encourages students to become self-motivated, independent learners. Flexible daily schedules can give students the ability to complete lessons at their own pace. However, with this flexibility comes the responsibility to stay self-motivated.

As students advance through online school, they develop important self-reliance skills that will help them succeed in school and wherever their journey takes them next.    

But what happens when motivation in schools starts to wane, or your student hits a rough spot and shows signs of burnout? How can online school teachers, parents, and Learning Coaches help students learn how to find motivation for school?   

Why Aren't Students Motivated to Learn?

According to Carnegie Mellon University, some of the top reasons students lose motivation to learn include:

  • Students may see little value in the class or its content

  • Students may not believe they are capable of improving their performance

  • Students may feel unmotivated by the structure of the class

  • Students may feel unmotivated by rewards 

  • Students may not feel supported in the classroom and otherwise

  • Students may have other priorities that take up their focus

5 Ways to Develop Self-Motivation for Students

Finding self-motivation for students is a key element in their success and happiness at school. Here are five tips to spark student motivation by tapping into the psychological drivers that could help them become more self-motivated learners.

1. Self-Motivation Begins with Praising Effort.

Students can lose motivation if they aren’t grasping concepts or if they do poorly on assignments and tests. Educator and school psychologist, Allen Mendler, Ph.D., noted in his book, Motivating Students Who Don’t Care, that praising students when they fail is a good motivator.

Learning Coaches may want to reinforce right answers with notes of praise. It could go a long way to help your student feel competent and gain a sense of accomplishment, even if they got some questions wrong. Encouragement from teachers and Learning Coaches could help students to be more motivated in school and inspire them to do better next time.

Learning Coaches may also separate effort from achievement. They can do this by praising students for putting in the effort and trying their best even if the outcome wasn’t the grade they wanted. Receiving recognition for their hard work will motivate students to continue putting in the work to achieve better results. Learning Coaches especially can define what success looks like for their student; it might not always include getting straight As.

2. Empower Students to Become Self-Motivated.

Students who take an active role in decisions and feel like their voice is being heard are more likely to stay motivated. If your student is attending online school, involve them in decisions like creating the daily school schedule, including their requests for downtime. Let them help design their learning space and make it their own. Discuss class choices together and let them choose their electives.

Work together to develop school rules, expectations, and consequences. Offer choices to give them the confidence to make decisions on things that are important to them. This can give them a better sense of self and purpose, which can be strong motivators.

A Learning Coach using a laptop helps her elementary school student become more motivated to learn.

3. How to Promote Self-Motivation in the Classroom? Make Learning Exciting!

To promote self-motivation in the classroom, help make learning exciting! Students are engaged and motivated to learn when they are excited about a subject.

Learning Coaches can help bring lessons to life by scheduling field trips or doing other hands-on activities that are tied to what their student is learning about.

Visit a museum, see a play, or attend a concert to build excitement and inspire students to learn. Encourage students to join a club or other extracurricular activity to give them a sense of belonging, which can be a powerful motivator.

Find ways to inspire their natural curiosity. Make a rewards system to help encourage self-motivation for students to achieve mutually agreed-upon goals.

4. Talk About Future Goals to Help Students Stay Motivated.

Setting future goals is a great way to gain motivation for school. Helping your student explore and identify potential careers could help them stay motivated by giving them goals to work toward. Encourage them to follow their passions. Make sure they know they have what it takes, giving them confidence in their abilities.

For online high school students, encourage them to shadow, take a summer job, find an age-appropriate volunteer opportunity, or participate in internship programs.

5. Stay Connected with Your Self-Motivated Student.

It can be hard to watch students lose interest in their studies. Stay connected with your student by keeping the lines of communication open and showing you are there for them. Ask about their feelings and try to get to the root cause of their lack of motivation. Ask for their feedback on their courses, content, and lessons. 

Another way to stay connected is to send them encouraging notes and emails. Cheer them on! Knowing they have someone in their corner can give them confidence and motivate them to achieve their goals.

A pair of teens engage in motivation activities for high school students to stay engaged in school.

How to Be More Motivated in School as a Student

It can be tough when your student isn’t motivated to learn. Researchers who analyzed studies on student motivation have found that Learning Coaches can influence student motivation by satisfying three psychological needs: competency, belonging, and autonomy. The analysis also found that students who are self-motivated are more likely to do better in school and have a better overall sense of well-being.   

If your student is struggling with how to find motivation for school, check out the following suggestions by age group.

How to Motivate Elementary School Students

Some of the best ways you can build motivation for students in elementary school is through praising their successes, modeling motivated behavior, and promoting a growth mindset. Elementary students are still very much developing their sense of self, so trying new things and exposing them to as many new topics and ways of learning as possible can help them latch onto new motivational tools.

How to Motivate Middle School Students

Middle school students may already know what they need when it comes to increasing motivation or improving performance in school, so don’t be afraid to just ask them what they find motivating. Foster an environment of open dialogue and discussion by asking them what’s going well? What’s not going well? What do they feel like they need to succeed? What do they enjoy in school? What do they not enjoy or find as interesting to learn about? You never know where these conversations may lead!

How to Motivate High School Students

When it comes to motivating high school students, you can just ask them what motivates them! Older students often know what they need and what they are interested in. Ask your students what motivates them or ask them why they aren’t motivated. The answer may surprise you and inspire new ideas for you to help empower your student.

High school is also the time when students really start to develop a stronger sense of self and cultivate a set of unique interests that may spur them into choices for their career, hobbies, and growth as an adult. You can help develop successful motivation activities for high school students by leaning into these interests: what are the activities that your student enjoys and is naturally motivated by? Encourage them to pursue these interests; the more time they spend doing things that they love, the more that sense of pride, confidence, and motivation will spill into other aspects of life and school.

Self-Motivation for Students in Online School

It’s important to monitor your student to ensure they are staying motivated and completing their online lessons. If your student begins to fall behind in school, you may want to consider getting them a tutor. You should also always consult your child’s teacher for advice and feedback.

If it’s your first time switching to a virtual school like Connections Academy®, your student is probably adjusting to their flexible schedule, independent learning, and their new teacher and classmates. Find other creative ways to motivate virtual school students and watch your student learn how to gain motivation for school in every grade! 

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