Boosting Student Motivation in School

Student motivation to learn is a critical factor in their success in school.

Strengthening peer relationships is a major focus of Search Institute’s Relationships for Outcomes Initiative. The partnership focuses on co-creating and testing innovative ways to strengthen the developmental relationships that young people in marginalized communities experience in their schools, programs, and families.

Many factors influence motivation, and Search Institute focuses particularly on student-teacher relationships as a vital catalyst for enhancing student motivation. Below are summaries of research and development projects currently underway in schools.

The DREAM Partnership: Developmental Relationships to Enhance Academic Motivation


Do changes in developmental relationships between teachers and students over the school year affect student motivation and reduce disparities in academic achievement? That is the central question in a two-year partnership (2017 – 2019) between Search Institute and Bloomington (MN) Public Schools.

Using Search Institute’s Developmental Relationships Framework as a foundation, the partnership is investigating how students and teachers in a middle school and high school experience their relationships and how these relationships contribute to student motivation and achievement. A particular focus is on how findings differ for students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Key activities include:

  • Student surveys linked to school academic and disciplinary records
  • Surveys of teachers about their relational practices
  • Focus groups with students
  • Interviews with teachers identified by students as being particularly effective in building relationships

Throughout the project, teams of students and teachers from the two schools, and Search Institute researchers, will meet to interpret findings and generate actions the schools can take to strengthen student-teacher relationships and academic motivation.

Funding Partner: Institute of Education Sciences, U.S Department of Education

The Effect of a Relational Model of Perseverance on Students’ Academic Trajectories


This two-year study (2016 – 2018) with Bloomington (MN) Public Schools investigates whether changes in levels of student motivation ease achievement inequities for low-income students and students of color. A longitudinal survey over three academic semesters is examining the associations among student-teacher developmental relationships, academic motivation and perseverance, and academic outcomes.

Funding Partner: Spencer Foundation

The REACH Pilot Project


Through partnerships with 12 middle schools in Minnesota, Search Institute developed and pilot tested the REACH System, which guides schools in focusing on critical factors in students’ motivation to learn:

  • Relationships between teachers and students
  • Effort, which focuses on cultivating growth mindsets
  • Aspirations, connecting students’ current actions with their future hopes
  • Cognition, which focuses on delaying gratification and managing learning
  • Heart, helping students identify the values and “sparks” that motivate them.


The REACH Pilot Project supported the design, testing, and improvement of the resources, professional development, implementation models, and measurement tools to help schools intentionally strengthen student motivation. Learn more about the REACH System tools and services, which are now available for broad use.

Funding Partners: Otto Bremer Trust, Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, Minnesota Comeback and the National Joint Powers Alliance

Assessing and Strengthening Relationships with Students Needing Extra Support to Succeed in School


Communities in Schools has engaged Search Institute to develop and pilot two self-report surveys of developmental relationships to use across its network of programs in 2,300 schools across the United States. The measures will be integrated into CIS’s measurement system for continuous improvement and paired with professional development focused on strengthening relationships and student motivation.

Collaborating Partner: Communities in Schools

Engaging and Strengthening Families to Enhance Student Motivation in School


Families play a vital role in student motivation. Search Institute is working with two Minnesota schools to design and test strategies for engaging families aligned with the relationship-based approach to student motivation, the REACH System. Across two years, Search Institute is conducting listening sessions with parents and youth, family events and tools, and opportunities for parents and youth to participate together in the Keep Connected family engagement program.

Funding Partner: Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation

Related Research and Resources


Review research on developmental relationships and Developmental Assets that undergirds Search Institute’s work in schools.