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Wellbeing, motivation and behaviour of pupils

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

The Early Career Framework states that teachers must learn that... Teachers have the ability to affect and improve the wellbeing, motivation and behaviour of their pupils.

Educational research shows that what academic educators do in the design of classes, and how they interact with students, has a strong impact on student engagement in learning, including the approaches they adopt and the learning goals they develop (intrinsic or instrumental). How educators teach and interact with students creates a ‘learning climate’ that can affect student learning and wellbeing.

How teachers can support student wellbeing provides an excellent article all about the topic and I would highly recommend you taking a look at their resources. Teacher Magazine also writes extensively about the impact of teachers on students' wellbeing, looking at both how teachers can positively and negatively affect the wellbeing of their students.

Teachers can be extraordinarily influential – you can improve the motivation, wellbeing and behaviour of your pupils. In turn, this will help you to improve their life chances, especially for the most disadvantaged pupils. Ultimately, the quality of your teaching is what matters most, but creating secure foundations by acting as a role model, clarifying your expectations, and creating a culture of trust and respect will help your teaching to have the greatest possible impact. You can do this by:

  • acting as a role model – your actions can influence the attitudes, values and behaviours of your pupils. For instance, modelling a joy of reading may influence your pupils’ attitudes to reading. Therefore, you should be purposeful and consider the attributes you wish to foster through your example. Pupils may be especially impressionable if they identify with you, or if they lack existing positive role models

  • clarifying your expectations – your expectations of pupils can affect their outcomes. This is sometimes known as the Pygmalion effect, through which pupils can internalise expectations of them held by others. Setting challenging, yet achievable goals will help you to communicate your high expectations and support pupils to achieve more. You should set similar expectations about behaviour by, for instance, not tolerating low-level disruption

  • creating a culture of respect and trust – this can be achieved by doing lots of simple things well, such as actively modelling and reinforcing the courteous behaviour you expect pupils to show you and their peers. For instance, by respectfully listening to others’ ideas and actively modelling how to do this and why it matters

UCL Self-Directed Study Material for ECTs

Self-directed study material from TeachFirst as part of the ECF provides a 40 minute session on the topic too, which you may find useful.

Many factors motivate students’ to learn. These factors may be intrinsic or extrinsic. This article discusses the role of the teacher in students’ motivation to learn. The literature on learning and motivation reveals the ways that teachers can increase students’ motivation to learn. While students may have an innate desire to learn, the external support provided by the teacher has a significant impact on students’ learning. The teacher’s role in motivation includes, but is not limited to, creating an environment conducive to learning. The teacher’s role in encouraging support of students’ autonomy, relevance, and relatedness of the material increases motivation to learn. Additionally, the teacher’s ability to develop students’ competence, interest in subject taught, and perception of self-efficacy are all important factors that influence students’ motivation to learn.

Vanderbilt University's Centre for Teaching provides this article too on how we can motivate our students.

What is motivation?

The term, motivation, is usually associated with words such as desire, enthusiasm, ambition, interest, commitment, inspiration, drive and “hunger”. In psychological terms, motivation is usually defined as some sort of internal state or condition which serves to activate, arouse, energise or direct behaviour and to give it impetus, direction and focus.

Contemporary frameworks and theories of motivation tend to be ingrained in the cognitive perspective. Schunk, Pintrich, and Meece (2008), for example, define motivation as “the process whereby goal-directed activity is instigated and sustained (p. 4). This definition implies that motivation includes choosing some goals and not others, commencing work toward a goal, and persevering in the pursuit of that goal. Studies have found that gifted students appear to be more intrinsic in their motivation for engaging in academic pursuits than other students (Csikszentmihalyi, Rathunde, & Whalen, 1993; Gottfried & Gottfried, 1996; Olszewski-Kubilius, Kulieke, & Krasney, 1988; Feldhusen, Dai, & Clinkenbeard, 2000).

Motivation – the inner candle – is central to learning because its presence can lead to persistence, enthusiasm, commitment, perseverance and risk taking by the student. Lack of motivation can lead to – and be fuelled by – fear of failure, low self-esteem and low self-expectations, creating a vicious downward cycle.

Teachers’ instructional practices affect student motivation. The tasks teachers choose, the types of assessments they give, and how they deal with diverse learners in the classroom all affect student motivation, particularly their intrinsic motivation to learn (or learning for the sake of learning). Research has documented that gifted students spend a significant portion of their time in classrooms feeling bored (Kunkel, Chapa, Patterson, & Walling, 1992) or unchallenged (Feldhusen & Kroll, 1991; Gallagher, Harradine, & Coleman, 1997). In fact, a real ‘hunger’ for challenge is typical of gifted students from preschool to high school (Kanevsky, 1992; Plucker & McIntire, 1996).

Relationship with teachers

Alexander and Murphy (1998) have argued that when teachers acknowledge students’ personal goals and interests, and learners perceive the academic climate to be supportive and encouraging, they are more likely to perform well. Kanevsky and Keighly (2003) argued that, for gifted students, a caring teacher can overcome deficits in what they call “the other 4 C’s” (control, choice, challenge, complexity). In their study, gifted students valued teachers for their professional commitment and because they were fair yet flexible. These teachers respected the students’ need to talk, to question, to challenge, and to dig deeper. These teachers gave students some control over aspects of their learning and show a concern for all individuals’ well-being. In sum, these teachers were enthusiastic about interacting with gifted students.

Teacher enthusiasm

Teachers’ enthusiasm for the subjects and the students they teach is a powerful factor in fostering motivational behaviour (Brophy, 2004; Patrick et al., 2003). Their enthusiasm centres around enjoyment of the process of learning in its own right. They emphasise intrinsic and enjoyable aspects of engaging in tasks, and in achieving competence in them. Effective teachers of the gifted students connect with their students in personally meaningful ways, and serve more as guides and mentors and less as lecturers and deliverers of content. They inspire, respect and expect great things from their students, and their students come up to their expectations (Feldhusen, 1997).

Motivation and wellbeing will also have an impact on students' behaviour. It is well documented that inappropriate behaviours reduce when teaching and learning is effective and students feel comfortable and confident within a classroom. How teachers impact behaviour will be discussed in further detail in a later post, but consider how motivation can be used as a behaviour management tool


The Early Career Framework

[Further reading recommendations are indicated with an asterisk.]

Aronson, J. (Ed.) (2002) Improving academic achievement: Impact of psychological factors on education. New York: Academic Press.

Bandura, A. (1986) Social foundations of thought and action: a social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Campbell Collaboration (2018) School-based interventions for reducing disciplinary school exclusion: A Systematic Review. Accessible from: .

Chapman, R. L., Buckley, L., & Sheehan, M. (2013) School-Based Programs for Increasing Connectedness and Reducing Risk Behavior: A Systematic Review, 25(1), 95–114.

Chetty, R., Friedman, J. N., Rockoff, J. E. (2014) Measuring the Impacts of Teachers II: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood. American Economic Review, 104(9), 2633–2679. .

*Education Endowment Foundation (2018) Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit: Accessible from: [retrieved 10 October 2018].

Hanushek, E. (1992) The Trade-off between Child Quantity and Quality. Journal of Political Economy, 100(4), 859–887.

*Institute of Education Sciences (2008) Reducing Behavior Problems in the Elementary School Classroom. Accessible from

Johnson, S., Buckingham, M., Morris, S., Suzuki, S., Weiner, M., Hershberg, R., B. Weiner, Hershberg, R., Fremont, E., Batanova, M., Aymong, C., Hunter, C., Bowers, E., Lerner, J., & Lerner, R. (2016) Adolescents’ Character Role Models: Exploring Who Young People Look Up to as Examples of How to Be a Good Person. Research in Human Development, 13(2), 126–141.

Jussim, L. & Harber, K., (2005) Teacher Expectations and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: Knowns and Unknowns, Resolved and Unresolved Controversies, Personality and Social Psychology Review 2005, Vol. 9, No. 2, 131–1557.

Lazowski, R. A., & Hulleman, C. S. (2016) Motivation Interventions in Education: A Meta-Analytic Review. Review of Educational Research, 86(2), 602–640. .

Murdock-Perriera, L. A., & Sedlacek, Q. C. (2018) Questioning Pygmalion in the twenty-first century: the formation, transmission, and attributional influence of teacher expectancies. Social Psychology of Education, 21(3), 691–707. .

*PISA (2015) PISA in Focus: Do teacher-student relations affect students’ well-being at school? Accessible from: .

Rathmann K., Herke M., Hurrelmann K., Richter M. (2018) Perceived class climate and school-aged children's life satisfaction: The role of the learning environment in classrooms. PLoS ONE 13(2): e0189335. .

Rubie-Davies, C. M., Weinstein, R. S., Huang, F. L., Gregory, A., Cowan, P. A., & Cowan, C. P. (2014) Successive teacher expectation effects across the early school years. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 35(3), 181–191. .

Slater, H., Davies, N. M., & Burgess, S. (2011) Do Teachers Matter? Measuring the Variation in Teacher Effectiveness in England. Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, .

Tsiplakides, I. & Keramida, A. (2010) The relationship between teacher expectations and student achievement in the teaching of English as a foreign language. English Language Teaching, 3(2), P22. Retrieved from .

Wubbels, T., Brekelmans, M., den Brok, P., Wijsman, L., Mainhard, T., & van Tartwijk, J. (2014) Teacher-student relationships and classroom management. In E. T. Emmer, E. Sabornie, C. Evertson, & C. Weinstein (Eds.). Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues (2nd ed., pp. 363–386). New York, NY: Routledge.

Zins, J. E., Bloodworth, M. R., Weissberg, R. P., & Walberg, H. J. (2007) The Scientific Base Linking Social and Emotional Learning to School Success. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 17(2–3), 191–210.