Aboriginal Learners and Motivation

Recently I was a part of an introductory meeting for my district’s Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement Committee, and the theme: “how do we motivate our Aboriginal students?” came up again and again.

This theme assumes that this group of students are skills yes, motivation no. That is: they can do it, they just don’t want to.  This puts us in the “motivation business.” Now we need to come up with a suite of motivational strategies to get them to be successful. We will create and apply incentives and punishments to motivate them to do what they need to do.

What if we are wrong? What if these learners are skills no, motivation yes? That is: they lack the skills to do it, so they can’t do it.  Now our role just changed, we are now in the “problem solving business.”   We can work with each individual to find out what the missing skill or unsolved problem is and get to work on fixing it. Once the student has the skills they will do well because they are already motivated to do well.  This is collaborative problem solving, where we do things with students instead of doing things to them.

I’m a kids do well if they can guy. I believe that all people are motivated to do well. Nobody gets up in the morning and thinks to themselves “I want to do poorly today.”  There is usually a lacking skill or unsolved problem that is getting in the way of people doing well.  Our job is to work with the learner to dig down and find the unsolved problem and then get to work on fixing it, together.

If these ideas pique your interest, go to Ross Greene’s Lives in the Balance website for more information about kids do well if they can.


I’m a “kids do well if they can” guy

“He does not want to do anything, he just doesn’t care.”

This quote came from one of my excellent teaching staff.  It let me know that it is time for us to work together as a staff to decide if we believe that kids will do well if they want to,  or if we believe that kids will do well if they can.

As an alternative school, we see a lot of kids who present themselves as having the skills to learn, but it seems like they lack the motivation (or have zero motivation.) These “skills yes, motivation no” kids do no exist according to Ross Greene.  He believes that all kids (and all people for that matter) want to do well, they are just lagging some skills or have have unsolved problems that get in their way. That is, kids do well if they can. Our job is to help them discover their unsolved problem(s), the thing getting in their way, and get to work helping them fix it.

The problem with the “kids will do well if they wanna” philosophy is that if you believe it, you immediately put yourself in the motivation business…make them wanna. How often do we fall into this trap? We try to motivate with rewards and with punishment, pouring extrinsic motivators on them, always having to one-up the last motivator. If you write two paragraphs I will give you two stars instead of one! Does that make you wanna write more?!!

This leads us to an alternative to the “kids will do well if they wanna” philosophy: Ross Greene’s Collaborative Problem Solving method. Well, it’s not really a method, more of a way of being. In this way of being, we start with the firm belief that all kids will do well if they can.  Now your role just changed. You’ve gone from the motivation business to the problem solving business. Once you get to work and help these kids solve their unsolved problems you will see kids doing well, because they are already motivated to do well. We all are.

Ross’ ideas have been going through my head all day and night, they resonate.  As a leader of an alternative program, I see many unsolved problems and lagging skills. I am tired of being in the motivation business, so I’ve changed.  I’m a kids do well if they can guy.