Encouraging Motivation by Connecting Youth Interests

Staff can provide ongoing assistance to help youth develop motivation through scaffolding.

In practice, staff can approach this by:

  • Helping youth develop motivation by having youth select or shape the program goals and project(s) according to what matters to them, and
  • Supporting youth’s discovery of personal motivation in the program work by kindling youth’s experience of belonging, competence, and connection of the program work to personal goals or societal purpose.

Staff should shape programs that help provide motivation. This happens both by identifying what interests students and encouraging feelings of belonging and value in youth.

Having clear goals and pursuing something that matters are both important to motivation development. Programs should have projects and activities designed with clear, concrete goals in mind (e.g., completing a social action campaign, building a boat, canoeing a roiling river). In most of the SEL Challenge programs, youth have a say in setting the goals for the program. For instance, some programs use the stories, voices, and experiences of the youth as the source material for the projects. In other programs, youth may have a say in selecting the focus of their projects and typically gravitate toward goals that reflect personal experience and create personal connection. This is often a collective process where youth share with their peers and come to a joint expression that reflects collective goals. Staff help youth develop personal connection to these goals. They also help youth identify meaningful goals to pursue within or around the projects and program activities.

Youth’s motivation is also fostered by a sense of belonging as they form connections with their fellow collaborators, by the feeling of competence gained from growing skills and confidence, and by the recognition that program work has societal purpose and significance for their personal future goals. Staff see their role as cultivating youth’s own motivation rather than taking responsibility for charismatically creating motivation at every moment and in every activity. They do this largely through the design of the program and supportive interactions with youth that link program goals to things that matter to youth and that provide experiences that develop a sense of belonging and competence.

Further Reading

Join the Discussion

With every group of youth, motivations change. How do you make sure the program continues to motivate participants while staying true to its mission?