Among the many challenges teachers face, often the most difficult is how to engage students who seem unreachable, who resist learning activities, or who disrupt them for others. This is also one of the challenges that skilled teachers have some control over. In my nine years of teaching high school, I’ve found that one of the best approaches to engaging challenging students is to develop their intrinsic motivation.
The root of intrinsic is the Latin intrinsecus, a combination of two words meaning within and alongside. It’s likely that our students are intrinsically motivated—just motivated to follow their own interests, not to do what we want them to do. Teachers’ challenge is to work alongside our students, to know their interests and goals, and to develop trusting relationships that help students connect their learning to their goals in a way that motivates from within.
How can teachers do this? It’s helpful to consider this question in three parts: What skilled teachers think, what they say, and what they do.