George Lucas Educational Foundation
Student Engagement

The Hard Work and Exhilaration of Learning

September 10, 2010

Just two hundred more yards! Flip, push off, breathe. Right, left, right, breathe. Left, right, left, breathe. Long stroke, all the way forward and all the way back, deep. I can't get enough breath. Flip, push off, and breathe. Breathe again. You can do it, Ben!

My arms are complaining, the ache goes down to the fingertips. Only one hundred fifty left! Don't slow down. Kick more. Keep the rhythm: stroke, kick, stroke, kick, stroke, kick, breathe, repeat... Flip, push off, breathe...big breath. Only fifty left. Pick it up! Pull harder, all the way forward and all the way back. Breathe every stroke. Pulse is pounding, adrenaline kicks in, and I'm swimming faster, harder. Almost there, keep swinging the arms even though they feel like lead: right, left, right. Done. Rest. Check pulse, float. Exhilaration!

Intrinsic Motivation

I met a goal to swim a thousand yards freestyle without stopping this morning. Some might call me crazy, others in the pool went much further. It was hard work that required everything I had in order to complete it. I knew I could do it, but I had not done it since I was in college thirty years ago. I did it because I knew it would be a milestone for me to get further in shape. I didn't worry about how long it took me; speed would come later.

There were no cheering crowds or gold medals, but I knew I had accomplished a tremendous feat for me and that made all the difference. My motivation is internal and self-perpetuating.

Let me remind you and all of your students that learning is hard work -- just like swimming a thousand yards without stopping. Any coach can tell you that growth only comes when you stretch further than you think you can and practice more than you think you can endure. When you read deeper, think longer, and create more enthusiastically, that is when the learning really happens.

Then, when you look and admire your work, it is exhilarating to know that you have accomplished a challenging and difficult goal. More likely than not, no one will know how much you have learned, but you will know. There will be no cheering crowds and no fame or fortune. Nevertheless you feel satisfied, complete, and ready for more.

Your motivation to learn more is even greater just because you completed your learning goal. Surprisingly, the hard work has not scared you off and your resolve and determination to succeed has not diminished. The eagerness for the next learning adventure wells up within you as you reach out for new knowledge and skills. This is when learning is fun.

In the Classrom

Each student needs and deserves his or her own internal motivation to learn. In order for this to blossom within the students, some simple things need to happen. Teachers need to create an atmosphere of belonging to a high performance learning team -- learning is the goal and every learning activity (adventure) is designed to bring the students closer to that goal.

Also important for inspiring a love and drive for learning:

  • Teachers need to teach students to set realistic learning goals with plans on how they will get to mastery.
  • Students need to know how their own brain works and how to maximize the effect of their time and effort.
  • Students need to know the steps of learning, the cycle, and the process that will be repeated over and over again.
  • Students need constant feedback regarding their progress.
  • Teachers need to establish long distance mind-sets that keep the mind focused on the goal and the diminishing gap between the student and that goal (only one more book, only two more problems etc.)
  • Teachers need to celebrate even little steps of progress and encourage the attitude of determination to finish strong.
  • Students need time to rest and relax after intense learning and especially they need time to reflect on what they learned and how much they grew. They need to pat themselves on the back and recognize that they have accomplished their goals and achieved significant and measurable growth.
  • Teachers need to show the students the growth they have had and instill the determination for more. Finally, students need to be able to show off what they know and can do, as a class and as individuals.

I have been privileged to witness teachers who have done these very things for their students and I thank them for instilling this life-long learning drive and thirst for knowledge. I wish you the best year and encourage you to teach the students how to be active, high-performance learners so they can experience the total exhilaration that comes from true academic growth.

As always, I appreciate your comments and feedback on my meanderings.

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  • Student Engagement
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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