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Motivating Students: 9 Tips You MUST Know! 

Inside: My tips for working through the self-coaching model to help you with motivating students. Listen to the podcast episode, “How to Motivate Lazy Students,” here

“He’s very smart, just a lazy student sometimes.” 

“I can’t get her to do anything. Nothing motivates her to do her work.”

“If they weren’t so lazy, my class would be doing better at…. (fill in the blank)”

Have you ever had these thoughts? or heard a fellow teacher say it in the faculty room? Of course, you have! Figuring out how to motivate lazy students is a constant struggle for teachers of all ages. 

Today, we’re going to dive into the root cause of the behavior that we are observing in our students or even in our own children. We’ll be talking about what to do when we feel like we’ve tried everything. I hope that there’s something today that I’m going to tell you that you haven’t tried just yet. 

Through life coaching teachers in Wife Teacher Mommy Club, we’ve been able to address a lot of questions, some beliefs, and other things that were going on related to motivating “lazy” students. I’ll even walk you through the self-coaching model that we use in teacher life coaching to help you examine how you can better motivate lazy students.

How do you motivate a lazy student?

I heard a quote that said something along the lines of “Great teachers tell students what they are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what they told them.”

We’re going to dive deep into a lot of ideas to help you motivate your lazy students in this article.  I’ll go deeper into each idea, but let’s start by telling you what I am going to tell you: 

  • Question the labels that you are putting on students- they can become a self-fulfilling prophecy!
  • Challenge your own thoughts about lazy students
  • Focus on what you can control. Hint: it’s not them 😉
  • Use the Self-Coaching Model to examine your own thoughts and behaviors
  • Talk with your students about their behaviors using open-ended questions
  • Implement a consistent classroom management plan
  • Decide on consequences ahead of time
  • Use differentiation for motivating students at every level
teacher working with student- motivating students 8 tips you MUST know

What does being a “lazy student” look like?

Okay, so let’s dive into this topic. Many teachers may have preconceived notions about certain students, and put labels on them such as “lazy” or “bad.” 

That is the first thing I want to talk about, understanding the label. First, I’m going to ask you, what does being lazy mean? What does it mean that they are being “bad” kids? Describe it. What are you actually observing with this behavior? 

Chances are that if you answered it, and if I pulled another teacher and had them answer the question, there might be some similar things. But they might describe it in a different way, too. 

What that shows us is that student behavior is up for interpretation. What one teacher sees as “lazy” another teacher may see as “disinterested” and yet another teacher may see a student who isn’t being challenged enough. 

Labeling students can become a self-fulfilling prophecy

Unfortunately, often the label is even passed down from sibling to sibling or from class to class.

One teacher might say, “Oh, this is “the bad class,” or “this is the hard class.” And that just gets passed from the second-grade teacher to the third-grade teacher, and then the third-grade to the fourth-grade teacher. 

As it is passed on more and more, the label is perpetuated. Students catch on that they alone, or as a whole class have been labeled as “lazy” “bad” or “disruptive.”. Then their behavior becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

This is one of the most toxic ideas that can come out of a faculty lunchroom. If we are talking to others in the building who are helping reaffirm that label.

Challenge your thoughts about lazy students

I want to challenge the thought that kids are lazy (or fill in the blank with whatever label you see). They aren’t lazy. There’s something else behind it. They’re either anxious or depressed; they’re bored; they’re sad; they’re confused because they don’t know what’s expected of them; they’re frustrated. Students may assume that they will always be labeled that way, so why act any differently? 

We need to look at the power of our own beliefs. When we have these labels, we are limiting the beliefs that we have about our students. In the back of our minds, we might be thinking, “My efforts are pointless. It’s going nowhere.”

And when we think those thoughts, that leads us to action. We may begin to talk to our students in a frustrated tone. We may not give them the benefit of the doubt. Our students can feel our energy, and that alone might be driving some of that behavior.

Examine your own beliefs about these students and think about the labels that you’ve been putting on them. Consider reframing them. 

What is causing this label? Why is this happening? If you can, get to a place where instead of being frustrated, get curious about it. This is what is going to serve us better.

Focus on what you can control

Obviously, we can’t control what our students are doing, right? Can’t 100% control. Yes, what we’re doing has an impact on their behavior and everything but what we can control is our current beliefs about ourselves and our classroom management. 

Control circle showing what you can and can’t control from

We can’t control everything that is going on. But most of the time, there is something on our side that could help us be able to approach this in a more impactful way. There is at least some kind of disconnect between us and them. So if we look at it that way, what is the disconnect? We are the teacher in the classroom at the end of the day, and it is our job to figure out what is going on.  If we want to see changes, it’s our job to figure it out. 

The other thing to acknowledge is that maybe it’s fine to not make changes. What if everything is happening exactly as it is supposed to? It depends on the level of what’s going on in your classroom. What if there’s something for me to learn and improve, such as my classroom management skills or how I connect with my students? Either way, look at this as an opportunity to improve and enhance your teaching skills. 

Use the Self-Coaching Model to change your thoughts about motivating students

Let’s dive into the self-coaching model that we use inside Wife Teacher Mommy Club.

The model that we use goes C T F A R. If you want to learn more about the self-coaching model, check out this article.

  • C is the circumstance of what is going on. 
  • T is what we think about that neutral circumstance. 
  • F is how we feel when we think that 
  • A is what we are doing and what we’re not doing. 
  • R is the result that we see as driven by those actions that we take. 

When you do this exercise, write it out. Write down the CTFAR on a piece of paper and label each letter along with what is going on in your classroom and in your mind. 

Let’s look at the circumstances of talking about the lazy, bad, or hard class. What is actually happening? And I don’t mean like, “Oh, they’re being lazy or they’re being bad.” Or, “They’re just not motivated.” 

No, I’m talking about specific, concrete examples. Like, if I walked into your classroom, what would I actually see them doing? Are they like getting up and walking around when they’re not supposed to? Are they calling out when it’s not their turn? Are they not raising their hands? Are they playing with toys on their desk or something? What is it that they’re actually doing? Like physically? Like, you could observe this?

Okay, so that is the circumstance; we’re not adding any sort of meaning to it yet. Then we’re looking at our thoughts. So when this behavior is happening, what do you think about it? Are you thinking something like, “They don’t care; they’re lazy; they’re bad; this isn’t working.” 

Close your eyes and imagine the last specific time this happened. What were you thinking about it? Was it one of those things I mentioned? Was it something else? When you think about that, how does that make you feel? What emotion are you feeling? What sensations are in your body? 

That is our feeling, and our feeling is driven by the thoughts that we’re having about the circumstance. Now, when we feel that way, what actions do we take? What are we doing? If you’re talking to your students, how are you talking to them? Is it in more of a harsh tone? Are you actually pulling back because you’re frustrated? What are you not doing? Are you asking questions about what’s going on or not?

What actions did you take? What actions did you not take when you looked at it from a bird’s eye view? You’re like, oh, maybe I could have done this and I didn’t. What is the result of those actions you’re taking or not taking? 

There’s a good chance you’ve already been beating yourself up about your classroom management. And if you implement this exercise, there’s a chance you may be doing that. DON’T! That’s not what this exercise is for, it is an awareness tool. And when we get this awareness, it’s actually wonderful! 

This awareness tool can help us know what we can do next. Okay. So once we do our own thought work about this and look at what we’re doing, we’re in a space where we can be curious about what is really going on, and what our students’ beliefs are,

I encourage you to really look at them with curiosity and empathy rather than judgment to better try to understand their situation. 

What you might do is just get curious and think, “If they aren’t lazy, do they not know what they’re supposed to be doing? Are they frustrated because they don’t understand the content? Are they feeling anxious?” 

If we simply start to question, what is actually going on, we may get somewhere. 

Talk with your students one-on-one or as a whole class

So first, we get curious about our own mindset as we work through the self-coaching model. Then we get curious with our students and have a conversation with them. 

say, “Hey, things have not been going so well in our classroom right now.” and ask them what has been going on. Share the circumstances of what you are observing. 

Tell your students, “It is my job to make sure that I can teach you and that this class runs smoothly.” Then ask your students, “What are some things that you think might help this class run more smoothly?” 

Often, we jump to labeling the problem before we have taken the time to get curious and understand students’ perspectives about what is going on. 

Ask open-ended questions. Ask them how they’ve been feeling in the classroom. During the conversation, make sure that you are actively listening to their responses and providing feedback in an empathetic way.

Approaching it this way can really help you build that relationship with your students. Because if you have a strong relationship with students, they are more likely to respect you as their teacher. 

Classroom management can be a tool to motivating students

Okay, so next we want to talk about classroom management because motivation and management go hand in hand with each other. 

Again, a lot of the time, something else may be going on with those “lazy students.” What that might be is the lack of a clear plan for them that they know is the same all the time. 

When they are having a hard time, make sure that you are consistent with the expectations of students and the consequences of misbehavior. Kids need to know what is expected of them, and we need to be clear in our words and our actions. When we do that consistently, they will learn that you mean what you say. 

I have a great podcast interview with Linda Kardamis, from Teach 4 the Heart, all about classroom management and strategies to help you motivate your students. 

Decide on consequences ahead of time

Make a plan ahead of time so that you’re not making those decisions in the heat of the moment. When you are prepared with a plan, you can anticipate everything ahead of time. 

This is one way to help motivate those students because they know they can count on you. Your consistent classroom management structure helps your students. 

Having a plan in place that you implement consistently helps build relationships; it lets them know that you are credible as their teacher. It builds their confidence, and your own, in your abilities as a teacher. If you are confident in your abilities to manage the classroom, students can see that. 

We can encourage those seemingly lazy or unmotivated students with consistency. And then they know that there are natural follow-up consequences to their behaviors.

Differentiation can help to motivate lazy students

Pull students that you are struggling with aside and have a conversation with them. Tailor your approach to the individual needs of each student. 

Differentiation is a way to help motivate students to do their best work. Some students might need assignments broken down into smaller, more manageable tasks, and then maybe they won’t feel so overwhelmed, and they’ll be able to do them. 

Or it may also mean having enrichment for those who often finish their work quickly. Many times, the class clowns are the students who finish their work ahead of time. Have things prepared ahead of time, and give students the expectation that if they finish early, you will have something else for them to do. I have a great podcast episode, “15 Easy Ways to Engage Fast Finishers,” for some ideas! 

How do you motivate students?

When it comes to motivating students, there are many approaches, and they will look different for every teacher, student, and class. 

Examine your expectations about your student’s behaviors to make sure that they are being clearly communicated. Be consistent about expectations and consequences so that students not only know what you want them to do but also what will happen if and when they don’t. 

Differentiate teaching methods and work expectations to meet student needs. If students can’t understand an assignment, they can’t do it. If an assignment is too easy, why would they bother doing it? Make sure that your student’s needs are met, as much as possible

Want more teacher life coaching?   

Members of Wife Teacher Mommy Club have access to teacher life coaching! Check it out here for more information. If you want some more help motivating your students, with your confidence, with your mindset, or with absolutely anything else, I invite you to check it out.

Teacher friend, in case no one has told you lately…

Teacher friend, you are doing great! You care about your students, and you want them to succeed. They need someone in their corner cheering for them every day. Thank you for showing up and being there!

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kelsey sorenson

Hey there, new teacher bestie! I’m Kelsey, and I created Wife Teacher Mommy just for YOU! I blog about teaching and create elementary school and homeschooling resources to make your life easier. Be sure to sign up for my FREE email newsletter!

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