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Cascade Matters is the blog of Cascade Educational Consultants. Cascade has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations and civic development. We are committed to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens. Learn more about us.

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The Case for Intuition, Motivation and Engagement

Image: Hands Up
As a daily reader of many newspapers and education briefs I have been fascinated with stories that focus on school success. What recently impresses me is that the issues and strategies oft-mentioned in these stories of success are not standards, testing or even accountability but rather arts, motivation, engaging students, skill-building, play-based education, exercise programs and even a story of two teachers in Hawaii “using technology to engage students in history lessons” including teaching about the French Revolution using popular songs from Lady Gaga and other performers.

Sounds to me like these stories of school success build on the intuition and creativity of teachers as well as relevant student experiences.

Every teacher wants to be successful and feels certain strategies yield results better than others. These feelings come from their experiences as young students as well as strategies they have tried in their classrooms. It is through these engaging processes that teachers build both their competence and confidence to motivate and educate their students.

I remember in the late 90’s when I had the privilege of working with middle school students identified as “at risk.” Our students were identified as “at risk” due to low grades, truancy and high potential to drop out of school. I found it very interesting that to a student they really did not demonstrate that they could not understand class content but rather they would not expand their learning.

This distinction between “cannot” and “will not” is the difference between educating and motivating. If one cannot do something then education is the key to increasing their knowledge and skills; on the other hand if one will not do something the key is motivation.

We found that most schools assume students who were less successful could not do the work, rather than would not do the work. We asked the students what would motivate them to work hard in school and expand their knowledge and skills and the answer always came back to “make the work relevant to our lives.”

The corresponding strategies we employed, with great assistance from the students, were engagement strategies. Implementing service and service-learning projects focusing on the environment (a keen interest of theirs); engaging them in the work place where they actually worked for four hours a day in a work environment; and integrating diverse physical activities such as New Games and other team-oriented sports.

These engagement strategies motivated them to see the relevance of education now and in the future and reoriented them to higher education aspirations.

As we go back to the various stories of school success I think it critical for teachers to use their intuition to create conditions and implement strategies that are motivating as well as educating for youth and themselves. Engagement is an effective strategy for all of us to increase our knowledge and skills necessary for school and life success.

About the author: Terry Pickeral, president Cascade Educational Consultants has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations and civic development. His commitment is to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens.

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