Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sun, 27 Jan 2002 10:15:27 -0500 (EST)
Random Thought: On Motivation, II

I'm back. Where was I? Ah yes, that multi-billion dollar motivational industry. Why does someone like Anthony Robbins command a seven figure pop for private consulation? Why are the likes of John Maxwell always at the top of the New York Times bestselling list? Why do people shell out four figure fees for a day or two motivational seminar? What are these people supposedly offering that others are desperately seeking. And finally, why are so few academics among this crowd and these speakers seen so rarely on our campuses?

Now my suggested answer to all these "whys" is simple. It's simply because, contrary to the belief of so many academicians who are in their heads, everything we do, including what we teachers and students do inside the classroom, in and out of education, is in our hearts and soul and spirit. Everything we do, education included, rests on three "inside" essential elements,none of which have to do with the "outside" subject matter. The first is motivation; the second is motivation; and the third is motivation. Motivation is that desire, that thirst, that need, that inner the drive, that energy, that fuel. Call it attitude, if you wish. If I was to run a life-altering campaign, as my chief slogan I would paraphrase Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign slogan: "It's attitude, stupid!" Attitudes, not aptitudes, determine how anyone will relate to others and approach day to day life--and teaching. And, it's far more in our heads than most of us are willing to admit.

The problem is that so many of us, along with millions of others, think motivation is one of those "all you have to do" numbers game: 7 surefire steps, 16 quick tips, 5 quick steps, 30 essential qualities, 17 indisputable laws, 21 fundamental rules, 3 basic principles, 10 key strategies, 24 critical things, 8 underlying themes, and a partridge in a pear tree. We're handed on a platter "the secret to...," "the insights....," "the keys to...." The instructions are simple. Just open the packet, crack the kit, drink the Chicken Soup for whatever, and learn how to "change," "modify," "check," "start," "be inspired," "move," "get going," "visualize," "focus," "reflect," "dare," "choose," "challenge," "remember," "reprogram," "set goals," "plan," "enjoy," "dream," "believe," "hope," "climb ropes," "sky dive," "rock climb," "walk across hot coals," "have fantasies," "observe modelers," "make it happen now," "think positive," "think possibility," "read words," "play games," "take on roles," "just do it," and on and on it goes.

Doggone, if that is all anyone of us had to do, if it was all that natural, if it was that easy, if it took so little work, and if it was all that simple, we and students would be a bunch of houses on fire.

We not because it's not simple. We're talking about people, you and me, and people are complicated. It all sounds so easy when in fact it all is so hard to do. It takes more than a bunch of tapes, workshops, videos, books, speeches, and exercises. How well I know that it takes more than a scantily clad bunch of side line cheerleaders, waving pom-poms, chanting, "You can do it; you can do it; you can do it." It takes lots of effort, a lot of courage, endless time, continual focus, a lot of soul searching, a lot of habit changing and breaking and getting, a lot of investigation, a lot of ridding of assumptions, a lot of perseverance, a lot of commitment, a lot of endurance, a lot of patience with yourself and others, ceaseless planning, constant work, boundless energy--and a burning desire.

Why do we find it hard to understand motivation? I am tempted to say that we have allowed certain powerful and influencing assumptions to cloud our judgement. I am tempted to say because we haven't really tried. I'm tempted to say that too many of us lump it into that denigrated "touchy feely stuff." I am tempted to say it's simply because many say "it's not my job." I am tempted to say because so many of us simplify it. I'm tempted to say that we're too focused on being understood by students and insufficiently focused on understanding each student much less ourselves. I'm tempted to say we're too consumed with transmitting and insufficiently concerned with transforming. I'm tempted to say we're too focused on relationship with our subject and too little on connecting with each student. I am tempted to say that motivation takes planning, more planning, and still more planning. And, it gets the least of our attention when we plan out our classes.

Let me give you an example. Most of us prepare lectures. We enter class and lecture. We talk to an audience. How many of us trained scholars, trained in researching for these mini-presentations, trained in preparing these mini-conference papers, are trained public speakers? How many of us concentrate on what we're going to say and pay little attention to how we are going to say it? How many of us focus on ourselves and not on them. How many of us cultivate the medium of our message. I was listening to Susan Miller of Georgetown on the Diane Rehm show the other day. Do you realize that how we deliver our lecture will determine whether students will tune us in or tune us out? Do you realize that within a few seconds after you start your lecture or presentation your body language and your vocal tones will largely decide if they will listen. She talked about a study done sometime ago that revealed among the three factors influencing the interest of the listeners, the information, the words, ranked the lowest: 7%. Body language ranked the highest: 55%. Vocal tones ranked next: 38%. Students are bored or excited by only 7% of what you say which was in the high ninety percentile of what you worked on. And yet, how many of us blame the students for being bored, lazy, unmotivated, turned off, and tuned out when in fact it may be us who are boring? Don't believe me or her? God, I can remember the endless times when I was in the audience at a conference session struggling to listen to a presenter whose voice never left first gear, whose cadence has all the grabbing excitement of a metronome, whose face I never saw since it was always pointed down toward his or her paper, whose body was in rigormortise, who may have looked up mechanically and never looked at you. Did I struggle to be interested. I fought a futile fight to stay turned on and tuned in. My eyes started to roam; my mind began to drift; my program started to look like the squiggles of a Dali drawing; I read the conference program and thought about the clock: "Do I have to sit through this?" "How much longer is this going to go on?" I agonized. I couldn't wait to get out of there. Why would you think it would be different with students captured in a classroom? Something honestly to think about.

And so most of us plan out our classes. We read books, take copious notes, put together mini-speeches, discussions, draw up problems, design projects; we write syllabi, lay down the rules; we compose exams and tests and quizzes. What we don't really plan is motivation. We take it for granted. We think it is spontaneous. We think it is an infectuous educational virus. We place all the onus on the students. We may dabble. We give it a passing shot. We'll spend a few minutes of the first day of a term with an "ice breaker." Some of us may devote an entire day to these introductions. But, we don't stick with it. Like Little Jack Horners thinking what good teachers we are, we go on as usual. If the broken ice freezes over, as it usually does, it's their fault. If the silence pervades, they had their chance and it's their fault. If the wall remains, it's their fault. If they don't come to us, it's their fault. We defend ourselves with disclaimers of not being councelors, friends, confidants, priests, therapists, parents. Across that wide chasm we never really see the rivets holding that separating iron wall together.

With all due respect, what most of us academicans need is a simplified "Motivating Students For Dummies." I know I do. Later........

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
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                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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