The Ultimate Motivation Programme

Giving students portraits of themselves in graduation robes so they can visualise being graduates = purpose.
Thought up & sponsored by Sarah Lasung of Teach For Malaysia.
What do you think of when someone mentions ‘motivation programme’?
Most schools conduct a motivation camp or organise a 1 week talk with invited speakers & that’s it. Actually, for some schools, that is good enough because parents take care of the rest of the motivating. That is, if the students have got attentive parents. What about those students who do not?

My students come from a poor socio-economic background. Many from broken families & their guardians are either illiterate or uneducated. They are aware that education is important but most are ill-equipped to support their children.
Also, my students stay in the hostels so they spend most of their time at school. Having so little contact with their guardians, we cannot expect the guardians to be able to make much of a difference.

Based on my personal beliefs & building upon the success of my 2012 PMR Motivation Programme, I decided to conduct an upgraded version for this year’s SPM students. (This year’s PMR Motivation Programme was delegated to the 2012 programme alumni.)

Here is the Ultimate Motivation Programme I devised & executed this year:

#1 Heart2Heart Discussions

"Begin with the end in mind." -Stephen Covey
Form the very beginning of the year, it is very important that students have a clear idea of what is expected of them & what they have to achieve by the end of the year. This will put the year into perspective & all their struggles into context.

I did this by having Heart2Heart sessions with the students individually first. Then, in groups.
Before the individual meetings, I conducted a workshop for all the students on study tips as well as how to prepare a target for SPM & a study schedule for the entire year.
It is important that students prepare their own targets & schedules instead of teachers doing it for them as they need to take ownership of their own learning.

During the individual meetings, we’d discuss their targets & compare it to their past achievements.
This is when I adjust their targets up or down depending on how they performed in the past & make them aware of the amount of work required to achieve their desired results.

After every exam, I’d chair a group session to listen to them share their struggles, study techniques & triumphs. I wanted them to reflect on their performance as well as learn from each other. I did this for every student throughout the year.

#2 Reminders

What is the point of having targets if students are not reminded to ward off procrastination?
Children are easily distracted & they need constant reminders. Even adults need reminders to keep them focused on achieving their targets. Reminders need to be engaging & ongoing throughout the year.

I believe that students relate easily with visuals. Reminders need to be self-accessible. To make it effective, there needs to be some form of peer accountability / transparency as well.

List of Reminders:
1. Fujifilm Instax: I took Instax pictures of students holding a piece of paper on which their targets were written. They had to display these photos where they could see it every day.
2. Exam Results: I’d print out & post their exam results on the classroom notice board so that they & others can track their progression.
3. SPM Schedule: I had the SPM schedule printed & posted on their notice boards as soon as it was announced so that they could tweak their study schedules accordingly.
4. Weekly Motivation: Every week, I'd meet up with them for a jogging session & speak to them after that.
5. The Heart2Heart sessions.
6. Peer accountability: I did something simple where the more responsible students reminded the others but I think this is an area for further development in the future. I can incorporate peer rewards (giving thoughtful gifts to buddies who improved) & peer reminders (talking to each other on a scheduled basis about the status of their preparations).

#3 Jogging: Building Cardiovascular Health

I can barely remember the National Philosophy of Education but I do remember 'holistic' (aka JERIS) & for good reason too.
Any motivation programme should include regular physical exercise.
There is plenty of research to show that exercise leads to a healthy cardiovascular system which leads to better blood/oxygen circulation which leads to better cognitive health.
Exercise also helps students to sleep better at night. Sleep is important because it is when the brain turns short-term memories into long-term memories.

I started my exercise programme from the very first week of school. I’d gather up all the students for a jog around the school. Then, we’d so some stretching & exercises. Finally, I’d sit them down around me for a motivation sermon/reminder about how important it is to stay focused on their goals.

I chose jogging instead of games because I wanted EVERYBODY to take part.
When it comes to games like volleyball or football, some students will be passively watching. Also, jogging is something that everybody could do. Everybody would then be able to experience the benefits of physical exercise.

#4 Inviting Speakers

Excellent Students from SMK Kapit.
The #missionKatibas team.
RELOs from the US Department of State.
Eventually, students would get tired of the same old dog (me) barking the same old tune again & again all year long. So, I roped in a few foxes, giraffes, hippos, zebras & bald eagles to do it for me.
Bear in mind that not everybody is willing to come all the way into the jungle WITHOUT BEING PAID. But when we reach out to altruistic people & offer them an experience that money cannot buy, there will be people who would be willing to come AT THEIR OWN EXPENSE. For these people, I am thankful.

List of Invited Speakers:
1. Program Jalinan Kasih. My school lacks student role models: students who can be used for benchmarking or as an example. I knew that students learn more from their peers than they would from adults & I needed to take advantage of this desperately. I wanted to provide them with peers who are excelling at school.
Cikgu Ho from SMK Kapit was very interested in visiting my school so I challenged her to bring along the best students from her school to influence & share their tips with my students.

2. #missionKatibas. Motivational speakers are expensive & hard to lure to a school like mine. So, when I found a group of professionals who were highly competent & interested in coming to my school, they became motivational speakers to both my PMR & SPM students for FREE!
Kudos to Sarah, Trish, Sonia, WaiLeem & Esther.

3. Jalinan Kasih Antarabangsa. The ultimate motivation activity would involve having native speakers of English at my school. When I got to know English Language Officers from the US Department of State, I knew I had to invite them to my school. To my surprise, Dr Kay was as adventurous as I hoped she would be. She brought along her super cool boss, Dr Dawn, too.

#5 Building Exam Competence

Unfortunately, if students are going to be evaluated with exams, they need to build exam competence on top of their language/subject competence.
That is why it is important for me to conduct PMR & SPM English Exam talks.
For a school like mine where the students do not have access to tutoring/tuition centres, they are totally dependent on the teachers who enter their classes for exam competence. Therefore, it is even more important for the teachers themselves to be exam competent before they can pass the knowledge on to their students.

I have invested a lot of my time & effort into building my knowledge on exam competence but I am only 1 teacher teaching 1 subject. There are plenty of other subjects at school which are as equally important for the success of my students. So I thought about how I could provide an opportunity for the teachers at my school to connect with more experienced teachers & build up their own knowledge.

Providing opportunities of development to other teachers so that together we can make a bigger difference.
Thus, I coordinated a Benchmarking & Sharing Visit to SMK St Elizabeth, Sibu (one of the top 10 performing schools in Sarawak). I made sure that each exam subject had at least 1 teacher represented. I wanted the teachers to learn from the best teachers at SMK St E & then bring back that information for the benefit of their students.
The teachers were very receptive & most of the teachers went on to conduct talks on their respective subjects.

#6 Being A Book Mule

Well past the second half of the year, a few students came up to me to ask for my help in acquiring reference books, past year questions & model exam papers. It was then that I realised that my students had difficulty acquiring paper resources essential for their preparation. They were deep in the jungle while the best books were only available in a land far far away called Sibu.

And so, I became a book mule. I carried the books from the book store to my hotel, hotel to the wharf, wharf to the express boat, express boat to the sampan &, finally, from the sampan to their classrooms.

I decided to purchase all the books they needed with my own money first & pass on my 15% teacher discount to my students. They come from a poor socio-economic background so the discount would go a long way. Also, I wanted the discount to be a motivating factor for actually using those books. I made this point extra clear to them too.

Even though I foot the transportation bill & some students did not pay me back for their books, I did not feel bad about this. It actually felt really great to see my students fully equipped for their preparations. Now they have absolutely no excuse & I harped this point on them again & again & again to great effect!

#7 Finishing Well

"How you start is important, very important, but in the end it is how you finish that counts." -Forbes
Students don’t need a dictator: Someone to tell them what to do.
They don’t need a friend: Someone to be close to them.
They need a mentor: Someone to tell them the hard truths & make it easier for them to achieve their goals.
They also need to know that someone will be there for them until the end.

This year, I decided to stay at my jungle school until the end of SPM; foregoing more than half of my year-end holidays. I did this even though there was no internet at school & the water pump broke down so I had to bathe & wash my clothes from a communal reservoir as well as cart bucketful of water up to my 3rd floor apartment for cooking, cleaning & toilet business.

I have been building them up since the beginning of the year & I am not about to leave them behind at their most pivotal moment. I have seen what it was like without anyone to watch over them during this period of the year when the school is empty & all the best teachers are gone. Not a good thing.

I stayed back to make sure that they had food, water, a suitable place to study, a guardian & recreational activities. Every night, I would gather them into the hall & sit there with them to make sure that they stay focused on their preparations. I did this until the last day of SPM.

On the very last day of SPM, I had a BBQ with whoever was left & we toasted to success in the future.


At the end of the day, I am just a Guru Akademik Biasa. I don’t get paid extra to do this. Neither do I get extra credit in my LNPT (annual evaluation).
To complete this motivation programme, I had to overcome many obstacles including bureaucracy, back-biting & sabotaging. Naturally, it took a lot out of me because I took on too many roles at once.
But, the sense of achievement is... priceless & oh so satisfying.

I, myself, am not free from sin. I have stepped on toes & undermined the jurisdiction of other officers at my school. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise publicly to anybody whom I have offended in the process of completing this programme. Sometimes I forget that I need to consider more than the students in my decision making process. This is something that I am working on & will improve on in the future.

Next year, I will NOT carry out this programme. There are actually plenty of capable people at my school who are paid to come up with such programmes. I am not one of them.

I want to focus my energy on my subject matter (English) & come up with more innovative programmes to promote the use of English at my school & in the local community. I have not focused on English language programmes since I became Ketua Warden 3 years ago. Since then, I have been working on ambitious large scale programmes like this one. I have several ideas of what to do next year & it is all so exciting to me. Trust me. It's going to be ground-breaking.

Here's to an amazing new year full of surprises!

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