Tag Archives: motivation

Saying Yes And

My first year of teaching was at a high school in The Hague. I remember sitting through a presentation on student interactions wherein the presenter talked about the different ways a teacher could respond to a student in class. I’ll translate what I remember her saying the options were:

No but…

No and…

Yes but…

Yes and…

I don’t remember all of what came next. It was in Dutch, and I was struggling to keep up. It was also several years ago. However, I do remember that ‘No’ and ‘but’ were not good words to say. They’re negative. The answer that was best (for the student and for the interaction) was Yes And.

A few years ago, I took an improvisation workshop. I’d always been curious about improvisation. I’d already heard about the cardinal rule of improvisation being that one’s response must always be Yes And.

We’re on the Moon.

– Yes. And it is in fact made of cheese.

Yes. And it’s inhabited by rats.

– Yes. And they speak French poorly.

It could go anywhere from that.

Contrast that with a scene where Yes And is not the rule.

We’re on the Moon.

No we’re not. We’re in my living room.

Scene dead.

Similarly, in a class where you shoot the student down (with a No) or where you contradict them (Yes but), the energy dies a bit.

I will admit that there are many time when I have asked a student a question (on a multiple choice question, for example) and they have answered with A when it should be B. What am I to say?

I say, “No. Anybody know?” Of course tone of voice plays a huge part in the way the No is received. In these cases, I have primed my students with the idea that they are in class in school to learn. Part of the learning process is to be wrong. It’s okay to be wrong. I’m wrong all the time.

Getting the students to think in a Yes And way is about getting them to think expansively:

What do you want to do after you get out of school?

– I don’t know. I know I like social media.

Yes. And what kinds of jobs deal with social media?

My experience of students is that they are so often unsure of themselves and what they are capable of. This stands to reason, as they are standing on the very front edge of adulthood. They have no experience with being a grown up. It’s the rare student who walks in saying, “This is what I want and this is how I plan to get it.” And while my response is always, “Go for it!” I know that any number of things could happen that could stop them from doing that or that could cause them to veer off that path (hopefully) onto another, but I am encouraging. It’s how I’m built.

We should always encourage our students. Try it. Explore it. Do some research. Find out more about it.

Be the teacher in their life who makes them think Yes And.

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Fear as Motivator


This week, a student from one of my classes reached out to me via email. She wrote, “Dear Mr. Baker, I just got the great news that I get an extra chance to do my exam. I was wondering if you could give me some tips on how to study and what to study.”

I’d heard about this extra chance. I’d been asked to grade the extra chance, but someone else is going to do a pile of exams, so they’ll just add hers to those. I’m happy for the young woman. She’s smart, she’s nice, and she’s appropriately respectful. However, she’s failed the exam twice. She is getting to take the exam again at an odd time (before the school year begins), as she needs it to complete her ‘propedeuse’ so that she can move on to university, which was her intention all along.

After I explained to her what was on the exam (as I had done during the lessons, and as she knew from having taken the exam twice already), I reminded her that she’d already taken the exam (and failed it) twice. I reminded her that if she happened to fail it again, she would not get into university and would likely be a second year student at our school (a hogeschool, which is where students in the Netherlands get a very focused bachelor’s degree.) I reminded her that she has five weeks to prepare for this last chance, encouraging her to not waste that time, as so much is riding on it.

I wrote that to scare her a bit. I wanted her to be able to taste the failure, to know what the cost of her slothfulness would be if she chose to be lazy and, like so many of her fellow students, use the ‘cross your fingers and hope really hard’ method of studying.

I don’t love doing that. In fact, I actually apologized for doing it, and I suggested she focus on how great it would feel to get into university and finally be studying alongside students who were on her intelligence/motivation level. I suggested she think about how good it would feel to tell people she was now studying at university, as opposed to hogeschool. I told her to think about graduating with a university degree and about the possibilities that would hold for her. I ended by telling her that she is a bright young woman with a great future.

That said, I hope she was listening when I tried to scare her. Somehow I feel like the fear of failure might help her more than hopes and dreams of success. It works that way with me sometimes. Sometimes the idea of success is scary and not that appealing to work towards. Sometimes what will really move me to the next step is the fear of staying in the situation I’m in.

Motivation is a complex thing. We should always be aware that there are lots of options.

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