Eric Kalenze, Search’s Director of Education Solutions, will be appearing in this space occasionally to share more about our research, our research-guided school improvement work with schools, our REACH Framework, and practical items to keep in mind about student motivation. Additionally, we’ll bring some guest-bloggers aboard so they can share, practitioner-to-practitioner, what using REACH-based practices and resources looks like in their classrooms.

I’ll start by saying how thrilled I am to be part of Search Institute’s efforts to strengthen student motivation through research-supported insights and instructional strategies. Throughout my education career, which has included work in teaching, administration, and research/writing, I’ve gotten to know how important academic student motivation is to all of our success.

I’ve also gotten to know how difficult and crucial student motivation is to get right. So I’m happy to be working with so many educators on just these questions.

Building Connections Based on Student Needs

As a teacher, student motivation was a challenge I continually felt I could never get good enough at. Every year brought around 150 new students. And each of those kids brought unique sets of motivating levers, temperaments, and background experiences. As much as I wanted all my students to reach mastery of the same learning objectives, I knew I’d first need to learn and meet their complex motivational machineries if I was to have any chance.

In practice, I made this happen by building connections based on students’ needs and preferences: making a point to talk to some students more often about their out-of-school interests, for example, or challenging others to reach higher standards (and cheer them on, of course).

Student Motivation is More Than Just Hustle

Using these methods over time, I came to realize I needed more than just hustle to reach certain kids (or, in some cases, entire sections of kids). I turned more and more to research literature for support and new ideas, and, especially in fields of developmental psychology and cognitive science. Through that, I found all kinds of helpful information.

Though I learned a heck of a lot about human motivation in my research (e.g., why some of us are more so and others less so, what gets in the way of motivation, the interplay of the extrinsic and intrinsic, how our minds trick us out of being motivated, etc.), I’ll be honest: the research unfortunately wasn’t ever real helpful about application. Almost none of the great information I was finding came with much in the way of ‘how-to’ instructions for my classroom, leaving me pretty well on my own to design related practices and actions.

REACH and Student Motivation

…which brings me to how happy I am to be working on REACH with so many educators. REACH stands for five notable categories influencing motivation and development: Relationships, Effort, Aspirations, Cognition, and Heart. The packaged research information eliminates a lot of time chasing down the right sources. And its classroom-ready resources provide clear starting points for teachers’ motivation-building and -maintaining efforts with kids.

Also, its multi-dimensional breakdown of motivational factors acknowledges the sometimes messy complexity I experienced with my own students.

The REACH research and resources are the kind of thing I wish I would’ve had access to when I was searching for and trying out so many different approaches to motivate my own students. As important as academic motivation is to get right, guides like these would’ve been incredibly helpful.

All that said, watch this space for more information about REACH–insights from research that can be used right away, how schools Search Institute works with are integrating the content and activities, and more.

Next week, I will post here about some information we’re taking from the field at schools using REACH research and resources.

If you’d like a free sample of the REACH guidebook with a couple of exercises, you can download it here.

And, if you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comment space below or email me at

I look forward to engaging with you, here and elsewhere.


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