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How teachers can create a positive, motivational and respectful classroom culture

Teach in a motivated classroom

First, if you missed my posts about classroom routines have a read.

Pupils are motivated by extrinsic factors (related to rewards) and intrinsic factors (related to their identity and values).

Extrinsic Motivation

Rewards and punishments are external motivators (extrinsic motivation). Pupils who are extrinsically motivated are likely to persist at challenges because they want to receive rewards such as house points, stickers, praise, or they want to avoid punishment.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation happens when pupils are engaged because of internal rewards, like a love of learning or interest in a subject. An example of intrinsic motivation is a pupil learning new vocabulary words because they love to read. The goal as teachers, is to move pupils from needing extrinsic factors to motivate them to being intrinsically motivated.

Praise and acknowledgment

Praise and acknowledging pupil effort and progress is a great way to extrinsically motive pupils. However, research suggests that intrinsic motivation can also be built be by praising pupils (Henderlong & Lepper, 2002).

When I first started teaching, praising pupils for anything and everything was tempting. How many of us are tempted to say things like, "Well done for entering the classroom quietly and sitting down to start your work. That's amazing!"

Overusing praise will ultimately result in it losing its power and effect. Therefore, it's important to consider the difference between praise and acknowledgement. You may want to say, "Thank you for entering the classroom so quietly and sitting down to start your work. That is an excellent choice."

This type of acknowledgement should be used when pupils are following expected behaviours. Unlike praise, it doesn't suggest that you are impressed by a pupil meeting an expectation and non-negotiable. Praising pupils can be saved for when they are working hard or making excellent progress.

Trust and respect

Teachers can establish positive relationships with children by creating a calm and respectful classroom environment. Research suggests that if teachers successfully develop trusting relationships with pupils, enjoyment of school and academic success is likely to follow.

To help build effective relationships with pupils, teachers should take the time to get to know their pupils and make them believe that their feelings will be understood and considered.


Henderlong, J., & Lepper, M. R. (2002). The effects of praise on children's intrinsic motivation: A review and synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 128(5), 774–795.

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