On Sunday 12th January 2020, the wonderful Caroline Spalding led an #SLTchat discussion on the subject of Motivation, and this made me thoughtful.  I’ve mentioned motivation in a number of blog posts, but have never written a post specifically focussed on the subject. Until today.

The first #SLTchat question was about school leaders motivating themselves:

motivation q1

My initial thought was that leaders have to develop their capacity to cope with uncertainty and complexity.  I was struck by a comment by Lucy Pearson, the former head of Cheadle Hulme School in the north west, now Director of Education at the Football Association who, speaking at a conference on Diversity last year, said, “Headship gets more comfortable, not because it gets easier, but because you get better at being uncomfortable!”  Obviously, when we step up to any new role, we want to make a success of it.  We are committed to preparing thoroughly, to doing the best job we can, and to leaving a positive legacy – we want the school, or the team, to be stronger by the time we leave it – so strong, in fact, that our successor can build on what we have achieved and take the school/team on to greater heights.

However, leadership is complex – at whole-school level (or across several schools) even more so, and we have to recognise that sometimes we can only build our resilience by working through and surviving challenges.  Our confidence in our capacity to face fresh challenges increases as a result, and this motivates us to keep going.

I have coached/mentored a number of heads in recent years.  Often, if I have a coaching conversation with a leader, I make notes and send them a bullet point summary of all we discussed afterwards.  One early career headteacher said she found it useful periodically to revisit the notes from our earlier conversations because that reminded her of all she had experienced, addressed and moved on from.  This helps us to build faith in ourselves and belief in our ability to keep on learning, growing and improving as leaders.

The second question was about motivating pupils:

Motivation 2

There has been much discussion recently about the relationship between motivation and attainment, with the suggestion that rather than focussing on how we need to motivate pupils in order for them to attain, we should be considering how attainment is fundamental to motivation.

I think both are crucial, and that this certainly isn’t an either/or proposition – in my experience, very little in education IS either/or.   If pupils are encouraged, supported, well-taught and guided to attain something they can be proud of, then that is inevitably motivating.  However, as part of that process of encouragement, support, skilful instruction and guidance, we need to secure emotional investment – we have to do all we can to ensure pupils CARE and actively want to do well.  In my experience, the vast majority of pupils automatically care, but there are barriers to overcome – if pupils lack self-belief, or of they are fearful, often they would prefer not to try.  In their logic, better not to try and fail than to try, and still fail – the ultimate shame for some.  If there is peer-pressure which suggests it is uncool to be seen to try, this is another barrier we have to address.  I fully appreciated that in the school I moved to join as head, the culture/norm was that the pupils were ambitious and keen to succeed.  Some still undervalued themselves, though.

Clare Jarmy wrote an excellent piece in last Friday’s tes magazine: (access for subscribers) about how best to support students who simply believe they cannot do something.  We might feel showing faith in them and insisting ‘Of course you can!’ is the best strategy.  Clare suggests that can be very frustrating for the individual who lacks confidence in their capacity to do what may, in fact, seem quite straightforward to the teacher who is suggesting it.

So motivating pupils involves building their emotional investment and their self-belief, and their commitment to the idea that making the most of the opportunities school affords them will enable them to have a range of options in the future   – easy to say, hard to do, but committed individual teachers in their classrooms are making progress with this every day.

Finally, the third #SLTchat question was about senior leaders motivating staff.

Motivation q3

There are so many ways in which this can happen, and I have written a fair number of articles and blog posts about what I consider to be effective leadership at all levels.  Leadership is about getting the best from others.  As with the pupils, the staff have to care enough to invest the effort, and they have to believe in their capacity to do what they are required to do.  In the 40 years since I began my teaching career, I have worked with hundreds of teachers – in fact it may be thousands now, taking into account the work I have done at conferences and in a wide range of schools since I left headship in 2010.  I think I have met very few who had stopped caring.  But I have met staff who lack confidence in their ability to do what they feel they need to do, as the pressures mount, the stakes become higher, and, in some cases, those who lead them appear unsympathetic and unreasonably demanding.

In a nutshell/tweet, I suggested:

Motivation 3a

There is much more I could have said, but the tweet sums up for me what I think is key.

Often when I am involved in leadership development work, I ask groups of staff, Middle Leaders, Senior Leaders and heads: “Think of the best leader you have ever known.  What made them so successful?” and their combined responses serve as a useful template for what highly effective leaders do.  There are numerous books and articles about how we can lead well – recent writing on Knowledge-Based Leadership, for example, has made me thoughtful, and is feeding into some of the work I now do.  What do those you lead (and that includes the pupils whose learning you lead in the classroom) need from you?  How can you be the best leader you can possibly be, so that the staff and children who fall within your professional sphere of influence become THEIR best?  Actively SEEING the best in yourself and others is an important first step, and this was the focus of my TEDx talk in July 2019.

Motivation is crucial, and I enjoyed the #SLTchat on the subject, and thinking and writing about it here.  I think I know what motivates me. What about you?

Photo credit: John Berry




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s