Motivated to Learn

By Greg Whitby, 30 January 2019


Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

Have you ever eaten the same meal as a friend and had a completely different experience? You may have enjoyed the flavour and texture while your friend didn’t. In many ways, that’s how students experience schooling – some are wildly enthusiastic about learning while others are completely uninspired by it. For those in the uninspired camp, the start of the school year signals a long and often difficult road ahead for them and often for their family as well. It can be demoralising and create a lot of anxiety.

As I have argued for more than a decade, all schools need to provide learning that is inspiring, engaging, relevant and challenging for all learners. The problem with the current model of schooling is that it still relies heavily on motivating students to learn using rewards and punishments. While the carrot and stick approach may work well in the short-term, it doesn’t work long-term or when students are faced with really complex tasks.

We know from the data that young people often become disengaged when they reach Year 8 and Year 9. This is particularly true of boys. So how do we ensure that they stay motivated? How do we create an environment where they will persist in the face of challenging tasks, and find personal satisfaction and joy from what they are learning and how they are learning?

We need to replace the ‘carrot and stick’ approach with one that recognises the diversity of every learner. We need to provide students with greater autonomy with what they learn and how learn. We need also need to give them a stronger voice. And we also need to ensure that teachers focus on mastery not performance goals (e.g. standardised tests) so that learning is always purposeful.

I empathise with the students and parents who wake up this week feeling like schooling will be a year of hard labour. My wish is that one day in the near future, every child will want to attend school, excited, motivated and ready to learn!

Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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