Back to School Tips – Part 1: Get Motivated!

Are You ReadyThe back-to-school season is officially here!  While a few students still have one or two more weeks of summer to enjoy, most schools are back in session.  So, this is a great time to think about what students need to have in place in order to get their semester off to a strong start!

Among the many things students can do to start their school year off successfully, some of the most important are to:

1. Get motivated

2. Get organized

3. Set up successful habits & routines

In this week’s article, I’m going to focus on strategies for helping teens to get motivated for the new school year.  In the next two articles, I’ll share some ideas about getting organized and creating helpful habits & routines.

WHY getting motivated is so important:

Of all the things students can do to get their school year off to a successful start, getting motivated is one of the most important.

After all, if a student is not motivated to do well and doesn’t really care one way or the other about his or her performance in school, they could have the best strategies in the world but they’re not going to apply them!

When students aren’t in touch with their own personal reasons why school matters to them…

– School feels like an obligation, rather than an opportunity

– It’s harder to stay focused & engaged with the material they’re learning in their classes

– They’re less willing to put in the effort required to earn good grades

– It’s more tempting to procrastinate and put off schoolwork until the last minute

When approaching motivation with students, here are three things to think about:

1. Go beyond grades. 

Female Student Writes An Advice WordIn my conversations with students, I find that they often have a sense of the grades they want to earn in their classes.  But for a lot of students, that’s where their goals end.

And while some students are inherently motivated by getting all A’s or hitting a certain GPA, for other students grades alone are not enough to create lasting, sustainable motivation.

Instead of focusing solely on grades, try encouraging your teen to think more broadly about the experience he or she wants to have at school this semester.  What kind of relationships does she want to create with her friends?  What sports, clubs, and other activities does he want to get involved in?  How does she want to be perceived by her teachers?  How much time does he want to be spending on homework each night?

If students can start creating a vision for what they want their day-to-day experience of school to be like, that can be much more compelling and exciting for them than just focusing on their grades.

For example, one of my private coaching students recently came up with the following goal statement about what she wanted for herself this semester:
“I want to be positive about my classes & maintain a confident attitude.  Even when it is hard, I want to keep trying to do my best and believing I can do it!” The combination of setting goals for the grades she wants to earn AND the experience she wants to have as a student was much much more motivating for her than simply writing out a list of the grades she wants in each class.

2. Make it Personal.

One mistake I often see students making is setting goals they think they should shoot for —or that they think their parents or teachers want for them — rather than thinking about what’s personally important to them.  When students aim for goals they think they are supposed to reach, rather than goals that matter to them personally, they are going to be much less motivated to achieve them—especially when they encounter setbacks or difficulties along the way.

A related problem is that many students are not emotionally connected to the reasons WHY they want to achieve their goals.  This is frequently the case with grades.  After all, there’s nothing inherently meaningful or compelling about a letter printed on a piece of paper.  It’s what that letter represents that matters!  So, if students aren’t emotionally connected to the effects those grades will have on their life, they’re not going to be very motivated to achieve them.

Rather than simply encouraging your teen to pursue the goals that you’ve identified as important, consider encouraging your teen to identify goals that matter to them. For example, you could ask questions like… “What would you feel really proud of achieving this semester?” “What would you need to do this semester in order to look back & feel GREAT about your experience?”

Then, rather than stopping at the goals themselves, encourage your teen to go one step deeper and identify the reasons WHY these goals matter to them.  Ask them questions like:  “What’s exciting for you about that goal?”  “How will you feel once you achieve it?”  “What is important to you about this goal?”  “If you can do that successfully, what else will be possible for you?”

3. Make it memorable!

No matter how motivated students are feeling at the start of the school year, this excitement will inevitably start to fade once they’re a few weeks into their classes.

So, it’s worthwhile to take some time at the start of the semester, when they are feeling most driven, to capture some of the emotion and intensity of their goals and create a reminder of what they are aiming for (and why!)

Some ways to do this are:

* Creating a written list of the goals they want to achieve, and why those goals matter to them

* Creating a collage of photos or images that represents their vision & goals for the semester

* Creating an audio recording describing what they want to achieve this semester, & how they will feel once they have accomplished them.

* Setting up reminders on their phone and/or computer that pop up at specified intervals to remind them of their goals.

There’s no right or wrong approach to creating memorable reminders for your goals.  Different students tend to like different approaches; the most important things to think about when choosing an approach are—which type of reminder will be the easiest or the most fun to create?  And which one is your teen most likely to review frequently once they’ve created it?

4. Turn them into actions!

Goals are a great first step…but in order to get into action, students also need to have a clear idea of HOW they are going to achieve those goals, and a specific plan for HOW they will achieve them.Student Doing The Notes

With my coaching students, I’ll often start this process by commenting: “That’s a great goal!  What do you think you’ll need to do in order to achieve it?”

Often, their answers at this point are still pretty general – for example, to get an A they might say “get organized” or “study more.”   So, then we can take it to the next level and think about what they would need to do to get themselves organized.

My goal by the end of this process is for them to walk away with a simple, specific action step they can take right away to start moving towards their goal!

Translating goals into actions is often hard for students to do on their own, but once they’ve identified what they need to do to get started, they’re much more likely to actually follow through and start moving towards their goal!

I hope some of these ideas help with improving your teen’s motivation for the new school year!  Stay tuned for the next article in the series, which will focus on Getting Organized!

If you have thoughts about these approaches, please email me or post a comment on the blog to let me know.  I’d love to hear from you!


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By |August 21st, 2014|Categories: Motivation, Organization|0 Comments

About the Author:

Dr. Maggie Wray is an Atlanta-based academic coach who helps high school & college students achieve their academic potential by improving their organization, time management, study skills, and mindset about school. To set up a time to speak with Maggie about how to help YOUR teen develop the skills he or she needs to thrive academically, visit or email

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