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I recently watched a wonderful short video about how the Marines have started encouraging new recruits to develop self-motivation by breaking rules. It seems completely counter-intuitive doesn't it? After all, discipline and following orders have always been regarded as the trademarks of military life. However, what they discovered was that self-motivation was vital to individual success and well-being in the Marines. Research revealed that most successful Marines are self-motivated and have an "internal locus of control". People with an external locus of control believe that their lives are shaped primarily by events in the world around them whereas self-motivated individuals believe their decisions and actions will control their own destiny. The Marines felt that too many recruits hadn't ever practiced self-motivation. As a result, they're changing boot camp programs in an effort to teach recruits to develop an internal locus of control. Rather than blindly following orders, recruits are now required to constantly make decisions and take positive actions.
If there's one parallel between military and educational institutions it's that they both have top-down organizational architectures that have traditionally required following directions and staying in between the lines. However, self-motivation is a critically important skill in our modern era of change and we should be re-assessing the nature of our own K-12 "boot camps". Self-motivation isn't an innate quality that you're either born with or not. It's learned through constant practice and reinforcement. It requires a belief that we should embolden students to develop their own internal locus of control instead of constantly drumming into them that their lives are subject to external circumstances that are shaped by school administrators and teachers. Yes, it's still important for students to listen to the teacher but encouraging them to step outside the lines, make decisions, follow their passions and take control of their lives is something we can and should build into educational programs from an early age.