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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Your New Job: Motivator

A 2006 study called “The Silent Epidemic” by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, found that nearly one third of all public high school students fail to graduate every year. Nearly one half of all African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans are flunking out each year. To put it bluntly, our current education system is failing the very people it is trying to serve: the students.


photo credit: SweetOnVeg via photopin cc

The big question is—why? Are our teachers or principals that poor? I don’t think so. While I do believe some educators need to find a more suitable career, our problem is a system built to serve yesterday’s “Industrial Revolution” which treats kids as numbers to be processed, then placed in a factory to work on a conveyer belt. We all know—that’s not he world they’re heading into.

I believe the primary focus of teachers right now should be to motivate students.

Motivate them to want to learn; to hunger to explore problems our world desperately needs to be solved; to desire to move into new directions where the needs are greatest. When I see young grads that are truly passionate, it’s usually because some teacher, coach, youth pastor or parent has motivated them by exposing them to some great need or problem. Pardon my honesty here, but multiple choice tests and short answer quizzes just aren’t going to do the trick.

You see, these kids already possess motivation. The problem is they’ve grown up in a world where their passions are advertised and sold to them. They want products. They want fame—to be the next American Idol, or winner on America’s Got Talent, or Survivor…or some other reality TV show. We’ve conditioned them to want quick answers, overnight success, instant fame. We did it to them. Our current educational system cannot keep up with this kind of motivation. Few teachers have a “dog and pony” show good enough to compete with what our culture offers.

So what if we began our session with students by taking a few minutes to address the “why” behind our topic. Why is this issue so important? What problem needs to be solved? What need must be met?  What empty place should be filled? Motivate them by giving them the freedom to create, to invent, to problem-solve in groups…actually addressing an issue that matters. If we’ll build innovators, we will graduate young leaders into the world who are contributors not just consumers. In the words of educator Calvin Mackie, “Show them the amazing lifestyle they can earn by becoming a contributing member of the knowledge economy. Put new role models in front of them, people they should look up to and admire, follow on Twitter and “Like” on Facebook.”

Education is really all about service and self-agency. And we must motivate them to attain it.


  1. Joseph Lalonde on October 16, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Awesome message Tim. I agree with you that we need to begin asking and helping kids answer the WHY question. Without it, they’re lacking a reason to learn.

    • Tim Elmore on October 23, 2012 at 2:53 pm

      Definitely! Thanks for taking time to comment!

  2. Taylor Book on March 2, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Post is on point, and reminded me of something I read a few months ago. Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

    By asking the questions you mention above – they can begin processing their own passions and understand where/when/how they can contribute!

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Your New Job: Motivator