Intrinsic motivation

One of the biggest issues facing our education systems today is student motivation. Students are less and less compliant and are more and more interested in activities other than their school work.

Intrinsic motivation is the desire to take on a task simply because it is enjoyable and interesting, rather than for a reward. Rewards, or end results such as marks or grades – or punishments - are referred to as sources of extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is seen, rightly, as the way to go. Extrinsic motivation, at best, works for simple tasks but is counterproductive for anything complex, anything that uses the skills that we now want children to learn.
Much of the effort that goes into developing intrinsic motivation is focused on making engaging content, however, it is the practice of encounter that can most reliably stimulate student motivation. Through encounter there is no offered reward, so the motivation is intrinsic.


A teacher who practices encounter pays full attention to a child using the ‘seeking difference mode‘ of paying attention and does this free of any judgement of the child and without comparing them to any other child. Then, whatever the child says or does the teacher responds with kindness (‘a desire to increase happiness’) or compassion (‘a desire to decrease suffering’).

The child so values this experience that they want it to continue so will go out of their way not to disappoint or let down the teacher, meaning that the teacher has no discipline problems. When the teacher proposes work to the child the child will do their best i.e beyond doing just what they are told to do. Teachers who practice encounter deliver above average outcomes.

Children remember such teachers their whole lives.

Note that the practice of encounter is different from the case of the very competent teacher who has good relationships with their students. In this case, most of the time, students will do as they are told, are compliant and, although the teacher responds with kindness to them, they know, at the back of their minds that if they step outside a certain boundary the teacher’s response will NOT be a kind one. Encounter, and its benefits, is not taking place.

About 5% of teachers practice encounter today. What would a school be like if 25% did? Or 50%?

A longer version of this article appears on LinkedIn.

John Corrigan is an expert in helping individuals to bring their whole of mind to their daily life and increase their effectiveness and the effectiveness of those around them. This expertise scales from the individual to the team to the organisation. At the core of this work is the practice of encounter.

John Corrigan