• Aaron Daffern

Three Ways to Boost Student Motivation Through Relationships


Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

One of the most powerful leverage points with students is relationships. Whether it be teacher-student or peer relationships, this social factor has the potential to increase student motivation. Below are three tips to tap into student motivation through relationships.


Hold to Optimism

Relationships are strongly affected by teacher attitudes and actions. Teachers have the power to directly impact their daily teaching environments simply by the beliefs they hold concerning their students. Teachers can increase the positivity of their relationships with students simply by maintaining an optimistic outlook.


Students are extremely perceptive in discerning unspoken beliefs transmitted to them through nonverbal cues. In other words, they know if their teacher has given up on them. If they do not believe that their teacher has faith in them, the chances for a beneficial relationship greatly diminishes.


Teachers, reflect for a moment on your attitude toward your students. If you have a particular class period that is more troublesome than others, how do you handle the additional stress? Do you tell the class that they aren’t nearly as well-behaved as one of your other class periods? Does the class know that they fail to meet up to your standards because you post class averages?


Students are particularly adept at giving teachers what they expect to find. When teachers communicate to students that their class has a bad reputation, students begin to fulfill those expectations. Persistent negativity can be the cause rather than the effect of a class’s low performance.


Teachers should take a step back when encountering difficulty and assess their own beliefs. If teachers maintain negative views about the students or class in question, the relationship will suffer and the negative views will be validated. Teachers usually find what they are looking for.


Bring Yourself into the Classroom

Teachers, you are interesting to your students. Students sometimes spend more time with you throughout a week than they do with their own parents. They want to know about you. You might not think that they care about your hobbies and interests, but you’re wrong.

Think about when you were in school. Most of us have a favorite teacher that we connected with. One name normally comes to mind when adults remember a favorite teacher. Usually, those memories involve personal details about their lives.


Some teachers talk about their own children with their students. Some like to share photos from vacations or places they’d like to visit. When I was a teacher, I brought my acoustic guitar into my classroom and played some songs for my students. Even though it made me feel a bit more vulnerable than I liked, bringing my personal talents into the classroom opened me up to my students.


I know of a teacher that is a fanatical sports fan of her alma mater, Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. Scores of first graders become rabid TCU fans year after year because of her. They usually don’t even know the rules of the sport that’s in season but they know that they want TCU to win. This teacher builds relationships with her students by sharing her passion for college sports.


Teachers might not believe that students would be interested in their hobby if it’s too far out of the mainstream. For the most part, they’d be wrong. Whether they collect stamps, weave baskets, or religiously watch History Channel documentaries, students want to know about their teachers. Any window teachers can provide into their own lives will positively boost motivation by increasing relationships.


Build Collaborative Opportunities Between Students

One of the easiest ways teachers can increase the power of relationships is to foster an environment of collaboration. Rather than serving as the sole source of information for students, teachers should promote peer relationships. Students should view each other as another way to gain knowledge. Students thrive when given an opportunity to help others.


Collaboration comes at a cost, however. Highly competitive environments that pit one student against another are not conducive to collaboration. When students fight each other for limited rewards and praise, the atmosphere a classroom changes. They can have trouble sometimes turning off their competitive juices and helping out a potential opponent. This is not to say all competition is bad, however, as I’ll explore in the next major point below.

Plenty of resources and methodologies exist for teachers as a starting point to increase motivation through peer relationships. Whether you utilize job descriptions for group members or build cooperative assignments, students working together has the potential to send student engagement through the roof.


Let me give a word of caution, though. Collaboration and cooperative learning are not the same as group work. The former has specific roles students must fulfill and maintains individual accountability within a spirit of teamwork. The latter is less structured and potentially sees some group members do all the work while others slack off.

Collaboration is instead the result of purposeful design on the part the teacher. The first step in embracing the power of collaboration is to recognize that knowledge can be gained from peers. Add that to the potential for increased motivation and finding ways for students to work together is a must.

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