Motivation vs Determination and How to Capture Both Motivation vs Determination and How to Capture Both

Motivation vs Determination and How to Capture Both

Erin Werra Erin Werra Edtech Thought Leader
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Teaching and learning sure does look different these days. 

While the odds can often feel stacked against teachers and schools, nevertheless they persist in their duty to engage students, impart knowledge, and support kids struggling with heaviness and trauma. 

It is such a challenge, and such a gift. 

Showing up day in and day out is a good start, but how can educators capture students’ attention amid all the distractions of the day—particularly if they’re not able to be in the same room? Progress requires an artful balance of motivation and determination. The most masterful educators strike a dexterous balance between the two. 


What is motivation? 

Motivation is an external force. It’s the stimulus or incentive that spurs a response, and it requires consistent renewal. It’s the firecracker of progress: flashy, loud, but ultimately short-lived.  

Still without the initial spark, rockets would never get out of the atmosphere. Motivation is not less important or less effective than its counterpart, determination. Rather, they work in close cadence with each other to produce astounding results. 


What is determination?  

This brings us to the next component of progress: determination. It’s the internal fuel that keeps a student making incremental improvements. Determination is often demonstrated in athletic performance, but it’s just as important with any goal, physical or not. It’s the hard work that moves mountains, and it’s irreplaceable. 

Determination picks up where the whiz-bang of motivation leaves off. But determination without motivation can feel empty.  


Capture motivation 

Motivation is external, so creating motivation is the easy part! It’s the hype man, the kickoff, the starting flag waving, the mascot jumping up and down. This is the fun part of initiating progress. 

1. Hype the whole group 

Motivation is contagious in the best way and grows exponentially. That excitement only dies down once the last person’s smile fades. 

2. Make goals individually 

While motivation can and should occur in large-group settings, goal setting is intensely personal. The one-on-one connection is motivation in and of itself: it lets the student know their teacher understands them and their individual goals.

3. Visualize success 

Begin with the end goal in mind and keep that picture alive and centered.

4. Stay focused 

When students get carried away on the wave of excitement, gently steer them back to the task at hand—without losing the energy they’re exuding. 

5. Never tell me the odds 

Motivation is a one-way street, a playlist that only builds.  Don’t dwell on the challenges—only the possibilities.  



Channel determination 

Determination is internal, which automatically makes it more nebulous, highly individualized, and harder to inspire. If motivation is the mascot, determination is the coach rising before dawn to meet the team for calisthenics. Presence over flash wins the day. 

1. Progress is progress 

No matter how small it seems. Sometimes holding still to avoid losing ground is progress enough. Determination is related to the small voice of courage saying, “I will try again tomorrow.” 

2. Create a growth mindset 

When students have a fixed mindset, they cap their own growth. On the contrary, rewire that mindset to include the central importance of trying, failing, and trying again as the recipe for growth. Therein also lies determination. 

3. Visualize success 

Not in the banner-flying, pyrotechnical way motivation does. Instead, success is the tiny dot on the horizon that grows a little closer every day, a laser-like focus on success. 

4. Chop up goals 

Avoid the overwhelming urge to rush progress by coaching kids to break goals into smaller, measurable steps. This creates renewable opportunities for motivation, too, as completion of each step becomes a miniature celebration. 

5. Don’t quit 

The essence of determination in two words. 


How do motivation and determination blend to create success? By acting in tandem. Motivation can only take students so far before determination hops into the driver’s seat. Determination sours after too long without a boost of cheer, reward, or celebration.  

Learn to strike a balance between a little of each and your team will be ready to shoot for the moon. 


Follow-up resource: Classroom design back-to-basics 

The deficiency needs of Maslow’s Hierarchy are all we should focus on now, but add some dream fodder for when classroom design returns to pre-distance status. 


Erin Werra Erin Werra Edtech Thought Leader
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