School safety remains a concern for all schools. Violence and crime in school distract students from learning, detrimentally affects the view of the school in the community, negatively impacts attendance and graduation rates, and results in reduced funding. Increasing learning motivation can help.
But this isn’t just an urban, suburban, or rural problem, either. It’s a universal problem that cuts across regions and demographics. Bullying is now labeled a serious public health issue. Schools clearly need new and innovative ways to address these challenges.
Interestingly, schools with better learning environments are perceived as being — and actually are — safer than their counterparts. When the learning environment is positive, students feel better about their education and feel more secure.
How do administrators achieve a positive campus climate? Is it possible to transform a school into an environment where students feel safe and achieve more?
There are changes that a school can make that improve the overall atmosphere of the institution. While these changes alone won’t magically transform a school, they are proactive measures that can be instituted to move the needle on school safety and the educational environment.
One such factor is improved performance. An important contributor to the school atmosphere, academic performance has a significant influence on creating a positive and safe environment.
The Link Between Learning Motivation and Performance
Research is proving that students are less motivated today than ever before. This isn’t the traditional lack of motivation to work on a particular subject. Nearly 40 percent of high school students are experiencing chronic disengagement.
This disengagement occurs even in the face of involved parents and teachers. Learning motivation strategies don’t address the real reason students are disengaged. Pushing for higher academic standards or participating in high-stakes standardized tests don’t help students who feel as if they lack the competence and skill to perform well, or are bored and inattentive.
Issues with motivation increase over time, as well. Compared with 5th graders, high school juniors self-reported as being less engaged felt their school work was less important, had less interest in doing good work and, surprisingly, felt much less that the adults in the school cared about them.
Not surprisingly, however, is the associated drop in grades as motivation wanes. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle – students are bored or overwhelmed and unmotivated to do the work, which in turn results in lower grades, which further demotivates them.
As grades decline, there is a higher propensity for students to act out in the school environment. These issues may manifest in a number of ways, including classroom outbursts, chronic absenteeism, truancy, or aggression.
Traditional motivators are clearly not working. Administrators and staff need to find new paths to learning motivation, especially in older students. Schools must ensure that students have the right supports in place and motivational levers that will improve student outcomes. These levers can include more experiential learning opportunities as well as instructing students on how to deal with challenges in their day to day lives.
The Link Between Performance and Safety
If lower motivation leads to poor academic performance, it’s sensible and correct to assume that increased learning motivation and engagement results in higher achievement. It goes beyond grades, however.
Students who are motivated and performing well also have more satisfaction in their scholastic experience, lower dropout rates, and have a better time understanding the concepts being taught.
Some of the reason for this becomes clear when we look at the tenets of self-determination theory. Self-determination theory proposes that motivation, even learning motivation, requires that three human needs be satisfied. Those needs are autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
These needs can be defined in the context of learning motivation. For instance, students want to feel a sense of autonomy as they work, being able to choose how they work, or when they work, even if they can’t choose the subject. They want to feel as if they are capable of completing the course work and have a chance of doing well. And they want to feel a connection to others – something that can be addressed with co-work, group projects, and opportunities to communicate with other students in the class.
Self-determination theory goes beyond explaining the needs that must be met to inspire motivation. Researchers have also looked at rewards as part of deterministic thinking and how they might apply to inspiring motivation.
What has been discovered, time and again, is that intrinsic rewards are better motivators than extrinsic ones. In other words, extrinsic rewards or punishments – like the prospect of a school award or losing recess time for bad behavior – are less likely to work as motivators than helping students feel a sense of accomplishment in their work. Social-emotional learning techniques may help staff awaken a sense of accomplishment in students.
Once motivated to learn and perform better academically, students begin to feel a sense of pride in what they do and where they do it. Direct links have been found between academic performance of a student body and the associated level of violence and crime in a school. As noted above, frustrated students act out. Satisfied students, on the other hand, have less reason to rebel against what they see as a source of stress.
When students perform better academically, there is a downstream effect of lower crime and violence in schools. Motivating students to strive for better performance can be challenging, however. While some students are merely disengaged or bored, others may be at-risk and in need of additional support to do well in school. Identifying these students early and getting them additional help improves the overall learning environment.
On a larger scale, motivating engagement positively impacts the entire school atmosphere. As students do better, the overall school climate improves. Beginning a program of learning motivation based on intrinsic rewards, like community validation and personal achievement, and meeting the basic human needs of self-determination, will have a ripple effect in reducing crime and violence in schools.
ScholarChip offers a solution called Alternative Behavior Educator (ABE). This innovative program enables counselors to identify, monitor, and improve student behavior throughout a student’s career, while giving administrators and teachers powerful data-driven reports that quickly flag at-risk students, help monitor and chronicle progress, and support decision-making tasks. The ScholarChip system incorporates the complete spectrum of behavior and integrates student rewards, interventions, and tracking with PowerSchool®, Infinite Campus, and other popular SIS platforms.
To learn how ScholarChip can help keep your schools safer and more secure, learn more about the many solutions ScholarChip provides, or to get free recommendations, feel free to have a 1-on-1 chat with one of our specialists!