Engagement and Motivation: Key Factors for Student Achievement

By Andrew Mulinge

For the first time in U.S. history, the high school graduation rate has eclipsed 80 percent for all students. However, graduation rates remain lower for African American, Latino, and Native American students. The 2014 edition of Diplomas Count, Motivation Matters: Engaging Students, Creating Learners, focuses on innovative ways to engage and motivate students to achieve academic success and help them become critical thinkers outside the classroom.

To supplement the report’s data, Education Week Research Center conducted a national survey of more than 500 teachers and school administrators to identify key issues related to student success. The educators named a number of factors related to student success, such as teacher quality, community involvement, and disproportionate disciplinary actions; however, results indicate educators believe student engagement and motivation are among the most important. The challenge for teachers across the country is creating environments where students can feel stimulated both academically and socially. Teachers participating in the survey emphasized the importance of using innovative, hands-on practices in the classroom to motivate students and keep them engaged.

To impact engagement and motivation for low-income students and students of color, there are several key steps teachers and school leaders can take.

  1. Invest more resources in adult guidance and support of students. There are too few guidance counselors in low-income schools, where students need more support and assistance to be successful. Partnerships with community-based organizations also expand the schools’ capacity to address non-academic barriers to achievement.
  2. Provide greater access to employment opportunities as a part of the educational experience. For many low-income students, the burden of poverty and the need to earn money to help support themselves and their families pull them away from school. Integrating innovative educational options that provide opportunities to earn money while also teaching academic and career skills addresses this barrier.
  3. Improve pre-service and ongoing professional development for teachers and administrators to address successful methods of student engagement and motivation. Teachers surveyed noted that their academic training did not adequately prepare them to engage and motive students.
  4. Use culturally relevant course materials and teaching methods to engage students. Teachers and administrators need to better understand racial, ethnic, and gender norms, as well as methods of teaching and interacting. Proficiency in these areas will enable them to engage students authentically.
  5. Use technology more creatively to engage and motivate students. Over the past several years, investing in classroom technology has improved student engagement by addressing the diversity in student learning styles.

The survey demonstrates the importance of investments that improve student engagement and motivation. As we continue forward, new policies and initiatives must provide resources for districts, teachers, community members, and students that allow students to feel empowered—academically, economically, and socially.