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Bad behavior. It's not a motivation problem.

Behavior. Teachers and administrators are more focused than ever on students with inappropriate behavior. Sometimes that takes the form of acting out and other times it looks like failing to do work, complete assignments, or participate. These students often have poor grades, as a result, and the blame game begins. Kids get blamed for being unmotivated; parents get blamed for not teaching their kids important values. Teachers get blamed for not managing their classrooms; administrators get blamed for not supporting teachers. But, very few are focused on the real issue and it isn’t student motivation.


In his TedTalk, Dr. J. Stuart Ablon emphasizes this one simple point:


Skill, not will.


Ablon makes really important points about kids, motivation, and how adults can do a better job supporting kids. Conventional wisdom is wrong, he notes. Conventional wisdom focuses all efforts on trying to motivate kids, believing kids don’t do well because they don’t want to. He says, instead, that kids lack the skills to succeed and many of those skills are problem solving, flexibility, and frustration tolerance related.


He also notes that some of our kids that are trying the hardest are actually our kids that are struggling. Our kids for whom learning comes easily aren’t having to try hard to learn, to behave, etc. Yet, our kids who are trying the hardest typically get the least reward.


Most importantly, when adults supporting kids change their mindset to “kids do well if they can” amazing results occur. These adults, for instance, adopt collaborative problem solving practices with kids using some pretty simple practices: empathize, help kid clarify problem, put our own problem on the table, support kid to come up with option(s) to solve the problem.


For so many students, developing problem solving, flexibility, and frustration tolerance will be key. Still, for others, they are truly struggling with trying to learn grade level standards when they haven’t mastered the foundational skills and knowledge necessary to perform on grade level. These students need instruction in the Zone of Proximal Development if they are to succeed.


And, all this points to the need for a whole child, personalized approach to learning. It starts with knowing each child, how he or she thinks, meeting them where they are, and moving them forward. It’s just that simple.


Watch the video here:




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