Monday, August 11, 2014


Daniel Pink's book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, has been increasingly noted in much of the literature I read. I finally have gotten around to this book that, although designed for more of the business world has interesting applications across education and all realms of life. His premise is that our motivational schema is flawed for twenty-first century living. In the beginning, mankind was solely motivated by survival. Then with the advent of the twentieth century we saw an upsurge in research and identification of what motivates people. Frederick Winslow Taylor and B.F. Skinner brought their ideas of rewards and punishment to increase likely behaviors- they motivate us. This brought on the education world's behavior management programs that I and many others were taught in our education programs. It has also resulted in pay for performance reforms in both the business and education worlds. (Interestingly enough, no legislator wants a pay for performance program for themselves, but they will legislate it for the teachers in their state.)

Pink describes what he calls Motivation 3.0 with the research of Edward Deci, Richard Flaste and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, among others. In this form, he describes what motivates us as Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. We need autonomy or choices to decide what, how, when, and where to do things (task, time, technique and team). Mastery is not the complete expertize of an item but the ability to work towards it in the state of flow (complete absorption of attention). Purpose is the why of doing something. The why needs to match something in us, not something in someone else. Motivate 3.0 is required for creative tasks. Routine tasks are improved by the motivational methods of classic behavior management (i.e. carrot and stick).

In some areas and in some aspects, education has latched on to these ideas. We talk about giving kids choices about what to do. We talk about knowing why we need to learn things. We talk about using methods kids enjoy, such as the computer or cell phone, to engage them. Yet, somehow we only skirt the fringes. The choice about what to do is not what to study, where to study or often even who to study with. We sometimes use the rationales of kids need to learn it because it is on the test, they need to understand it for later classes, or because it is in the book or the Common Core. We use technology often as merely a gimmick, underutilizing the powerful and expensive tools we insisted we needed in the classroom. We march them to a time honored, age-based, agrarian society schedule that has little to do with learning and much to do with the convenience and comfort of others.

How can education truly embrace some of these elements? First of all we need to recognize that some activities are truly routine tasks- anything with the standard related to fluency is probably related to routine tasks: math facts and decoding are likely to be incented by rewards after achieving mastery. More complicated activities that include terms like understand why and create are going to be concepts that need to be looked at from a Motivation 3.0 way. This does not mean that students can be allowed to not learn how to compare fractions, decimals and percents or what are the cause of the Civil War if they choose not to. It may mean that they get some choice in how they demonstrate understanding of these concepts or who they work with in groups or if they read the text, listen to a lecture or watch a movie with the same information. It may mean that when we give them time to work, they need long enough blocks of time to achieve flow- so much for our 42 minute periods. It may mean that we as teachers need to better understand the reasons why students might need to know the information today not at some ambiguous time in the future or for a test.

We know much of this because we work with students every day. They ask us why. They say they want choice in their group selection. They point out that they like to research on the computer, but may not like to type on the device. They share that they do not like to be interrupted to go to the next class because they have just gotten "into" the assignment. They show enjoyment or apathy at different methods of presentation. We need to listen to them when we design lessons.

What about how does this impact the profession of teaching. First is showcases how off base pay for performance or time in grade is toward increasing skills. If I know I need to achieve x to get a raise, I will stop at x. Similarly if all I need to do to get a raise is continue breathing and not abusing my students, I am not motivated to improve my skills. Second it means that we may need to explore alternative school times to meet the needs of both teachers and students. If we need to abide by the current times, what about changing when teachers need to be in school. Establish the critical at school time as time with students or at meetings and give teachers flexibility to come in early, leave late or work at home. Third we need to look at any attempts to script instruction and scrap them. We are professionals who need the flexibility to meet the needs of the kids who come to us with differing ability levels, interests and skills. Scripts benefit only those who cannot teach, and those people need to not be in the classroom. Next we need to look at the teams we put together. A third grade team may be necessary even if you have better friends in the fourth grade teachers. PLCs however should be self selected. When a school establishes a team to work on something, like a wellness plan, let teachers choose to participate based on who else is interested. Teachers get the idea of flow. We have all had a lesson that was going so wonderfully the end of the class was a disappointment. Perhaps we need more flexibility within our schedules. If the elementary kids are really going after the research on arctic animals perhaps that can intrude on the 90 minute dedicated ELA block. Perhaps the middle school team can each take a group on a series of days so that the social studies teacher can spend half a day working with small classes on mock trials without being told to leave at the bell. We might need to collaborate more and be less defensive of our time and space so that we can enhance the learning across the board, not just within the four walls of our classroom.

There are so many options. We need to start thinking outside the box in order to tap in to the Motivation 3.0 our children have so that they can work to excel in the creative and novel tasks we set before them. We need our employers to trust us enough to let us be flexible and do what is best for our kids and ourselves. We can do it.

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