Students gather around a table to study in a school that focuses on improving student motivation.

How 4 schools are improving student motivation

Rigor, relevance, and relationships play a large part in improving student motivation and boosting achievement

2. California’s Design Tech High School ( is a free public charter school that grounds student experiences in design thinking. Students have a personalized learning experience in four areas: academic, personal, cognitive, and cultural, which school leaders say helps them identify their interests and what the might like to do with their lives. In addition to rigorous academic coursework, students spend one day a week learning based on their individual needs and interests. offers an extra and optional credential called the innovation diploma, which encourages students to participate in an independent or group-based project that solves community problems and improves the world for others.

3. Roscoe Collegiate High School is the only high school in its Texas district, and it out-performs state math and reading averages. The district’s superintendent has put a lot of focus on rethinking the high school diploma, which was practical 100 years ago, but is not longer quite enough or quite right for today’s economy. The school adopted the Roscoe Collegiate P-20 System Model for Student Success, which includes STEM pathways, an early college model, and student apprenticeships, all of which are supported by industry and post-secondary partnerships. The school has a dual-credit partnership with Western Texas College, giving students the chance to earn an associate degree before they graduate. Students also complete a collaborative research project that concludes with an evidence-based portfolio. The school’s biomedical and engineering pathways are directly relevant to the agriculture and engineering technologies industries in its surrounding location.

4. New Orleans Career and Tech Center (NOCC), launched in 2017, is the result of a 22-organization effort to address the city’s public high school dropout rate and subsequent failure of students to secure high-wage jobs. The effort focused on improving the quality of a high school diploma and making sure it led to fulfilling and meaningful career exploration, training, and connectivity. NOCC students spend half of their day in hands-on training and project-based learning designed to help them earn advanced credentials for in-demand careers. Instruction in students’ home schools focuses on core subjects, while NOCC applies that learning in a more career-focused way, helping students develop the competencies they’ll need for in-demand careers.

Read more: It’s time to change our learning model

The report gives school leaders a handful of recommendations for improving student motivation:

  • Assess the challenge: Assess how student motivation is defined and understood in schools. Identify the extent to which student motivation is a significant challenge warranting more attention. Analyze any data that can provide a more complete picture of improving student motivation and the challenges to go along with that.
  • Engage stakeholders: Not all members of the school community will understand the importance of improving student motivation. They may not understand that it can even be improved at all. But engaging stakeholders is critical.
  • Diagnose the cause(s): After examining data and engaging stakeholders, school leaders should pause before they identify action steps. They might want to first unpack the causes of student motivation challenges in their schools and classrooms. This is a great opportunity to look at the rigor, relevance, and relationships frame and apply it to each school’s individual context.
  • Identify action steps and reflect on the process: Schools will want to be deliberate about the actions they take to address individual student motivation challenges and the environmental factors of the school.

Laura Ascione

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