Posts Tagged ‘Practise’

As an educator,  I strive to find ways to motivate my students. Specifically, as a band director I try to motivate my students to practise regularly.  10 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Not too much to ask, right? Well, recently I’ve learned a big lesson in motivation that has applications for my teaching practise, parenting, and personal goals too.

A few months ago I fractured my pelvis in a freak accident. My life turned on a dime. Months of physio, and lying around lay ahead of me! For months now I have been going to physio about twice a week and have made HUGE strides in my recovery.  From day one I have approached this event in my life with a positive attitude…”I can still move my toes and my legs so I know I’m going to be ok.” “I’ve got great care here in the hospital and fantastic support from family and friends.” “Woohoo, I can get my socks on all by myself!”

This positive lens has colored this whole experience until about a week ago when I finally ‘HIT THE WALL’. I’ve reached all the big milestones–standing up and walking, getting down into the bathtub, going down my basement stairs, and most recently, ditching the crutches. But now, I’m at a standstill. My mobility is functional but not back to normal. There’s no reason NOT to be motivated, yet motivated I AM NOT! I am annoyed, frustrated and tired of it all. Tired of doing exercises and feeling like I’m getting nowhere. Tired of walking like I’m 80 years old! Tired of not having my life and body back. Tired of the holding pattern. Tired of crafting my days around my injury…”Where can I park so I don’t have to walk so far?” “Which shoes can’t I wear?” “How many groceries can I pack in the bag before I can’t manage it myself?”

I could see the wall coming. I had reached a plateau and my motivation was waning. I even expressed my concern to my physio who all but dismissed it.  I think she discounted it out of surprise rather than admonishment. “Look at the progress you’ve made!” she exclaimed. Despite feeling the tailspin coming on I couldn’t turn it around and found myself face down on my yoga mat in tears last weekend. PATHETIC! “So you’re crying about doing exercises?” my husband ventured. Hmmm…what IS the big deal? It’s just some exercises. (AHA! THIS must be how my students feel sometimes about getting their homework done!) At the bottom of that ‘rut’, face down on that yoga mat, I started examining where things had gone wrong, listening to my language and negative thoughts and figuring out how I could get back to where I needed to be to make a full recovery. What happened to my MOTIVATION?

I am now climbing up the other side of that ‘rut’ and, with conscious effort, the despairing bottom is behind me. With a little distance I think I’ve figured out what happened and how I can rejuvenate my recovery process. Here’s what I’ve learned about motivation in the process:


1) FOCUS –  Every day I went to physio we added more exercises…and more and more! The list got so long it was not necessarily physically tasking but mentally daunting to get through them all (especially given my previous exercise habits.)

*Though sometimes endurance might be part of the outcome you’re trying to achieve you need to consider how long you (or your students) can maintain that as your primary goal. Can you instead focus in on what really needs to be accomplished or at least pinpoint those tasks that are critical and those that are peripheral?

2) CHUNK IT UP – One thing that helped me wrap my brain around the extensive list was to chunk up the work-outs. My exercise therapist broke the list into a two-day cycle to make it more manageable. It didn’t seem so daunting when I could look at the list and see at a glance what I needed to get done.

*Do I expect my students to get through  ALL of their exercises (or subjects) every day? Likely they would benefit from learning how to ‘chunk it up’ too. Can I really expect them to figure that strategy out on their own? Not likely! Alternatively, if you just can’t adjust the volume of work maybe categorizing tasks would provide the structure and purpose students need to get the job done.

3) PACING – The people-pleaser in me likes to meet or exceed the expectations of the ‘experts’ or ‘authority figures’ in my world. As a diligent physio patient I had been religiously following my rehabilitation plan 1-2 hours per day, 7 days a week. Anyone who knows my exercise track record knows that I couldn’t keep that pace up for long! Sometimes you need to push and sometimes you need to coast. And sometimes, it’s OK to take a break! At a recent conference I attended Patricia Katz spoke about swinging at the playground as a metaphor for life. If you constantly ‘pump’ without allowing yourself to ‘glide’ you’re probably not going to swing for long or have much fun doing it.

*Do your students really need to get through that particular homework everyday? Maybe not. What you sacrifice that day in volume or repetition you may gain in motivation and focused attention. Consequently, what gets accomplished might just be the same in the long run.

4) VARIETY – My physio often speaks about finding as many ways as possible to engage the same muscle group.  We often swap out one exercise for a more advanced one or for one that simply achieves the goal in a different way. (Just remember to take one off the list rather than adding on another!)

Knowing your tolerance for a routine is important too. When it comes to exercise I’m good for a couple of months and then my interest takes a slide.  I’m a bandwagon exerciser! Often it has to do with the time of the year or how busy I am at work. But you know what? That’s life! Why can’t I jump on the bandwagon when I’m feeling motivated and back off or change it up when I’m not? There’s a reason cross-training is successful. The key lies in discovering your tolerance for a given routine, finding activities that interest you and yes, jumping back on the bandwagon before it passes you by!

*Change it up. Vary the focus, vary the pace, vary the routine. Novelty works wonders for motivation and it stretches your brain too. It also makes perfect sense when you consider the attention-spans of our young students.

5) GOAL-SETTING – From the get-go my physio has had a plan for what movement patterns and muscle groups to address in my rehabilitation. She has shared these with me along the way and has taken my goals in to account …”I’d love to be able to soak in the tub.” We did a dry-run of how I was going to get in and out. “I want to be able to get down to my basement.” We worked on stairs. “I need to be able to drive.” We did calf raises to strengthen my pedal foot. When I hit bottom last weekend it occurred to me that I didn’t know what my next goal was. I needed something measurable to work towards. Whose job is it to determine those goals? Hers? Mine?

*It is obvious that teachers need to plan and stay a step ahead of their students. Sharing your goals and incorporating your students’ goals is really important if you want them to take ownership of their learning. Enter the inquiry strategy–a question based, project centered learning strategy. What a great way to motivate learners! What might be less obvious but equally important is to have a plan for when you reach your goal. There’s nothing worse than arriving at that point and thinking, ‘Now what?’


1) Start. Dig deep (aka Suck it up!), take a breath and begin. That’s always the hardest part.

2) Don’t do it all at once. Break it up. Plan to work for 15 minutes then take a break or work on something else. Marla Cilley of FlyLady fame advocates using a timer. It’s visual, auditory and measurable. Most importantly, 15 minutes is attainable. She says, “You can do anything for 15 minutes.” With my students I always compare it to recess. Man, that 15 minutes flies by, doesn’t it?!

3) Ask for help before you’re sinking. Struggling for weeks then announcing you’re quitting (or dropping, or failing) doesn’t serve anyone, especially not you. Ask for help as soon as you realize you can’t work it out on your own. Be as specific as you can about your challenges, your personal limitations and what you think you need to be successful.

4) Ruts or bumps are normal. Don’t let them derail you or detract from your forward progress. Acknowledge the obstacles (like negative thought patterns for example) and figure out how to get past them.

5) Figure out what motivates you. Do you need music, nature, or a friend to help you through? What about setting goals like a time limit, grade, or a number of tasks on your list to complete? External rewards work for the young and old! Getting the sticker, reaching the next ‘level’ or splurging on a big purchase might be what it takes to get you through. Or maybe the intrinsic high of getting it done is enough to motivate you.

5) Celebrate your accomplishments. Take some time to pat yourself on the back and bask in the glow of a job well done:) There’s nothing like the feeling of one success to motivate you to create another.