So on my drive home from Taos, I started listening to a book recommended to me by my friend Carrie Norris, who is also a teacher. The book is called “Drive” by Daniel Pink and I had to physically restrain myself from picking up my janky, 1982 Blackberry and calling everyone I know to tell them about what I was hearing. This book is about motivation, hence the title, “Drive.” Though written primarily for a business audience, the connections to educational settings are endless.
Pink talks about how our traditional societal views of motivation are outdated. Prior to the industrial revolution, motivation was purely linked to survival and people’s actions were all in the name of satisfying basic needs. As our society became industrialized, and basic needs were being met, motivation became more related to extrinsic rewards/punishments like a salary, a boss micromanaging your every move, or fear of job loss. Eventually, extrinsic rewards/punishments became things like bonuses, commissions, and sales incentives, and I would think, in an educational setting, we saw the advent of letter grades and office referrals.
He equated these different types of motivation to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (which we’ve all discussed frequently in pre-service teacher programs and don’t even get me started on grad school!). In the beginning, the survival motivation was like the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy. However, as we’ve developed as a society, we’ve moved up that pyramid, and we are now in the “self-actualizing” top portion. Because of this, Pink argues, the extrinsic reward/punishment motivation is no longer applicable in businesses and schools. The research has found that extrinsic motivators might work marginally in the very short-term, but over time, are ineffective. This sure is interesting when you consider schools are basically set up on an entire system of punishments and rewards- and mostly punishments when you really think about it.
The tasks that we are now asked to do in many jobs are not algorithmic tasks that simply require a pattern of repeated behaviors. For most of Western society’s large corporations, these tasks are the ones that have been outsourced. The modern workforce requires creativity and innovation and the research that Pink cites claims that our outdated extrinsic motivators actually stifle and dampen a person’s creative abilities and that we need to have a societal business/educational shift into intrinsic motivators. It is interesting to me that businesses require all of this creative thinking/tasks (Pink calls these "heuristic" tasks) and that in schools, we are still asking kids to do a lot of rote learning and trivial tasks. This idea is what really got me thinking about how this relates to classrooms and schools.
What kind of motivational strategies do we employ as individual teachers and as whole schools? Are they extrinsic or intrinsic motivators? I started to think about all the rewards and punishments that we dole out daily- if the research says these are not really effective, why are they so pervasive in schools? Parts of Positive Behavior Support programs are all about extrinsic rewards- prizes, prizes, prizes- but do these really change behavior? Daniel Pink and the research he cites would say no. I know at our school, we saw a downturn in issues when we implemented PBS, but was this due more to the fact that we so specifically taught expectations? Or, was it the prizes? When we say a kid who has a referral cannot go on a field trip, have we really motivated that kid to change their behavior for the future? When a kid continuously gets poor grades, are they suddenly going to turn it around because of a letter on a piece of paper? Doubtful.
I’ve got a lot more to say and think about this- do I smell a doctoral dissertation possibility? I’m not done with the book and will likely have to buy a print version of it too because I am having a hard time driving and taking notes like the total nerd I am. I will write more as I hear more of the book but I just have all of these ideas running through my head and instead of tormenting people by calling them, I thought I’d give everyone a choice of hearing my thoughts or not. Incidentally, choice is one of the main ways that people can become motivated intrinsically. Make it a great day or not- the CHOICE is yours.
Video synopsis of "Drive" is posted on the side!