Motivational Interviewing For Students

By Sean McCormick, M. Ed.

Sean McCormick, M. Ed.
3 min readJul 28, 2021
Photo by Cristian Escobar on Unsplash

Here is a trick question — how do you get a student to do something? The answer is…you don’t! Rather, you encourage them to do so by a series of guided questions that help them arrive at the best course of action in a process otherwise known as motivational interviewing.

Everyday, I send text messages to each of my students to check-in with them about any missing or upcoming assignments. Usually, this interaction begins with a screenshot of anything I identified as missing or due that night, then a message along the lines of:

EF Coach: Hi (student name), I noticed this is missing. Do you plan on completing it tonight?

Student: Yes

99.9% of the time the student will respond “yes” to this question. That “yes” is your first victory and what is called a trial close in the world of sales and marketing. In this case, you are attempting to get the client to buy in to their own best interest. If you can get the student’s buy-in for that first question, you can get them to buy-in to starting on the assignment, finishing it, and sending you proof of doing so.

Once the student shares with you that they indeed plan on working on the assignment, your next step is to find out by what time they estimate they can finish it. Often, executive functioning challenges cause students to miscalculate how long things will take, but regardless, you want to be enthusiastic about their response.

EF Coach: Ok, great! What time do you think you can submit it by?

Student: 8pm

EF Coach: Wonderful! Will you send me an image of your submission at 8pm or an update if you need more time?

Student: Yes

Now you are on a roll! They’ve agreed to work on the missing assignment, they’ve given you a time by which they will finish it or update you, and you’ve got them open to the process. You’re next step is to stealthily sneak some executive functioning skills in that they can begin to use to enhance their follow through…

EF Coach: Would you mind sending me a screenshot of a reminder to text me at 8pm?

Student: Yes

EF Coach: Thanks

If you are like me, you may need to set a reminder for yourself to check-in with the student if they forget to get back to you. Hopefully, at 8pm, they send you a picture that looks something like this:

If not, repeat the steps, asking them when they think they can finish it by, or using your next session to work on it together if there is something that is preventing them from completing it independently. I use this process everyday and it works magic. Here is an example of the results you can expect:

Want to learn more? Visit my website, Executive Function Specialists.

Sean McCormick, M. Ed. | ET



Sean McCormick, M. Ed.

Sean McCormick, MS Ed. is a credentialed education specialist, educational therapist and an entrepreneur.