Students don’t do their work for you. Teaching is such a personal endeavor and we get so invested in the success of our students that it can be easy to forget they aren’t doing the work for us. Sure they are motivated by us, they may feel responsibility to us and might even say they are doing it for us. But they’re not.
The purpose of our students’ work is to grow their own skills. They work in and for our class to engage in productive struggle which leads to an increase in ability. The reward of their own improvement develops an internal motivation that will drive our students to continue to achieve long after they have left our course. A simple thank you can undo all of that.
There is an alternative. We should not disregard or disparage the effort of our students. I’m not saying their labor should be ignored. Instead our goal as teachers, leaders and managers should be to empower the effort of those who work under us so that their endeavors have maximum impact. When a student practices we should remark on their improvement and offer our own efforts to augment their investment.
The difference between gratitude and actualization is subtle. The effects are not immediately apparent. But hard work to satisfy an authority figure will only be enough for so long. If students only work for a thank you, they will encounter work that is too costly to be worth it. When someone does you a favor you are grateful, but you don’t expect someone to do you the same favor consistently every day. Eventually they will tire of the imposition and at a point they will refuse.
So play the long game with those you oversee. Intrinsic motivation is difficult to grow, but even more difficult to stamp out once it takes root. An employee works to realize his or her potential as a contributing member of society. Focus on bringing out and maximizing the potential of those you lead, rather than treating their efforts as a personal favor. Because thankfully, it isn’t.