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Teacher’s latest book focuses on motivation in education

Author/instructor’s writings aim to support both teachers and students

Editor’s note: In 2012, Cedar Springs High School teacher Dave Stuart Jr. started an education blog that led to several books and speaking engagements all over the U.S. and beyond. School News Network wrote about Stuart when his second book was published in 2018. For SNN’s 10th anniversary, we checked back in with Stuart following the release of his most recent work.

Cedar Springs — Whether he’s teaching, writing or consulting, Dave Stuart Jr. is all about helping students and educators flourish.

The ninth-grade world history teacher at Cedar Springs High School is a published author and educational consultant. In 2023 he released his third and most recent book, “The Will to Learn,” a collection of ways to instill a sense of self-motivation in students.

Stuart said committing his thoughts and ideas to paper is the best way to wrap his head around and contextualize complex concepts.

“I’m a person that learns through writing,” he said. “Writing helps me to quickly understand what I don’t know, and motivates me to figure it out.”

For more than a decade he’s been using writing as a conduit to pass that understanding along to others.

Dave Stuart addresses his ninth-grade AP World History class at Cedar Springs High School

A Multi-year Journey

It all started with a blog, launched in 2012, which led to more long-form projects as well as speaking engagements at schools all over the world.

Stuart’s first book, an instructional manual titled “A Non-Freaked Out Guide to Teaching the Common Core,” was released in 2014. From there, he set his sights on improving the landscape of instruction in general.

“I started to get way more fundamental,” Stuart said. “What does good instruction look like across the secondary school day? How can we improve the school experience for kids in all of their classes? That started to be my obsession.”

His second book, “These 6 Things,” released in 2018, dove into key areas for helping teachers excel: motivation, knowledge-building, argument, reading, writing and speaking. 

With “The Will to Learn,” Stuart drilled down even further to focus specifically on motivation, which he said is an important topic across the board. The book touches on the key beliefs needed to address motivation in the classroom, offers up methods for cultivating the right kind of motivation in students, and provides recommendations for how to overcome obstacles along the way.

Cedar Springs High School teacher Dave Stuart has written three books in the last 10 years

Stuart said he’s seen evidence of a lack of student motivation at schools of all stripes.

“A broad problem is that students struggle to want to learn, to want to do what we do in school,” he said. “That’s true in affluent schools, that’s true in under-resourced locations. There’s just a common struggle that students have to want to be there, to want to be doing that work.”

Stuart said there are lots of misconceptions about what effective motivation means. Students motivated only by grades could be setting themselves up for a “crisis” later on, even if they’re achieving those grades at the moment.

“It’s not a state of high motivation to have a student turn in all their work just because they’re afraid of the grade,” he said. “At some point in their life, eventually, they’ll meet a class that’s too hard for them, and they’ll start to get bad grades. 

“Now what do you do? If you get a bunch of bad grades and that’s all that’s motivated you so far, how do you overcome that?”

The answer is within reach, Stuart said. As he states on his website, “every student wants to want to learn.” For teachers, it’s just a matter of stoking that curiosity in their pupils.

‘I’m a person that learns through writing. Writing helps me to quickly understand what I don’t know, and motivates me to figure it out.’

— Cedar Springs High School teacher Dave Stuart

‘Something Worth Believing In’

Teachers have the power to change students’ attitudes, Stuart said, but in order to counteract waning student motivation, they have to avoid becoming complacent.

“There’s a lot that goes into being a good teacher. It’s a very hard job,” Stuart said. “A lot of teachers are under-supported, they’re underprepared, they struggle to be good at their jobs and that affects students’ faith in the system.”

But, he said, good teachers are everywhere, and so is the potential for them to become great.

“There are earnest and effective teachers all over the place, so a lot of my work is trying to figure out what are the simplest ways to be a teacher, to be effective,” he said. “To make school … something worth believing in, something a kid can feel good about. That’s really what my work is about.”

Dave Stuart teaches history at Cedar Springs High School

Classroom Application

Students Blakelynn Friskey and Tristan See, both freshmen, said Stuart approaches his work in the classroom with the same level of earnestness and passion that he brings to his books. 

Blakelynn said Stuart has a way about him that makes AP World History a bit less daunting.

“Every freshman comes in so scared to take a college class your first year of high school, and he’s just very chill about it but he’s also very serious,” she said. “He just teaches so well. He’ll motivate us and give random speeches out of nowhere. … He’s just a really good guy.”

Tristan said Stuart is an exceptionally effective teacher with a knack for relating to students.

“He just has a way of making you remember what you learn,” Tristan said. “He always motivates us to give our best. … He’s very, very good at connecting with the students and always pleasant to be around. It’s a class that I think everyone looks forward to.”

In the years since he first launched his blog, Stuart’s consulting business has taken off and he’s become an in-demand speaker. He said he has no plans to stop teaching, though.

World history teacher Dave Stuart (courtesy)

He said many of his colleagues who’ve written books on education have gone on to leave the field to start professional development companies, but Stuart said that’s “just not interesting” to him.

“I’m very happy teaching; I’m very happy writing,” he said. “It’s a personal preference.”

Read more from Cedar Springs: 
Finding the right vision: High-schoolers create commercials for area businesses
Educators and business leaders team up to help build school-to-work pipeline

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Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley is a reporter covering Cedar Springs, Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids and Sparta school districts. An award-winning journalist, Riley spent eight years with the Ludington Daily News, reporting, copy editing, paginating and acting as editor for its weekly entertainment section. He also contributed to LDN’s sister publications, Oceana’s Herald-Journal and the White Lake Beacon. His reporting on issues in education and government has earned accolades from the Michigan Press Association and Michigan Associated Press Media Editors. Riley’s early work in journalism included a stint as an on-air news reporter for WMOM Radio, and work on the editorial staff of various student publications. Riley is a graduate of Grand Valley State University. He originally hails from western Washington.


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