The last few weeks of a school year usually feel like a mix of excitement, exhilaration, and being overwhelmed—and this year feels no different in that regard.
In other ways, a lot does feel different. As one mom proclaimed last week, “There’s not one parent who has said this past school year has been amazing.”
We’ve seen this general feeling with college students, as highlighted by the New York Times Opinion piece “My College Students Are Not OK.”
And at my office over the past year, the most frequent comments about middle school and high school students have been along the lines of:
“My child is not motivated. They lack motivation, they are struggling to get work done, they are not turning in work.”
This observation is certainly not new, but it does feel like it’s at a new level that we haven’t seen before.
So, how do we encourage students to reengage?
Let’s back up: Young people *do* care. It’s not fair to say that all students are unmotivated, and it is important to acknowledge that we’re all exhausted. Students have also been experiencing a significant crisis around mental wellness. So, some of the lack of motivation can be related to mental-wellness concerns, and in those cases, I strongly suggest that students and their families find outside support, starting with talking to their family physician.
At the same time, I also want to reflect on the research around intrinsic motivation:
The Self-Determination Theory suggests that autonomy, competence, and a sense of belonging/relatedness are key to help individuals grow and change.
What can we do this summer to mitigate some of the pandemic-related motivation lags?
Autonomy is about choices. Feeling like we have choices is important. Over the past few years, students have felt like they didn’t have choices or that their choices were taken away. How can we work to redevelop the notion of choice? In our office, we see helping students develop executive functioning as a way of promoting their sense of agency and autonomy.
Competence relates to feeling as though we can make good decisions with the choices available. Competence builds confidence, and the more we feel as though we have choices—and that we’re capable of making good choices—the more motivated we feel. How can students gain a better sense of competence this summer? In our office, our work focuses on math, writing, and world languages, as well as overall executive functioning skills.
A sense of belonging/relatedness has been hard to find in these isolating times. Many students experienced a rough social reentry into in-person schooling. Perhaps this summer can be about helping every student find multiple points of connection in new and different spaces. Key point: The number one reason that college students contacted our office with an interest in transferring schools was social, not academic. Socialization and relationship-building skills are especially important right now, and we are all out of practice.
Please feel free to reach out to our office if we can be helpful. We’ll start our summer schedule on Monday, June 6, 2022. If you have a student who’s interested in working with us this summer, please fill out this form and we’ll be sure to contact you.
Wishing you the best possible end to the school year and some restful days ahead.