At school, learning only occurs through the application of the student. Teachers coach, mentor, train, facilitate, instruct and encourage, but then the student must do all that is cognitively and physically necessary to advance their skills, knowledge and understandings. The picking up of the pen or pencil, the reading of the instructions, the completion of the task, all remain the responsibility of one person and that person is the student himself or herself.
Well-known educational psychologist, Anita Woolfolk, points out that the responsibility and the ability to learn remains within the student. What this means is that the student needs to be self-motivated in their thoughts and their actions. The student needs to be self-directing, self-regulating and self-managing in their application to their learning.
The student is not only responsible for their own learning, the student is the one who is responsible for their educational and personal destiny. As philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” Educationalist William Glasser found that unless a student was personally motivated to behave and learn, there really was very little anyone else could do except be supportive and offer advice.
The interesting thing is the impact the choices that students make about their learning and behaviour have on their brains. David Kolb and his colleagues found that the brain responds neurologically in the same way to both positive and negative thoughts and behaviours. What this means is that if individuals choose to persistently present negative behaviours, these negative thoughts and negative actions will, at a neurological level, inevitably rewire the brain in a manner that supports these negative thoughts and associated negative behaviours.
The same is true if positive thoughts and behaviours are presented. The brain is not a moral compass and does not delineate what is taking place. It just provides the neurological networks to support the thoughts and actions that are already taking place. So neuroplasticity is a two-edged sword.
Simply put, the brain wires itself to reinforce what is already happening. The good news is that negative neurological firing and rewiring can be changed to positive firing and requiring. This change will, and can only, occur if the individual in question consciously and deliberately chooses to engage in constructive thoughts and positive behaviours. These new positive behaviours and positive thinking processes will then begin to fire and rewire the brain to create new neurological processes that will increasingly support the positive changes that are taking place.
This is why the starting point in overcoming negative patterns of thinking and behaving must be supporting the self-motivation and self-belief of the individual. When teachers and parents work together to encourage and support self-motivation, big changes are possible – not immediately, but over time if we persevere.