Student Motivation Declines In Online School

Catherine Komp, Staff Writer

Ask nearly any student, teacher, or parent and they’ll say that this school year has been difficult. Adapting to the new reality of learning and working from home, with all of its benefits and frustrations alike, has been difficult. Whether it be Internet crashes, technology failures or new feelings of isolation and restlessness, school from home poses new challenges completely different from any that students have faced before. 

So how in the world are students supposed to remain motivated in this time of constant change and uncertainty? To answer this, it’s important to first consider the root causes for school-related stress in students’ lives and understand what may be contributing to a potential lack of motivation. 

Conor Maher, a counselor at Minnetonka High School, said that students’ “stress [stems] from home life” and the “monotony of daily life right now.” These conditions can create boredom, pressure, and even burnout.

“I hear often from students that it’s a lot like Groundhog’s Day […] you wake up, do the same routine, sit in the same chair in the same room, see the same few people every day, then go to bed just to do it again the next day,” Maher explained. Feeling “locked inside all day and not getting to do the things you love to do or take care of yourself the way you should” often leads to this increased stress and decreased motivation. 

Maher indicated that he has seen “an uptick in the number of kids coming to [him] with grade concerns” this year compared to years past, and that struggles with finding motivation for schoolwork are “the number one thing” he hears from students. 

Since last March’s lockdown began, however, the flow of students that have come to the counselors’ office or a virtual meeting for mental health reasons has remained about the same. 

Although Maher believes the mental health of Minnetonka students is “much worse now” than in past years, “students this year are just sharing less with [the counseling staff].”

Akshata Moorthy, ‘23, agreed.

 “I’m definitely procrastinating [on schoolwork] more than I usually do this year because of the increased leeway and time between classes,” she said. “You could literally finish an assignment two minutes before class and still be fine, so it’s tempting to procrastinate sometimes.” 

Moorthy, who currently takes three Advanced Placement (AP) classes, plays violin in Minnetonka’s Symphony Orchestra and dances daily after school, noted that “between online dance and virtual school, [she] spent 8 or 9 hours every day on a screen” this past fall, which just “doesn’t make for a good head space.”

She added that although “teachers try to be super available for help,” many students “are anxious about reaching out through email or setting up appointments” as opposed to just “walking into a classroom to get help” as they had previously.

 Moorthy also stressed the importance of “student collaboration and working with others” for students’ mental health. “It can feel like you are the only one taking a class or like you don’t even know your classmates,” she said of the online learning format. 

Maher suggested that setting future goals is the key to unlocking motivation in and outside of school. 

“You have to figure out what your goals are in life, where you want to be and what you want to be doing down the road,” Maher said, “and then work backwards from there.” He advises students who come to him to look at these long term goals and ask themselves “what [they] need to do today to help […] get [them] closer to achieving these goals.”

In addition to goals, he recommends that students “find things to look forward to, be it later in a day, the end of a week or month or further in the future.” These “short term spurts of motivation all add up to longer term success in meeting goals.” 

Lastly, Maher emphasizes the importance of regular exercise, sleep and healthy eating to improve motivation, as “those foundational pieces are the most important right now.”