Precluding motivation problems

Over the weekend, I attended a dessert party hosted by my sister and brother-in-law. I spent most of the evening talking with a fascinating, high school science teacher from a nearby charter school. That conversation got me immersed in the world of motivation and behavior problems that persist in spite of efforts to engage the students, make the material interesting and mentor individuals starved for attention. I mentioned that I view motivation problems as a symptom of content delivery systems, not as an isolated or personality problem. I realized my own model for giving college dropouts a second chance did not address this issue adequately. The next day I came up with a framework to ensure enough robustness and complexity to preclude motivation problems. Here's a look at the model that can apply to every system for serving learners.

Sometimes we're open minded and sometimes we're closed minded. This can be a good thing. Likewise, we alternate between being rational and irrational which can offer us tremendous benefits also. However, when we fail to cover all four ways of functioning, we make problems for ourselves that appear to have no solution or any permanent fix. Weak systems inherently favor the two closed-minded alternatives. The teachers will exalt rationality while the students compensate for that extreme by favoring irrationality. The closed-minded condition of all participants perpetuates the conflicts ad infinitum.

  1. Closed minded irrationality is the realm of emotional baggage, addictions and humans behaving badly. It's negative experiences that happened to us and where we went with them after we internalized them in limiting ways. It's a world of living in the past with the same old history repeating itself. It's as if what can happen gets constrained by what already happened that cannot be changed. Those convictions are very emotional and run very deep. There are nothing like more superficial intellectual beliefs and rational convictions.
  2. Open minded irrationality defies logical reasoning just like its closed minded twin. This is the space where all is possible that we can imagine. It's explored with a sense of wonder and the use of what-if questions. We uncover unforeseen avenues to explore by delving into different scenarios. We play out our future here and find what we'd love to do and how rewarding it could feel. We live in our chosen future instead of our dreaded past. This realm is equally emotional and deep, but in contrast to closed minded irrationality, it's brimming with positive feelings about ourselves, activities and others we can help out.
  3. Closed minded rationality is where we go to get things done. This is the realm of being productive, task focused and reliable. We do things in a logical order for rational reasons. We justify our methods and measure our results. This is the world where we can look good, impress others and win their approval.
  4. Open minded rationality is how it's possible to relate to others and collaborate with them. We listen enough to gain a sense of where they are coming from. We connect with their intentions to respond in ways they will find helpful, supportive or valuable. We see what they need and ways we can assist them getting those needs met. We grow to value their diverse interests, different outlooks and distinct priorities.
When all four quadrants get called upon in an educational experience, it's no longer possible to have lingering motivation problems. If one arises, it's merely an exploration of closed minded irrationality that can get responded to or counterbalanced by any of the other three realms. A motivation problem can be a sign of no future to look forward to emotionally at the moment. It may be an indication of relationships or collaborations that fell apart or deteriorated into abuse. It may reveal an opportunity to launch a new project, complete something that's already started or upgrade the rationale for something that needs to get done. When it's said "motivation problems are thing of the past", participants in these experiences will get the pun.

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