What our students need, in their own words…..

I have always been intrigued with the teaching of Dr. Maria Montessori. Against all odds, Dr. Montessori saw that all students were capable of learning and that they can thrive in different environments to do so. The online learning environment requires different demands of the student. The students have to have a intrinsic drive to complete their courses. Yes, the teacher is providing extrinsic motivation, but we must look to the students intrinsic motivation for success in the online environment.

In my 15 years with education, I have always searched to find what “drives’ students. There are students who, no matter what adversity they face, thrive in education. Then there are students who are equipped with all the tools to be successful, yet are not intrinsically  motivated to succeed. What drives students toward success? How do we, as online educators, target the needs of all students to help them find intrinsic motivation?


I recently asked a group of International Diploma students 5 questions about school, in a search to find what keeps them coming back and logging on to their classed, what drives them to work and grow academically.

Question 1: Why do you go to school? (I wanted to start with the basics.)

(original student responses)

  • I go to school because I like and I need study for have a better future
  • To learn, and have a good future
  • Because it’s important to my knowledge and my learning.
  • To learn more and understand the things that I am having difficulty on.
  • I go to school because I will go to a good university
  • To learn things I consider important to know
  • Because it’s important for me and for my future to learn new things.
  • To learn.
  • I go to school because studying is important and good to my future.
  • Because one day, I want to be a great lawyer
  • Because I want to acquire culture and knowledge
  • I go to school to win knowledge and achieve a big future.

I alway hope students see the “big picture.” It was clear to me that students understand that education is the driver for their future. The students understand the need to succeed in high school, to set up their future goals.

Question #2: Does you teacher influence how well you do in your courses?

  • Of course, she teaches me everything
  • yes. like if the teacher plays a little I like it or if teacher is serious I control my self
  • Yes. If he knows how to teach in a much easier way I understand better
  • She shows me what’s right and helps me with what I do not understand
  • Yes because some teachers make the classes funnier and it help us
  • I don’t think so, because I didn’t have time yet to identify this
  • Yes. In a good way. She encourages me.
  • Yes,  because she is a inspiration
  • Yes,  because I look up to my teacher.
  • Yes, because if you have a good teacher, she/he will motivate the students to get better and understand what she/he is studying.
  • Yes, I have a different teachers, a good teacher influence me to good
  • Yes. A good teacher is the key to learning better. They also motivates their students to get deeply into the subjects
  • Yes. She explains what we have to do really well and help us understand everything better.
  • Yes. If the teacher doesn’t know how to explain or help the students, they are not going to do well.
  • Yes, sure. Because if I have a good teacher this help me in my learning.
  • No, I think that only depend on me
  • Yes, I think our teachers are our great influence in school, they can take knowledge of them, stories of life and even things we did not know, our teachers are not only teachers, they are friends and I think that more and more they influence us to do good , Respect the next etc
  • Yes, it’s easier to learn and get better grades when you have a good teacher that can explain the subject in a way that everyone can understand.

The online teacher is not an enigma behind a screen that just types in scores. The online teacher is a deep component of a student’s educational success. “Online presence” is crucial for success. When students feel heard, understood, and appreciated by their teacher, they will want to work for them. Also, when a teacher is “real”, sharing experiences and connecting outside the coursework, student associate the course with the teacher, not the computer.

Question #2: What do you feel you need form your teacher for success?

  • I don’t even no, she helps a lot
  • help and explain the subject
  • Teach in a better way
  • She can help me with issues that I do not understand and that I do not know how to do
  • Explain with more details
  • Teach things that are more interesting because I didn’t like the classes
  • Different classes
  • Teach things that help me in high school.
  • Teach important things that will help me in life.
  • More written exercises.
  • The teachers told to students more
  • My teacher is perfect! But she could discuss more things with me. The real problem is that I’m too busy for that
  • She should keep doing what she’s doing, because it’s really helping.
  • Help more in regard of university choosing
  • The teacher could be a little bit more sociable.
  • They could explain everything with details
  • I think they can tell us some class if they see we’re having a hard time, offer us a helping hand, help us figure out what we really want to be when we grow up
  • Explain more about SAT, ACT, and the other tests that we need to do to get into a good American college. It’s also important to teach the American grammar and the subjects of the tests.

As teachers, self-reflection is crucial, and sometimes painful. We need to pull from our students what they need from us to help them learn. Asking our students, creating an atmosphere where they feel comfortable to be honest about their needs opens doors to a learning atmosphere where students can thrive.

Question #3: What is it that you, the student, need to be successful?

  • Study
  • first because my mom pay and second because I need to be gentle and good
  • Study more
  • Pay attention to what the teacher is explaining, focus on the subject and study a lot
  • Study and do well in the test
  • I need to study and pay attention in classes
  • Study, do the homework and  the activities.
  • Motivation and determination.
  • I need commitment and motivation.
  • Study hard and understand, get good grades.
  • I need to study more
  • In school we learn the basic subjects to understand the world and society. We students need to be successful in school to get better opportunities of a higher education, since universities demand good school records
  • I need to be more focused and stop getting distracted with little things.
  • Pay attention in class and do my homework.
  • Motivation and focus.
  • I need to be successful in school because I want to go to a great university
  • I need to study every day, pay close attention in class, not talk to friends during class and devote myself.
  • Good teachers, comprehension and my own sense of responsibility.

Just as teachers want to provide the right academic atmosphere for students to thrive, we want our students to know what they need to thrive. The practice of self-reflection for the student is a aspect of learning that can drive the student to become a life long learner. Reflecting on what you need as a student, and having the relationship and trust with your teacher to communicate that elevates the learning environment to it’s peak performance. There is always a “knowing – doing” gap with what students need to do to be successful. The other components; understanding why they are in school and it’s importance, teacher relationship and self reflection can help close that gap.

Question #5: What would help you feel more engaged in school?

  • My future, my parents, my friends
  • more interactive activities, I like to write on my notebook I remember things very well, concentrate on the activities
  • My parents, my friends and my teachers
  • 1-Set aside time for studies 2-Pay attention to everything the teacher talks about 3-make summaries of the content that the teacher passed during class
  • Classes with more talk, more interaction and less copying
  • friends, cool teachers and a nice subject to understand
  • Different classes. Teacher’s help. Classes on different places
  • Friends in school , cool subjects , and teachers
  • Interesting subject, good teacher and my friends.
  • Math, English and science.
  • The school friends, the teachers speak more times the content and uses key terms
  • science experiments; shorter amount of students in class; a good schedule program
  • Group activities, use of music and more things related to our likes and dislikes.
  • Do extracurricular classes, more speaking activities and using movies to practice listening.
  • More dynamic activities, shorter assignments and more activities of listening.
  • 1-More english classes 2- More history classes 3-More geography classes
  • 1- Do not talk 2- Do not fall asleep during class 3- Pay attention in class
  • Free classes about cinematography and theatre.

The honesty in these responses is heart felt. This is real life as a teenager, no matter what part of the world you live in. In my experience, when a student relates school to their lives and finds joy in the subjects (not all, but some), they have a buy in that keeps them driven. These items that engage them can also intrinsically motivate them. During the quest for what engages them, they may find the intrinsic motivation that drives them toward their educational goal.


Group of Chinese friends using modern technology. isolated on white background.

Creating an atmosphere where our students thrive and we connect with them as a learning community can be done in the virtual environment. The teacher’s tool bag to drive this will look different than the brick and mortar. The online teacher is a master of creativity and design; creating a classroom where we are connected no matter from where we are accessing our education.

In the words of Dr. Maria Montessori, “The environment must be rich in motives, which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his or her own experiences.”

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