Article Review: School Leadership and Student Motivation by Ron Renchler

Much has been written about aspects of motivation with regard to students. From my perspective as a teacher in a small Inuit community, the level of motivation to complete high school is very low. This belief is confirmed by the high level of dropouts, poor attendance rates, low literacy and low level of overall educational attainment within the community. Despite many efforts to improve motivation (attendance awards, financial rewards, guaranteed future job opportunities etc.), many Inuit students are not making a commitment to completing school.

The question becomes whether schools and school leaders can improve motivational levels in students. The article by Ron Renchler (1992) makes this link between motivation levels and the actions of school administrators; this link is overlooked in research that often centers on the classroom. In our school, we have a lack of motivation both from teachers and students; teacher turnover is very quick and student dropout is very high. Commitment to education is absent and according to Renchler (1992) there is much that school administrators and school leaders can do to help reduce the problem.

School leaders can foster student motivation by creating a positive school culture; student motivation can be generated by using activities, statements of goals, behavior codes, rituals and, symbols and messages (Renchler, 1992). The expectations and attitudes towards education can be shaped by the school’s culture; school leaders who effectively manage this aspect can boost student and teacher motivation thus impacting their learning (Renchler, 1992).

The article offers six policies and programs that can influence a positive environment. Renchler (1992) believes that the optimum school climate is created by:

  • stressing goal setting and self-regulation/management,
  • offering students choices,
  • rewarding students for achieving personal best goals,
  • developing teamwork through group learning and problem-solving experiences,
  • moving from a testing culture to an assessment culture (self-assessment and authentic evaluation)

teaching time management skills and offering self- paced instruction

These programs and policies allow students and teachers to develop intrinsic motivation so that they are more connected with their personal learning and gain ownership in the learning process. By restructuring schools in such a way, student motivation and success can be increased which directly impacts the rate of dropout.

Renchler (1992) goes further to investigate how a school’s organizational structure can influence levels of student motivation. For many years, teachers have been using reward systems that work to increase extrinsic motivation, however more energy needs to be made to foster intrinsic motivation. "Challenging but fair task assignments, the use of positive classroom language, mastery-based evaluation systems, and cooperative learning structures are among the methods" (Renchler, 1992) that can maximize intrinsic motivation.

According to Renchler (1992), there is a connection between a school leader’s motivational level and the level of motivation that exists among the students. "Personal motivational on the part of the principal can translate into motivation among students and staff through the functioning of goals" (Renchler, 1992). A leader who has goals that are personally valued are central to the leader’s motivation and is a stimulus for action (Renchler, 1992).

Developing a standard program to change student motivation is impossible because of the complexities contributing to low student motivation. Renchler (1992) suggests other ways which leaders can make valuable changes in student motivation. Leaders need to analyze the ways that motivation works in their own lives and develop a way to communicate it to others in the school. Leaders can use non-educational settings (like games and sports) to demonstrate the important role of motivation. Leaders need to reward and recognize the various ways of success to show students that success is important. By developing and participating in inservices that highlight motivation, leaders can bring more learning to staff members. Parents need also to be involved in the discussion of motivation and leaders can help by sharing information and giving them guidance in fostering motivation in their children. Finally, leaders need to model lifelong learning and show that learning can be fulfilling for its own sake (Renchler, 1992).

This article by Renchler (1992) is a good summary of quality research in the field of leadership and motivation. It forces leaders to reflect on personal motivation and analyze how their motivational levels can affect students. It was interesting to see connections between restructuring and motivation. Oftentimes low student motivation is considered the student’s problem and detached from the school and the school administration; Renchler (1992) expands this perspective to include other factors normally overlooked. Readers begin to realize how important personal motivation and school culture is to student motivation. More of this type of analysis needs to be discussed when formulating restructuring plans and developing school goals and staff expectations.

Issues of student motivation and the effects of low motivation can be easily extrapolated to the dropout phenomena. Students who do not find success in school, tend not be motivated to participate in school activities; when given the opportunity these students will choose to leave school and dropout. Never before has it been so critical that leaders in Northern and Native schools make efforts to improve student and teacher motivation. Renchler (1992) emphasizes that improving needed motivation starts with actions and behaviours from the school leader.


Renchler, R. (1992). School leadership and student motivation. ERIC digest [On-line], 71. Available: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management, ED346558.