Nurturing Motivation

What is Self-Determination Theory?

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is a theory of motivation. It is concerned with supporting our natural or intrinsic tendencies to behave in effective and healthy ways. The theory was initially developed by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, and has been elaborated and refined by scholars from many countries.

People are often moved by external factors such as reward systems, grades, evaluations, or the opinions they fear others might have of them. Yet just as frequently, people are motivated from within, by interests, curiosity, care or abiding values. SDT concerns the interplay between the extrinsic forces acting on persons and the intrinsic motives and needs inherent in human nature.

SDT begins with the assumption that people are active organisms, with evolved tendencies toward growing, mastering ambient challenges, and integrating new experiences into a coherent sense of self. These natural developmental tendencies do not, however, operate automatically, but depend on how social and cultural factors facilitate or undermine people’s sense of volition, initiative, well-being, and the quality of their performance.

Conditions in the social environment that support the individual’s need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are argued to foster the most volitional and high quality forms of motivation and engagement for activities. To the extent that these needs are ongoingly satisfied, people will develop and function effectively and experience wellness, but to the extent that they are thwarted, people more likely evidence ill-being and non-optimal functioning. The darker sides of human behavior and experience - such as certain types of psychopathology, prejudice, and aggression - are understood in terms of reactions to basic needs having been thwarted, either developmentally or proximally.

Research has applied SDT in many domains including education, organizations, sport and physical activity, religion, health and medicine, parenting, virtual environments and media, close relationships, and psychotherapy. On this page, we summarise research findings in the literature and translate them into practical suggestions for educators in various settings.

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Practical Tips for Nurturing Motivation

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Here are some practical tips for teachers to promote student engagement, including strategies for building strong teacher-student relationships, fostering autonomy, handling negativity, and using effective communication techniques in the classroom.

1. Do You Monitor Or Help Your Students?


2. How Do I Know if I'm Autonomy Supportive?


3. Complete Guide to Having Engaged Students in 6 Steps

  1. Be a Student Yourself
  2. Vitalize Students' Motivational Resources
  3. Why Should I Do It?
  4. How to Handle Students' Negativity
  5. Words to Use in Class
  6. Be Patient


4. Frustrated With Uncontrollable Students?

  1. What does teacher control look like? Why do you do it?
  2. Will giving up control motivate students?
  3. Teachers held responsible for students' performance are more controlling
  4. Differences between autonomy-supportive and controlling behaviours
  5. Be aware of not creating a controlling environment in the classroom!



5. How To Connect With Students

  1. Use the right kind of praise
  2. They don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care
  3. Provide a rationale for uninteresting lessons
  4. What can teachers do to connect with students and be autonomy supportive in the classroom?
  5. Be aware of not creating a controlling environment in the classroom!
  6. Effective ways of relating to students
  7. Acknowledging and accepting student resistance
  8. Motivate students by relating to them: The role of relatedness in academic engagement
  9. Establishing stronger teacher-student relationships



6. Get Motivated Students Now

  1. Competition may harm motivation
  2. How do you frame your instructions?
  3. Students can learn better by teaching others
  4. Motivated Teachers = Motivated Students
  5. Self-Determined Teachers = Self-Determined Students
  6. Why are students unmotivated? What can teachers and parents do about their instructions?
  7. The classroom environment plays a part in influencing students' motivation
  8. How your communication styles influence students' intrinsic motivation
  9. Enhancing intrinsic motivation by observing others who are intrinsically motivated



7. Why Should You Care?

  1. Why is autonomy important?
  2. Problems with linking students' performances to their worth as individuals
  3. An Interview with Carol Dweck, a Psychology Professor and leader in the field of Motivation and Education for Children
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Explore the relationship between emotions and the learning process, the impact of parental support on children's well-being and educational goals, as well as the drawbacks of using external motivators.