Motivation. Motivation. Motivation. That is the key word for success these days in the Chicago public schools. Students must be motivated, parents must be motivated, teachers must be motivated, and yes, even principals must be motivated.The Reform Board of Trustees might call it accountability, but those of us in schools see it as motivation. Those of us whose schools are on probation are really motivated to get off, and those not on probation are motivated to stay off. The Office of Accountability’s designation of schools as “A,” “B,” and “C,” based on year-to-year changes in test scores, was so motivating that test scores rose to such an extent that almost all schools are now “A” schools.

The challenge for leaders in the local schools is to motivate all our constituencies.

Beavis and Butthead on TV. Nintendo. Gameboys. Rap Music. These are among the environmental stimuli that children live with from the first years of their lives. Then they come to school and are expected to sit relatively still for three to six hours. The challenge is to motivate these students by building on their natural curiosity. We must provide them with educational stimuli that capture their interest and imagination.

The expectation is that children enter school prepared to learn. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Our teachers spend most of the child’s first school year, whether in preschool, kindergarten or 1st grade, instilling socialization skills. It is very difficult teaching children their A,B,Cs and 1,2,3s when the teacher must first get and then keep their attention.

Teachers in the summer Bridge and early-intervention programs love the instructional materials that accompany the mandated daily lesson plans. Yet, the staff is hard pressed to adhere to the robust instructional timeline set for the summer because they must spend time keeping students on task.

The summer preschool with reduced class size is a step in the right direction in providing children the foundational skills they need. But more is needed. Children need at least an all-day kindergarten experience, if not an all-day preschool experience.

To reach urban, at-risk students, teachers need to utilize a “what works” approach to instruction in reading. Phonics instruction must be used to give students the word-attack skills they need to decipher unknown words. Students also need the opportunity to express themselves creatively. There must be increased, ongoing staff development that provides teachers and even principals with a variety of strategies to assist them in successfully teaching reading.

This year, the School Reform Board recognized the importance of the affective domain, in addition to stressing “back to basics.” It instituted a needed character education program.Character education builds student self-esteem, which is a building block of motivation.

However, teachers also need training in approaches that motivate students. As schools’ discretionary dollars grow tighter, we will be unable to continue awarding prizes as incentives. We need help in moving our constituencies from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation or, learning for the sake of learning.

Motivation is the key, staff development is the mechanism, and, with these two, increased academic achievement will be the result.

Phyllis Tate has been principal of Einstein Elementary School in the Oakland community for nine years.

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