Shaping Self-Starters

‘Improvement begins with I’ – and education begins with every child’s (and adult’s) individual ability. At a time when rigorous testing, and results-focused teaching, seems to be at the core of education, I thought it would be interesting to focus on the importance of being a ‘self-starter’, and how motivation can be the key accelerant for excellent learning.

Most people can identify the key components of effective learning: hard work, concentration and repetition. A major aspect that is sometimes overlooked, however, is self-motivation. Nowadays, when many a schools’ end goal is A*s and climbing league tables, this skill can be replaced with prescriptive teaching, spoon-fed ‘model answers’, and ‘A* phrases’, removing the need to discover these for yourself. I won’t lie – even though I would say my education was top-notch, I don’t truly think that I found my self-motivation, and it’s importance, until university, when I was forced the work for and by myself, or else risk failing my degree. So, why is this skill so important, and how can we encourage its growth?

Self-motivation may start at school, but it will serve you throughout your life. From helping you work through an Einstein-style maths equation by yourself at home, to pushing you through making tea and coffee at work with that promotion in your mind, being a self-starter is an indispensable tool. Nowadays, when the answer to almost every question is a few taps away on our smart phone, the necessity to think outside of the box, and force ourselves to work hard, is in scarce supply. Without this ability, the gap between the unmotivated and motivated stretches into a chasm – what if that hour of extra research could have given you the solution to a work problem…that then opens the door to a promotion? That’s one chasm that no one wants to fall into.

 Within an educational sphere, and more precisely amongst my students, the ingredients needed to foster self-motivation are incentive/encouragement, proof/results and reward. Let’s start with incentive: give your students a reason to want to work hard. This could be a fun extra-curricular task that actually facilitates learning (for example, watching a Spanish telenovela), or a subject-specific prize they could win at school for their hard work. Next, proof: regular quizzes or games that test their knowledge will be a way to show not only you, but your students, that their hard work has paid off, and that their ability to motivate themselves away from lessons is worthwhile. Finally, reward: praise is an underrated gift. A teacher’s smiling face and kind words, as cheesy as it may sound, are often enough to imbue your student with a sense of pride. Letting the parents know that their children are achieving great things will spread this feeling to their whole household, and make self-motivation a prized skill.

There is no denying that great teaching inspires great learners, and that our educators play a formative role in our scholarly lives. We rely on their knowledge and guidance to traverse various curricula, correct our mistakes, and laud our achievements. These mentors, however, will not always be there to help us: they can’t sit our exams for us, and they can’t do the work that will catch our burly boss’s eye. To get through these parts of our life, we instead must build the necessary tool within ourselves, and use it time and time again to sharpen it to a fine point – for it turns out that self-motivation really can make you the sharpest tool in the box.