The Social-Emotional Factors that Impact Student Motivation

Gain insight into middle and high school students’ social and emotional skills that are essential for motivating them to become self-propelled young adults.

The REACH Framework brings the big conclusions from diverse bodies of research on social-emotional skills and academic motivation together into a single structure that is both understandable and actionable at the school and classroom levels. It has five components, each of which is summarized by a letter in the acronym REACH:


Relationships: The single most powerful thing that educators can do to increase motivation is to build close connections with their students. Ongoing research we are conducting at Search Institute is finding that those close connections become truly developmental for young people when five elements occur regularly and authentically in the relationship: expressing care, challenging growth, providing support, sharing power, and expanding possibilities.

Effort: Adults also need to help students believe that when they challenge themselves mentally, use good learning strategies, and see mistakes and failures as opportunities to improve, they can become smarter and more successful in school.

Aspirations: If we help students develop positive visions of their possible selves and see how their actions in the present will affect their ability to realize those visions, we can improve both academic effort and academic outcomes.

Cognition: When we teach students to think about their own thinking, it strengthens their ability to manage learning and control impulses. Those skills, in turn, strengthen students’ abilities to complete tasks and achieve goals.

Heart: Educators can support students’ intrinsic motivation by helping them discover and reflect on what they love to do (their sparks) and what they love about themselves (their best values). When students see their own strengths and when educators acknowledge those strengths, students are better able to resist biases such as stereotype threat and achieve their full potential in school.

For more information on REACH, please visit the links below:

  • Request "The REACH Resources Overview" White Paper: Learn how schools can use the REACH survey and related resources to strengthen student motivation to succeed in the classroom and beyond.
  • The REACH Student Survey: A valid and reliable youth self-report survey that measures students’ development of the most important social and emotional skills included in the REACH Framework.
  • The REACH Process Workshop Series: Search Institute offers six workshops that summarize the research behind each of the five major factors in the REACH Framework, plus a workshop that provides participants with a general introduction to social-emotional skills.