Understand that developing self-motivation is a growth process.
Avoid extrinsic rewards, discipline focused on compliance, or control, which can undermine self-motivation.
Help self-motivated individuals act in relation with their core values.
Character is often defined as “doing the right thing, because it’s the right thing to do.” Similarly, character can be said to be “doing the right thing when no one is looking.”
As educators, parents, and community members, we want our kids to do both. But how do we get there? Developing self-motivation is a growth process built on self-confidence, self-efficacy, and purposeful goals.
Schools of Character foster students’ self-motivation by providing a learning environment that nurtures students’ natural interests and develops their social emotional skills. At the same time, the learning environment is not undermined by excessive emphasis on extrinsic incentives or discipline that is focused on compliance and control.
In a culture awash in extrinsic rewards this is a challenging task. Researchers including Elliot Turiel and Larry Nucci point to the usefulness of engaging students in discussions that elevate the students’ ability to reason within a “moral domain.” Briefly, there are three classifications in Domain Theory:
The Personal Domain where choices are made based on personal desires and goals
The Conventional Domain where choices are guided by social norms, traditions and rules
The Moral Domain where choices are governed by moral principles and core ethical values that are often focused on justice and fairness
Aligning one’s personal choices and social norms with moral principles is the work of cultivating intrinsic motivation to demonstrate character for its inherent value.
Principle 7 builds on previous principles by addressing student motivation as it relates to three areas:
Schools of Character help students develop social emotional skills (self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making) within the context of core values.
They do this by nurturing a sense of belonging and by providing students with meaningful opportunities for:
- Problem solving
- Perspective taking (empathy)
- Conflict-resolution based on reflection, restitution, and the restoring of relationships
With practice and support, students begin to understand the intrinsic value of doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do; and, they will do the right thing even when no one is looking. When students are internally or self-motivated, they act in congruence with their values and are well-equipped to make ethical decisions and act responsibly.
Denton Creek Elementary
Students at Denton Creek Elementary in Coppell, Texas are intrinsically motivated. As you enter the building, hundreds of pairs of shoes line the hallways with the words, “If the Shoe Fits” in English and “Si’ El Zapato Te Queda” in Spanish. The goal of this student-driven project is to collect 200 pairs of shoes to send to students in El Salvador. There is no reward for the class or students who donated the most shoes. The shoes display is a creative and constant reminder of the accomplishments that these students are making as they graph, count and celebrate their efforts. The day of the visit, there were 184 pairs of shoes. There are countless examples of this type of motivation which encourages students to do the right thing. Rohan, 4th grader, talked about a toy drive that students are very proud of, “If you look at the toys that we collect, we give nice toys because we realize that we have nice things and some have nothing, so why would we give them toys that weren’t nice too?”
At Makefield Elementary in Yardley, Pennsylvania, fostering self-motivation is a central focus of their character initiative. The target behavior system connects to expected and unexpected behaviors versus negative and positive behaviors so that judgment is removed. It is an example of behavior management that is not tied to extrinsic rewards but with a growth mindset. Character self-reflection sheets used in the classroom are another way they connect core values to behavior and encourage students to do good acts without needing a reward.
Muskogee Early Childhood Center
Muskogee Early Childhood Center in Muskogee, Oklahoma recognizes many students for displaying the core values. Students are taught to be inquirers, problem-solvers, thinkers, communicators, knowledgeable, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced, and reflective. Think sheets connect the core values to behaviors so that many students are recognized for displaying character. Think sheets are used to draw pictures and set goals for appropriate behavior. When young students were asked what they earn when they show good character, they looked at the evaluator like they didn’t understand the question. Students help establish class rules and expectations while teachers use a variety of tools, such as Drops in the Bucket, Conscious Discipline, Race Track Discipline and brag tags. Children are taught through modeling and consistent expectations. Since 2012 only 1% of students have visited the principal with behavior issues and suspension is not part of their culture.
How does your school balance the rewarding of a few exemplars, while recognizing as many students as possible showing good character?
What are some small steps that can be taken to move away from rewards?
How does your school use your core values as a lens to view, analyze, and reflect on the values that were not revealed in a discipline infraction?
How do we move from a discipline mentality to a learning and growth model of discipline?
1. Your school gives a weekly student award for good character. You notice that the same students are getting the awards every week. What are some ideas to take to the character team to make sure that more students are recognized?
2. As a Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support school, there are merit points given for actions aligned with the core values, how can you, as a teacher, begin to move away from doing right for the sake of points, and toward doing right for the sake of doing good?
Research that Supports Principle 7
“The problem with making an extrinsic reward the only destination that matters is that some people will choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road. Indeed, most of the scandals and misbehavior that have seemed endemic to modern life involve shortcuts.”
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel H. Pink
“This work has offered educators a framework from which to analyze the discourse patterns associated with social and moral transgressions in school settings… that have in turn provided guidance for approaches to classroom management that would foster social and moral development….”
Capturing the Complexity of Moral Development and Education by Larry Nucci and Elliot Turiel
Authored by Lori Soifer