Motivation: urgent for both students and teachers

“It is so important to develop strategies to increase both students’ and teachers’ motivation”

As someone who has worked in educational publishing for most of my career, I believe I have a good understanding of the challenges that teachers and learners face in the classroom. However, when, like millions of others, my children suddenly started remote lessons from home, I found myself confronting some of those challenges first hand.

One issue that stood out was the importance of maintaining engagement amidst the disruption of a pandemic and having to balance work, teaching, and domestic life under one roof.

So, when Oxford University Press (OUP), recently hosted its annual flagship professional development event – the English Language Teaching Online Conference, or ELTOC for short – it was no surprise to me that the most popular session was about motivation.

ELTOC is the largest event of its kind in the world. We’ve run it for the past three years to provide high-quality, professional development to English language teachers worldwide. It’s clear the appetite for learning is stronger than ever, and this year nearly 25,000 teachers registered for individual sessions across the three-day event.

I think we all recognise how important motivation is for successful language learning and maintaining student motivation has certainly been a challenge faced by many teachers throughout the pandemic.

However, teacher motivation is also vital, as they too are affected by having to work in new ways, often removed from their regular classroom setting.

That’s why it is so important to develop strategies to increase both students’ and teachers’ motivation to help achieve positive learning outcomes.

Teacher trainer and ELTOC 2021 presenter Charlotte Murphy mentioned in her session that, “by helping to engage those students who are losing their motivation to learn, we are also supporting teachers who are losing their motivation to teach.”

One of the sessions, delivered by Nick Thorner, a teacher trainer and OUP author, focused on how to improve levels of engagement and motivation.

Nick shared useful tips on how to maximise these areas in different settings, “in class” and “online”- from screen sharing, to using emojis. He highlighted the importance of giving students autonomy and a sense of relatedness to their teachers and to each other, to further boost motivation.

Reflecting on the session, and the feedback and comments he received from teachers all over the world, Nick also realised the significant impact that location has on motivation: “I too have been adjusting to ‘hybrid’ teaching and so have seen how students’ different locations can affect how they engage with teaching.

“I was intrigued during the session to see comments about what other educators were finding hard – I found it amazing how I can relate to teachers from hundreds of countries through common challenges we all face.”

Nick’s talk – one of four talks on motivation – was our most popular session of the whole conference, with over 4,000 teachers in attendance.

Other sessions included Barbara Sakamoto discussing ways to motivate young learners, Charlotte Murphy, mentioned above, who discussed how motivation is the driving force behind learning, and Annabel Daly who talked about motivating teams from a management perspective.

The popularity of these sessions isn’t surprising; motivation isn’t just central to how students learn, it’s vital in helping us to navigate this uncertain, unpredictable world.

As educators worldwide continue to rely on digital materials to support remote learning, we recognise how important it is to help teachers gain professional development and connect with their peers.

While every country’s response to the pandemic has differed, educators across the world are facing similar issues. It’s important that we find comfort and support in the wider education community, now more than ever, and it’s something we hope that ELTOC participants have benefited from.

Alongside the practical learning sessions, attendees had the chance to connect, network, and engage in interactive opportunities with one another. Since engagement and motivation are so important right now, maybe that’s the thing that I’m most proud of being able to give them.

You can access our sessions on motivation, as well as other topics like learner agency and alternative ways of teaching here.


About the author: Peter Marshall, managing director of Oxford University Press’ English Language Teaching division, joined OUP in 2003. He previously held a number of positions in Pearson-owned businesses, including being president of their higher and professional education portfolio.