Sunday, August 30, 2009

What Motivates Us? Greer's Own Race to the Top

I wish some people would watch Dan Pink's recent presentation on motivation on Ted Talks website.  Who?  Policy makers for one, from my own school division all the way to Arne Duncan's office, or anyone who wants to incentivize teacher and principal performance in the hope of more accountability, better results, and more innovation.

Dan Pink lays out the case simply.  Incentives do help us perform simple tasks in a more effective manner.  The more complex the task or job becomes, incentives actually begin to have a negative impact on innovation, problem solving, and creativity.  Do these policy makers see teaching and leading as simple tasks or complex ones?  Hmm, makes you wonder.

What does help improve motivation?

Autonomy: The urge to direct our own lives.
Mastery: The desire to get better at something that matters.
Purpose: The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Race to the top federal funds and our own school system are looking for ways to improve teacher performance through incentives and more accountability.  Why don't we look for ways to increase autonomy, mastery, and purpose in our schools?  And yes, I do realize that true autonomy does not mean you just do whatever you want.  The reason we do not is that there is no trust, or there are very low levels of it in the education world.  Many studies show that one of the most important indicators of school improvement is the high level of trust in a school building.

Why don't we commit to expanding trust in our schools?  I have written in the past about expanding the amount of time that teachers, teams, and schools have to plan quality instruction and experiences for students.  Why do we never look to improve professional time?  Because for the most part educators are not trusted by policy makers to use that time wisely.  All of our actions should have a sense of purpose at their foundation and that is where our focus should be.

The notion of motivation leads me to a great article in the Sunday NYtimes about one teacher implementing Reader's Workshop in a middle school.  Reader's workshop allows students more autonomy, choice, mastery, and probably a sense of purpose.  The article is very realistic though.  Many of the students, especially the boys, were not motivated by the new instruction technique.  Was it because they had been in school for eight years already and had never experience this kind of instruction?  I don't know, but I do know we need to begin to implement these kinds of strategies in our schools with kids and adults too.

Greer is going to learn about Reader's workshop this year in our relationship with Expeditionary Learning.  We are trying to increase levels of trust and collaboration among adults in our school.  

I have decided that it is our own "Race to the Top".  I just wish people making policy had spent time in successful schools that try to improve the conditions of students and adults through trust.

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