Research School Network: Using the key drivers of motivation to support the return of all pupils to schools Using the key drivers of motivation to support the return of all pupils to schools


Using the key drivers of motivation to support the return of all pupils to schools

Using the key drivers of motivation to support the return of all pupils to schools

‘’Motivation influences behaviour, learning and wellbeing. It is an upstream cause of behaviour.’’

Peps Mccrea- Motivated Teaching

The experiences of all of us through the most recent lockdown will have been different, and this will indeed be the same for our pupils. As schools plan to fully re-open from the 8th March there is indeed so much for school leaders and teachers to think about, with more questions than answers in some areas at this time. The danger is that we become lost and try to focus on too many things, so that the desired impact is diluted. Indeed, the EEF’s 2020 – 21 school planning guide suggests that considering a tiered planning model can help schools balance approaches to improving teaching, targeted academic support and wider strategies. It is recommended in the EEF’s Guide to the Pupil Premium as a way to help schools focus on a small number of strategies that are likely to make the biggest difference.


This will hopefully be the very last lockdown and offers us as schools an opportunity to really reinforce our culture and values, by re-establishing routines so that our pupils feel safe and supported. If these routines are consistently applied and understood then pupils will be able to focus their attention on the learning opportunities offered to them, and we as leaders and teachers can concentrate on the most powerful tool that we have to improve pupil outcomes: High quality teaching.

The role of motivation

‘’Motivation is an upstream cause of behaviour’’

Peps Mccrea

As Peps Mccrea explains in his excellent book Motivated teaching’, motivation is complex and invisible, which makes it hard to understand. He stresses the importance of leveraging motivation to impact pupil behaviour, learning and wellbeing, referencing the growing evidence base. Two of the recommendations in the EEF’s metacognition and self-regulation guidance report also place emphasis on the importance of pupil motivation:

Recommendation 4 Set an appropriate level of challenge to develop pupils’ self-regulation and metacognition: Pupils must have the motivation
to accept the challenge.

Recommendation 6 Explicitly teach pupils how to organise and effectively manage their learning independently: Teachers should also support pupils’ motivation
to undertake the learning tasks.

It’s easy to read these, but what exactly can we do to motivate our pupils? What does this look like in the classroom? As teachers, we cannot evolve and refine our practice to positively influence something that we don’t understand. If we are able to develop a common language and understanding of motivation, we can develop habits in our own practice to influence the motivation of our pupils. Indeed, over the last few months we have been working relentlessly as professionals to support the learning of our pupils remotely. Our practice will have developed by trial and error, by collaborating with peers, and engaging with the increasing numbers of blogs, books and CPD videos available. We will have all used several strategies to help motivate our pupils through this difficult time, sometimes without even knowing we were doing it, or even worse, engaging in practices that were demotivating pupils.

Peps Mccrea describes motivation as a system for allocating attention. What we are motivated towards influences what we attend to, which in turn influences what we learn. A lot of the time this mental system unconsciously assesses the value, expectancy and cost of all of the things competing for our attention, and selects for us what we should pay our attention to. I would strongly recommend reading Motivated Teaching’ to learn more and you may find the image that i’ve created below (the mental model that was in my head when reading the book) of some use.


Using the core drivers

To support the return of pupils to schools there are several things we can do to lever motivation. These include securing success, running routines, nudging norms, building belonging, and boosting buy-in. A more detailed summary of these are freely available here I have developed some questions for colleagues at HISP Research School to encourage reflection for each of the core drivers of motivation which might be of use:

  1. Secure success:
    How can we help each pupil to experience success in the first few lessons and feel confident in each subject?
    What will our first lessons look like and include so pupils feel success?
    Which pupils do we need to particularly support and plan for to ensure success is achieved?
    How can we ensure that we don’t stress our pupils? We want to reinforce the fact that they have carried on with lessons and learning over the last few weeks by attending online lessons. Using terms like catch up’, big gaps’ and recovery’ will not be useful.
    How can we celebrate the engagement and learning of our pupils that happened during lockdown?
  2. Run routines:
    What habits, routines, behaviours (old and new) will we need to establish, reinforce, remind?
    What parts of lessons / the school day frequently occur? How might they be better?
    How can we ensure consistency with these?
    How often do we actually rehearse / practise these as teachers?
    Tom Sherrington has written a useful blog about re-establishing teaching routines:
  3. Nudge norms:
    How will we communicate our expectations to year groups, classes?
    What exactly will we say to our pupils the first time you we them?
    How will we ensure that this positive message is consistently relayed by all of us?
    What are our school values and how do we communicate them / live them?
    How will we highlight positive behaviours when we see them?
  4. Build belonging:
    Are there any particular students that we need to restore relationships with?
    How will we restore these relationships?
    What group’ language will we use?
    How will we build a group / class identity? What group’ language will we use?
  5. Boost buy-in:
    How will we frame certain tasks / activities to make the purpose and benefits clear to your pupils?
    How can we provide opportunities for them to opt in?
    Are there any particular pupils we need to focus on?

Supporting the return of disadvantaged pupils to schools: Free webinar
On Thursday 4th March 4pm we are hosting a free webinar: MEETING THE NEEDS OF DISADVANTAGED PUPILS DURING AND POST-PANDEMIC WITH MARC ROWLAND. As schools continue to support pupils both in schools and remotely, as well as starting to plan to fully re-open, Marc Rowland, a foremost expert on the effective use of the Pupil Premium and improving outcomes for disadvantaged learners, will discuss what schools can be doing to meet the needs of disadvantaged pupils. Sign up here


Blog references

EEF School planning guide:
EEF metacognition guidance report:
Peps Mccrea blog:
Peps Mccrea motivation resources:
Research EdHome levering the science of motivation Caroline Spalding and Peps Mccrea
Re-establishing classroom routines Tom Sherrington

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