When you think back to your own high school experience, which educators stick out in your mind? The math teacher who also coached your baseball team? The English teacher that let you do projects that aligned to your interests? Maybe it’s the librarian that always had a book recommendation ready for you. Many of the educators that stick out do so for positive reasons. They went above and beyond to support extracurricular interests and bring those interests into the classroom whenever they could. Lots of high school students 1 express that they are bored in school, especially at the high school level. Engaging schools integrate students’ interests with academics and SEL to create a more motivating environment.
How to Motivate High School Students Using SEL
Teachers already stretched thin by too many additional requests added to their plates need not worry. By focusing on building relationships with students, you’re demonstrating SEL. When educators encourage students to problem-solve and make choices, they demonstrate decision making and goal-directed behavior. Take a look at the ideas below to engage students while in school.
Ask Students What They Care About
First, level-set by understanding the extrinsic and intrinsic motivations of your students. The Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching2 suggests utilizing the “Expectancy – Value – Cost” model for engaging schools by leveraging student influence factors. Students care about their ability to successfully complete a task. If they believe they don’t have the possibility to succeed they are less likely to be motivated to even try. Students also must want to do the assignment. While not every assignment and project may align with students’ passions, finding small opportunities to fuse it within will increase the likelihood of their motivation. Finally, think about the barriers preventing students from completing tasks. Again, students want to feel like they will succeed at things they put effort into. If students know they won’t have the time or access to the tools they need to succeed, they may not even try. This can lead to conversations about student needs. Maybe students do not have access to steady Wi-Fi at home, but the projects assigned to them are all online. You could allocate more time for classwork. A better understanding of what motivates students and the resources they need to succeed will increase their motivation.
After getting students’ input, set goals that encourage them to stay focused to achieve specific class milestones. If your school uses a high school SEL curriculum or tool like the Aperture Student Portal, invite students to examine and reflect on their SEL data to understand what areas to make goals in. Keep in mind that setting goals only works when the reward is relevant and in alignment with the interests students expressed earlier. Incorporating student voice and choice in goal setting further ensures student motivation. Students will feel heard and seen when they have involvement in their instructional goals.
Connect Learning Opportunities to Students’ Future
Like adults, students don’t want to waste their time. The International Society for Technology in Education3 reported that more than 65% of children entering grade school today will work in jobs that don’t even exist yet. Many jobs will pop up for students that intersect with technological advances we can’t plan for. You may be asking, “how to motivate high school students for jobs we don’t even know about?” By focusing on the transferable skills employers share they look for! Workplaces are willing to train employees on the technical elements of the job. Acquiring those soft skills will help them thrive and quickly become valued employees. Indeed released a report4 earlier this year that stated the top three skills employers look for include communication, leadership, and teamwork skills. SEL focuses on the acquisition of competencies like relationship building, social awareness, and personal responsibility.
Many states have introduced “Portrait of a Graduate,” 5 materials that include a focus on competency-based education to support student success after high school. Check to see if your state has guidance on “Portrait of a Graduate.” They may offer additional resources to support your high schoolers in college-and-career readiness.
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1 Cook-Deegan, P. (2016, January 11). Seven ways to help high schoolers find purpose. Greater Good. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/seven_ways_to_help_high_schoolers_find_purpose
2 Yarborough, C. B., & Fedesco, H. N. (2020). Motivating students. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved [todaysdate] from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu//cft/guides-sub-pages/motivating-students/.
3 Krueger, N. (2021, August 31). Preparing Students for Jobs That Don’t Exist. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/preparing-students-for-jobs-that-don%27t-exist
4 Indeed Editorial Team. (2023, February 3). Top 11 skills employers look for in job candidates. Indeed Career Guide. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/resumes-cover-letters/skills-employers-look-for
5 Norville, V. (2022, October). States sketch ‘portraits of a graduate’. NASBE. Retrieved from https://www.nasbe.org/states-sketch-portraits-of-a-graduate