Daniel Pink, author of When, as well as To Sell is Human penned a book a few years ago that touches specifically on school, learning, and why people do what they do.
The book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is written in a conversational style, much like the works of Malcolm Gladwell, Chip and Dan Heath, and others. Pink collects the data, studies the meta-analyses, and then shares the findings in graphs, stories, and explanations that guide one’s understanding of motivation.
Motivation, Pink suggests via the results of dozens of longitudinal studies , and how we respond to school as teachers OR students falls into three areas: Purpose, Autonomy, and Expertise.
As a practitioner and not a researcher, I found the premise to be highly applicable to teachers of most any variety. It begins with the absence of financial reward as a motivator, so that fits us well. Deeper, it suggests that people are motivated by doing what matters and helps others. Teachers are equally motivated intrinsically to do a good job and have expertise in what they do. Finally, if you have been an administrator for longer than five minutes you KNOW that teachers crave autonomy.
So here’s the problem: if Pink’s research and mine and your’s (yeah, you agree, you know you do!) anecdotal observations are correct, and that our teachers line up with Pink’s framework for motivation (Purpose, Autonomy, and Expertise) we have not been feeding their motivation in recent years.
EVEN PRIOR to the Pandemic, schools and systems have been on a long march towards standardization. On its face, that’s not a bad thing. But do remember that there are consequences for your actions and decisions. Some of those consequences are favorable; others not. What the move towards standardization has done is oppositional to Pink’s premise. Do teachers have more of less autonomy today than five years ago? Are they able to have pathways that allow them to reach and validate expertise? Are they more likely today than five years ago to be not only told what to do, but how to do it? Again, any of those efforts may have been well-intended, but there’s always fallout to be considered.
We talk A LOT about teacher shortage and the trickle of new teachers in our pipeline. School-level leaders are instructed to make efforts to retain teachers. Perhaps THAT’S one of the reasons for the interest in strict interpretations of student conduct issues. If we aren’t feeding our teacher’s motivation for purpose, not giving them the autonomy to create and solve things, and not appreciative of their mastery of their work, then it’s only natural that they are more likely to be bothered by things that otherwise might not seem as important.
People who have aspirations and are working on them regularly are less likely to be sidetracked by other things. Engage your teachers if you want to engage your students.