What are we doing so that a teacher says “I can’t wait to go to school,” and what are we doing so that a student says “I can’t wait to go to school?”
There. That’s the question that no one asks in education. I can’t stand it when I read something called “The One Question That…” or “The Biggest Problem With…” where you then have to dig into the article to find out exactly what that one thing is. Living in these hypertechnological times has taken away whatever attention span I have.
So there it is, that one question. No one asks it. It’s a shame no one does.
I’m thinking about this because I’m reading this book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” Like a whole of these books about how to change a work culture, it’s basically one idea spread out over several hundred pages. I am enjoying these several hundred pages a whole lot.
This is a blog entry, though, so I don’t have several hundred pages. And I seek to provide questions when I say they’re important (as I did at the beginning of this entry). I also seek to outline a big idea if I say that it’s a profound idea from a book I’m reading (that spends 270 pages going over this big idea).
Okay, the big idea is this.
Way back when we started walking upright, the world had a big external motivator: eat (so as not to starve) and get busy (so that there would be more of us). It helped that eating and getting busy feel physically good. So we did that.
That, according to the book’s author, Daniel Pink, was Motivation 1.0.
Then we developed civilizations, and there were problems with that whole simple motivation system. Someone could just kill someone else and take their food and significant other. So we developed a more sophisticated system of societal external motivators.
In other words: instead of nature saying “do this because it’ll feel good and allow to to thrive, and do these other things so that you don’t die,” society kind of became nature, and said “do this and you’ll be rewarded, and do these other things so that you’ll avoid punishment.”
And this worked.
This was Motivation 2.0.
It’s not working well these days.
For a number of reasons (remember, this book is almost 300 pages long, and I’m paring it down to a couple of hundred words), carrots on sticks to reward people and cattle prods to punish people don’t work that well for sophisticated tasks. So how do you motivate people?
The answer is: you help them find the inherent, intrinsic reward in doing something.
What the book goes into is the interesting fact that there are plenty of times that we do things without any expectation of praise or money, and without the slightest thought about how we may be avoiding a consequence by doing that thing. We all know this feeling, and it’s magical. All of us can remember a time that we did something just because…it was really rewarding to do it.
This is not the same as something that just feels good in the most basic way. It’s not as simple as food or sex or drugs.
I can give an example from my life. Many years ago, I took a filmmaking class at The New York Film Academy. This was back when people actually made films with, you know, film.
Anyway, I had shot my final film, and I needed to edit it. If you haven’t edited a film…it takes forever. My film was maybe five minutes long, and I arrived at in the editing room at about nine in the morning.
I stayed there until fivein the morning the following day. In other words, I was there for twenty straight hours.
I’ll never forget that. I wasn’t getting any money. There were no primal rewards for what I was doing. I know it’s crude to say this, but there it is: I wasn’t going to get any sex or food from doing this.
In other words, there was no external motivator of any kind.
But I just kept doing it. Because it was just such a rewarding feeling.
“Fun” is too lightweight a word for what it felt like. Yes, it was fun…but it was more than that. It was as if some higher part of me was getting much needed nourishment.
We’ve all felt this feeling. We’re in a middle of a task, and we just don’t want to stop doing it. We say “just a minute,” because we’re so wrapped up in it, and suddenly hours have gone by.
You guessed it: this is Motivation 3.0.
…and it’s really, really tough to find it schools these days.
Yes, there are suggestions for teacher rewards, and most of these suggestions stop at the most basic of external rewards. In other words: give teachers merit pay. For students, there are external rewards galore: grades; praise; prizes.
As for punishment...boy, is there punishment. Whenever someone says teachers need to be held accountable, you can be sure that this person means that we need more ways to punish teachers for underperforming. So there are more of those these days, and always a call for even more of them.
And though people say that students and parents aren’t perhaps being held as accountable as they should (read: punished), the general philosophy behind these criticisms are the same: we need more cattle prods.
But once again: we don’t ask what we can do so that these groups can just enjoy what they’re doing more.
The response among people when I mention this is puzzling. Many times, people sort of roll their eyes and say “oh, so now we’re supposed to find ways to make teachers happy? What more do you want to give them? We pay them enough already. If they can’t find satisfaction in their jobs, they should quit. Now if you really want to know what we need to do with those teachers…we need to hold them more accountable.”
It’s even more puzzling when I discuss this with educational administrators. Often they just sort of nod, put what I said out of their mind, and then just keep talking as if I didn’t say anything.
Yet there are more and more standardized tests, which are kind of the ultimate cattle prod. To balance this out, we get the same Motivation 2.0 suggestions, like parties for schools that do well on standardized tests, and merit pay for teachers whose students do well on these tests (and consequences when their students don’t).
To be fair, I’m reading this book because my principal offered it as a choice for a faculty summer reading initiative. It has been rewarding, and I’m just reading it because…well, because it’s rewarding.
If only more of school could be this way, both for students and teachers.