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Self-Motivation: The Root of Success Against All Odds

By Sarah Major, Child-1st Publications
Several years ago in a school where I worked with children who were failing, I came to know one particular 7th grade boy pretty well. Tom had a sweet personality, seemed smart, and stayed out of trouble, but was completely lacking in motivation to do his work. His very frustrated and discouraged parents had seen him go in and then out of a special education program during his elementary years, but in spite of having exited special education, his performance remained terrible - chalk it up to "laziness." Many adults did.

Tom quietly insisted that he didn't NEED to do well in school. His desire in life was to be the manager at Burger King, and he was smart enough to know that if he remained adamant on this plan for his life, no adult would be able to show him a reason to perform well in school.

It is nearly impossible for me to accept that something cannot be fixed or made better, so one day I invited Tom into my office to talk. I earnestly shared with him that I knew he was smart. Tom shrugged politely. I persisted, asking him question after question and making plea after plea. Tom finally began to talk and shared with me that being in special education had convinced him that he is not smart enough to do anything really important. It sucked him dry of motivation.

I, of course, said that he could do anything he would set his mind to, but he had to try harder than he was. He smiled and shared with me as he had done many times before, that he was satisfied; he was going to manage a Burger King restaurant and was not really going to need to finish school anyway. I suspected Tom was resorting to this career choice to get people like me off his back. Stubbornly, I told him that I just couldn't believe he would aspire to this job as the most exciting thing he could imagine to do with his life. He insisted it was. We went back and forth like this for a while getting absolutely nowhere.

Finally, in desperation I asked, "Tom, if you could erase from your mind anything anyone has ever told you, if you could imagine the most perfect thing to do, that would be the most interesting - if there were no obstacles at all to your doing this thing, if you could wave a magic wand and make it happen, what would it be?" Much to my surprise, Tom's complacency vanished. He sat up straighter in his chair and asked, "ANYTHING?" Without any hesitation, Tom said he would choose to work in Asia in some field involving cutting edge technology.

BINGO! There was his answer and it was super specific. Finally I could see the dream Tom had buried under the years of failure and adult displeasure. "Tom, you can totally do this," I flatly stated. "You will have to get a college degree, though. And getting into college means you are going to have to start making decent grades now. But I will do everything I can to help you."

I've never witnessed a more dramatic change in a person in my life. Tom turned on a dime. He not only began to study, but he did his homework, contributed in class, asked questions, and began to make good grades. None of these behaviors can be forced on a child; they have to flow straight from the heart in the service of something that child truly wants. As days passed, I still struggled to catch up with the incredible change in Tom. He was transformed from the polite but slouchy sleepy-eyed boy I'd come to know and care for into a boy who was alert and more energetic. He had a purpose for being at school.

When we're serious about reaching children, we will have to look at the child first; earnestly, intently, to learn his unique design. Once we've discovered the child's special interests, the passion that resides deep in his heart, our role will be that of encourager. Sometimes the encouragement will take the form of quietly encouraging, praising even approximate performance, as long as the child is trying hard. Sometimes it will involve noisy, happy hurrahs, high fives, and celebrations. Other times it will require coming along side day after day, clearing up gaps in the child's understanding, showing him new ways to see ideas, finding new materials to use in teaching hard concepts. We are here to help and support parents in this endeavor. But no one can replace the parent as one who knows their own child, what his strengths are, and how to encourage him.

Self-motivation is the fount, the energy that fuels the completion of the most challenging tasks. Self-motivation will flow out of a desire that resides deep in the heart of a child. It requires a confidence that adults are there for him, the knowledge that he is capable, that persistence pays off, and that what he wants out of life truly does matter. It is worth everything to help him find that desire, to give him the tools he needs, and then the freedom to go for it!

Child1st Publications, LLC offers Multisensory Phonics and Multisensory Reading Instruction Programs and Products. For Learners with Dyslexia, Aspergers, Autism, Reading Comprehension Problems, Visual Learners, and other Right Brain Learners, we provide a path to reading success using explicit phonics instruction. Buy their products online from theChild1st website or call them at: 800-881-0912.

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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