by Jai Flicker
Early on in my work as an educator, I recognized that to help my students truly thrive I needed to support them as individuals, not focus solely on helping them with academic content. It turned out that taking this humanistic approach not only came in handy when a student of mine would come in upset about something that had happened at school, but it also nourished my relationships with students. This, in turn, allowed me to better support them academically. As David Brooks recently pointed out in a NY Times opinion piece: "Students learn from people they love."
For the first several years of my career, I relied on a combination of intuition and common sense to guide my approach to working with students. This was fine, but as my staff at LifeWorks grew I found myself in the position of having to train others. When I went to try to explain what it was that I had been doing that has been working for me, communicating my approach turned out to be more difficult than expected.
Fortunately, it turns out there are brilliant researchers and theorists out there that have devoted their
lives to mapping the territory of human development. When I finally discovered some frameworks that
described in great detail the very phenomena that I had been witnessing for years it came a breath of
fresh air. These theories would help me put language to things that I had previously intuited but struggled to articulate. They helped explain why some of my favorite strategies worked, as well as why some of my less successful ones didn't. These theories mapped out the territory of the interior. Or, perhaps more accurately, they shone light on previously hard to see terrain.
One of the most illuminating theories I have come across is called Self-Determination Theory (SDT). Its
name relates to the fact that one of the keys to motivation is allowing others to chart their own course,
to allow them to be self-determined. This theory has expanded and grown since its inception over forty years ago. Today, hundreds of researchers in dozens of countries contribute to the project of refining this framework, which at its core offers the following insight: When our psychological needs get met, we thrive. When our needs go unmet, we languish.