Sunday, February 28, 2016

Motivation required... or provided?

"As you can see, I have a lot of goals."
"As you can see, I have a lot of goals."

That's how she introduced the final slide in her exhibition presentation.

She's an intern at a law office, where she does clerical work and regularly communicates one-on-one with the attorney's there.

Now she laid out her goals for the rest of her junior year: take the SAT, finish two math courses on Khan Academy, her internship project, and plan our trip to New York City.

It's exciting to see our students sharing the real-world learning they're doing at their internships, their growing independence as learners, and their plans for the future. We're in the thick of second trimester exhibitions, and I get to see every one--music production projects, work at a veterinary clinic and hospital, and more.

But they're not all like that. For every student like these, we have one that struggles to hold an internship or to complete their academic work. Though we provide all of the autonomy, mastery, and purpose they could dream of, they still struggle with motivation.

This is why we've implemented new tiered supports to try to boost the "Expectancy" factor in Steel's motivation equation:

And yet we're finding it's sometimes not enough. There are some who still struggle with the motivation they need to succeed at the Depot.

The Big Picture model requires students to work at internships, complete independent projects, and learn most of their math and science on their own, all while giving them only 60% as much direct instructional time as traditional students. This requires lots of intrinsic motivation. If we do all we can and they're still stagnant, then we need to make some tough decisions.

A Director of Special Services once told me, "One of the hardest lessons for an administrator to learn is that we can't help everyone," and that's become clear to me lately. Many who struggle at traditional school thrive in our model, but there are others who are not making progress, though we've ramped up support as much as we can. Hopefully, someday we'll be able to serve those students, because I think the autonomy, opportunity for mastery, and purpose we provide has the potential to bring out the best in every student. For now, the best support I can offer is to help them find a place that can give them what they need, like a doctor referring her patient to a specialist.

There was a lot of encouraging stuff going on this week. Not only did I get to sit in on some really awesome exhibitions, there were also 14 students who signed up for our Fitness Challenge, setting fitness and health goals they'll try to meet over the next three months! But in the midst of that, there were some tough decisions, some tough conversations, and plenty of wrestling with this issue of our purpose and limitations as a school.

In morning announcements on Friday, I started with a slide that said, "Welcome to the Depot! Motivation required." That little statement has been bothering me since then--do we help students find motivation, or do we require it?

My conclusion is, both. We scaffold the process until they develop sufficient intrinsic motivation to take full advantage of our model. That's the ideal we're working towards, but until then, there will be some we can't help.

It's a tough way to end a post, but it's not the end of the story, either for them or us. They'll hopefully move on to something that works better for them, and we'll move on toward the goal of helping more students "have lots of goals."

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