Communicating With Unmotivated Students

Find out why under-performing students slack off and how to effectively motivate them.

By Ashley Henshaw | February 17, 2017

Find out if students are having trouble summoning motivation due to frustration with an assignment, a class or a particular teacher.
Photo: Thinkstock

Inevitably, all college counselors eventually come across a few students who lack motivation. These students generally need an extra helping hand to get back on track. As a college counselor, you can help these students tap into their potential. But what’s the best way to reach out to an unmotivated or under-performing student? We asked Wendy Flynn, a college admissions consultant and founder of MBA Admissions Coach, to give us her unique insight into a challenging situation that many counselors face.

For an unmotivated student, a college counselor can be a great resource for finding encouragement and determining goals for the future.

Identify Distractions

“There are lots of reasons a student may be or become unmotivated. We all have lots of distractions that can get us off track,” says Flynn. However, figuring out exactly what is holding a student back from performing in class or participating in extracurricular activities can be a challenge.

Fortunately, there are a few common distractions that apply to a significant number of unmotivated students. These are the problems that counselors encounter again and again when trying to motivate students to work towards a goal. To help identity what the issue is, consider asking your students about the following potential distractions:

  • Fear: Many counselors can sense when students have a fear that’s affecting their schoolwork. Dwight Bain, a nationally certified counselor and certified life coach, told Growing Bolder that “It’s normal to feel afraid, yet someone who is overwhelmed with fears can often become indecisive and ‘zone out.’ Since running away from reality feels easier than facing it for some people, they completely deny what’s happening to their grades and future.” Is the student afraid of the future or of entering the “real world”? More commonly, students may have a fear of failure that’s crippling their motivation.
  • Frustration: When a student puts in effort and doesn’t get the desired results, his or her frustration could lead to giving up on school. Find out if students are having trouble summoning motivation due to frustration with an assignment, a class or a particular teacher. In addition, the frustration could be related to having a parent that isn’t satisfied with his/her child’s performance.
  • Friends: If a student is hanging out with other unmotivated students, it may be harder to get her to believe in herself. When it comes to hanging out with other so-called slackers, Bain says “Sometimes it’s to irritate their parents, but more often than not it’s because they don’t fit in with the winners at the front of the race.” Observe whether a group of friends may be influencing a student’s lack of motivation.

Develop a Plan

Once you’ve discovered the root distraction leading to a student’s poor performance, it’s time to start working on a plan. “For students like this,” says Flynn, “it’s important to work with them to develop a timeline to plan the college admissions process.”

Start simple by helping each student determine a few broad goals for their life. With this knowledge, counselors can help students understand why earning a college degree will help them to achieve those goals. According to the American School Counselor Association, “Research shows that adolescents with future orientation and expectations of further schooling, marriage and good citizenship devote a greater percentage of their time to school-related activities.” By connecting future goals with their efforts to get into college, students can start to see the value in making an effort in high school.

In addition to the big picture, however, counselors need to plan out specific actions to help these students succeed in high school and get into college. Depending on the individual student, this could include tutoring sessions, immersion in an extracurricular activity, or attending a test-prep class for the ACT or SAT. According to Flynn, “The timeline should include regular check-in points with the counselor to stay on top of the process.”

Counselors need to plan out specific actions to help students succeed in high school and get into college.
Photo: Thinkstock

Reach Out to Others

While many counselors love nothing more than getting through to a struggling student, the fact of the matter is that many of them have such overwhelming workloads that it can be difficult to provide ample one-on-one time. Fortunately, there are many resources readily available to help get students on track. Below are a few ways that reaching out to others can help counselors motivate students more effectively:

  • Small groups: “Consider working with the students in small groups to allow them to support each other and keep each other motivated,” says Flynn. Knowing they aren’t alone can help students who feel isolated or hopeless.
  • Teachers: Rather than reaching out to a teacher in a class where a student is struggling, look for a teacher that the student admires or trusts. Ask if this teacher could look for opportunities to motivate the student or make themselves available as a kind of mentor to the student.
  • Parents: It’s critical that parents get involved. Give them a copy of your plan for the student to make sure that they are on board with the process. Ask that they provide support and encouragement while being careful about criticizing failures or setbacks.

For an unmotivated student, a college counselor can be a great resource for finding encouragement and determining goals for the future. Make sure you use positive communication with these types of students, while also being honest about their college prospects should they continue to under-perform.

People Who Read This Article Also Read:

How to Counsel Overwhelmed Students
How to Work With Overly Ambitious Students
Top 10 Ways to Utilize Your Guidance Counselor
High School Guidance Counselor FAQ

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