The Boomerang Principle

The pandemic has added a layer of panic to the stress that school often brings. With so much of the future cloaked in uncertainty and the lack of a classroom environment to spark inspiration, unfortunately, many students are finding their motivation to learn and participate in therapy dwindling.

Solving this “motivation problem” will be instrumental in successfully transitioning to our new educational reality and to the future success of delivering onsite or remote therapy to students.

Perhaps the best approach is the “Boomerang Principle,” which is that “which one gives, one receives in return.” The more effort that teachers and therapists expend to motivate students and to keep them constructively engaged, the more likely it will be that students reciprocate, get involved, make progress, and energize teacher and therapist motivation, thus completing the circle.

So what can be done to motivate students? Let’s jump right in!

Fundamental Strategies

1. Value the Child’s Inner Life

Part of the collateral damage from the blurring of lines between home and school is that childrens’ equilibrium, awareness of purpose, and sense of self have been shaken. Specifically, finding purpose in learning or in doing onsite or remote therapy, often the source of motivation for these tasks, requires inner equilibrium and being in touch with one’s whole self.

While a challenge, teachers and online therapists can help to restore children’s connection to their inner selves, and awareness of their sense of purpose, when they take a moment out here and there to help the children self-reflect about the new reality and how it is impacting them. This will help the child to see the relevance of learning and therapy in their lives at this specific moment.

2. Self-Efficacy and Competence

Designing tasks that at the same time will challenge accomplished students while not overwhelming others who are struggling is difficult even under regular circumstances, all the more so when complicated by the pandemic. Teachers must design tasks judiciously while being aware of the middle-path threshold.

Shooting too low will injure the motivation of those students who are excelling. And shooting too high will take its toll on those students who are below or near grade level. Enter technology and visual tools. Designing tasks with online technology aids will help the weaker students remain motivated. And providing an option to obtain extra credit for performing additional tasks will keep the more successful students motivated.

3. Welcome Feedback

Students, just like the rest of us, are more motivated when they are allowed to provide feedback so that they know they are being heard. Don’t wait until the course is over; solicit their input while the course is ongoing, so that they have a say in the course design.

This feedback can be in any one of the following areas: progress of the course, course content, associated tasks, online aids used, etc. The students’ suggestions, when feasible, should be incorporated as this will enhance their motivation.

4. Relevance of Topics

Students will be more motivated when they appreciate the value of their learning and therapy, and how it will be relevant in their lives. Instead of teachers emphasizing the importance of the topic, they would do better to direct students to discover the relevance for themselves through directed readings and experiential learning. Allowing students input in selecting their reading and writing topics would be the icing on the cake!

5. Collaborative Learning

It’s difficult to over-emphasize the importance of collaborative learning. The learning modes used during the pandemic need to be accentuated with online collaborative tools. On Google, you will find some excellent online tools for collaboration. And online games, when integrated with learning, serve as a powerful aid to reinforce what was taught. 


1. Student Choice

Allow children to choose from an assortment of learning tasks, and solicit their input as to how they will complete their work. EXAMPLE: “It looks like you have assignments to complete in science, social studies, reading, and math. Which would you rather work on first?” “How much time do you think you should spend on that?” Encouraging children to choose their plan will help them to “own it” and motivate them to follow through.

2. Self-Monitoring

Partner with children in planning timelines for task completion, and have them monitor their own progress in meeting their timelines. EXAMPLE: “Let’s think about how you’d like to work on this history project. What steps will you need to complete to get that done? Now, let’s think about how those will fit into your schedule this week.”

3. Encouragement

Encourage children to trust themselves to succeed by helping them to celebrate their successes. EXAMPLE: “You’re right, these equations do look pretty confusing. But I notice that you’ve already learned how to solve the first part. That only took a few hours, and then you aced the practice test!”

4. Reframe Mistakes

Reframe mistakes as learning opportunities for children to plan how they will improve. EXAMPLE: Ask the student to review a completed assignment, indicate to you where the mistakes are, and explain how to fix them. Finding and correcting their own mistakes empowers children as it gives them more control over their academic success.

5. Break Down the Task

Break difficult tasks into smaller steps that can be tackled one by one. EXAMPLE: “What’s the first thing that you’ll need to do? Put that on the bottom step of an imaginary staircase with the task on top. Perfect, and what comes next? Place that on the next step.” After it’s broken into steps, challenge the student to proceed step by step.

Motivation Begets Motivation

Motivation is infectious. The positive flow of energy emanating from the teacher will be absorbed by the students, and vice versa. A true motivator in these challenging times is one who carefully titrates the right mix of tasks together with flexible grading schemes, then joins them together with the perfect mix of online collaborative technology to churn out positive energy and a phenomenal learning experience for every student, regardless of academic ability.

But what keeps this human motivator humming? You guessed it, the students’ motivational energy fed back to the teacher. It goes back and forth, each feeding the other and contributing to the upward spiral. And slowly but surely you, the teacher or therapist, have created a human motivation machine that has conquered COVID and is worthy of emulation.