How to Motivate a Struggling Student

How do we motivate teenagers when they refuse to study? Why is school work so hard? Click here to look at how parents and teachers can rethink motivation.  Marni Pasch Team Pasch Academic Coaching

What if the smallest thing a person needs to be a good student is a pencil? You show up every day ready to write something down.

A former student struggled with motivation at school. Sweet kid, but didn’t want to “put forth effort.” ß (their words- not mine).

If you think of all the steps, they would need to take to go from 0’s to A’s – it’s a lot!

The better approach is to start small.

 I had one teacher pull me aside in the hallway at a middle school I interned at and say, “I don’t know what you told this student, but keep doing it.”

The secret? I told them all they needed for a fresh start was a pencil.

It all Starts with a Pencil

Why a pencil? When I ask students what it takes to be a good student, they immediately think of things outside of their control. They need to be smarter. Liked by the teacher. Have a better computer. They need more time.


Why would you bother trying to change if it was impossible?

We need to start with the possible. I ask if they want a much easier plan. 

Change can start with a pencil.

For one week, can the student be a “good student” by bringing a pencil to every class? This sounds simple, but it gives the student a glimmer of hope that maybe there is a chance to change. 

The teacher noticed and said “I don’t know what you told this student, but keep doing it.”

The truth was, I didn’t tell him to do anything; we shifted his perspective. 


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Why is Change Scary?

My philosophy as an Academic Coach, is that we work toward change each day. Working towards change is far better than standing still – but standing still is easy.

We need to make change easier than standing still. To do this, stop looking at the big picture. Stop focusing on the things you can’t change and pick the one thing you can change.


Things a Student Can’t Control

  • The teacher’s mood

  • Their brains

  • Punishments

  • Rules

  • The amount of homework assigned


Things a Student Can Control

  • Writing supplies

  • Paper

  • Laptop is charged

  • Having a laptop charger

  • A notebook

  • Writing down your assignments

  • Paying attention

  • Ignoring classroom drama

  • Holding your Tongue

The Bottom Line

Start with one item on the list. Practice it for a week and master it. Then reflect on the changes. What happened as a result of this one action? Did it trigger any other actions?

Change is possible if we change our perspective.

It can all start with a pencil.


Rock on,

Marni Pasch

MA Counselor ED, ACC Academic Coach

Team Pasch Academic Coaching

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