Saturday, June 27, 2015

Moving from manipulation to motivation

So, been up to my eyeballs in research for a graduate course: Foundations of Teacher Leadership.  The reading is interesting, but the writing and synthesis eat up all my spare(?) time.

Still, can’t help but tie the reading to my professional life since, well, it’s all about my professional life.

The fun part of research—I think—is following the trail of resources from one study to next, back in time, until you get a cohesive narrative in your head.

The narrative I have formed in my head goes something like this: 

Since about 1994 we have pretty clear evidence about how to create substantive change in schools resulting in student achievement. We have even developed and tested tools that can bring this sort of reform to scale. (see Coalition of Essential Schools, the National School Reform Faculty, the School Reform Initiative,  Institute for Educational Leadership)

It's clear that if there are to be huge gains in effective teaching there need to be two factors in place: strong leadership willing to both define the vision and adhere to it over time while a bottom-up strategy, where teachers work collaboratively to continually learn from and refine their practice, gets the time it needs to focus on attaining the vision.

Nearly all of the reading in the course is linked to the idea of lowercase teacher leadership.  In other words, the teachers lead school reform by keeping professional development close to a study of both their practice and student work with the goal of improving student achievement always at the forefront.  Effective schools are often described as “learning schools,” places where the adults are immersed in self-directed, continual learning.

Yeah. Since 1994. That would be 21 years ago.

Here’s another thing we know.  Tough “command and control” management will result in some gains, but only small ones.

One recent search led me to my friend Rick Wormeli who wrote the 2014 article “Motivating Young Adolescents” for Educational Leadership.  In it, Rick prompted my thinking when he offered a distinction between manipulating students and motivating them. 

Manipulation involves carrots and sticks: usually grades. And we all know we can get kids to “do stuff” if we offer the right carrot (better grade) or stick (a zero).  But the student is distracted by the carrot and becomes convinced that, having attained the carrot, he's gained something.  Worst case scenario (and this happens very often) the student decides he has no interest in the carrot and could care less about the stick.

Motivation, on the other hand, happens through “a classroom culture that cultivates curiosity and personal investment, one in which students feel safe to engage in the activity or topic without fear of embarrassment or rejection.” (Wormeli, 2014)  The outcome of this sort of impetus results in student-owned knowledge because the student has both initiated the question and found the answer.


So this classroom culture--where kids succeed--happens to mirror descriptions of the collaborative communities teachers need in order to create change in their practice.  The teacher community of learners should be inquiry-based, reflective, built on trust (where risk-taking can occur without fear of embarrassment or rejection), teacher-led, and focused on student learning and teaching. 

You know, kind of the same things kids need in order to thrive.

Stuff runs downhill people.  We need everybody in the building working to create their own knowledge.

But what have we had instead? Carrots, sticks, manipulation.

And what have we gotten?  Not much.

In keeping with my current focus, you get the APA approved citation:

Wormeli, Rick (2014). Motivating Young Adolescents. Educational Leadership. September, pp. 26-31.