I asked recently why staff at our school love teaching. I got back some amazing responses as to their why of being a teacher. It is important, I feel, to ask this of staff from time to time. We should also ask them to tell their story of why they became a teacher. Many can share this with the same enthusiasm as they do when you ask them how they met their current partner. It is rehearsed as it was lived by them and can evoke great memories and feelings.
There are times, however, when we as teachers can forget why we do what we do. Think of those dark nights in December when we’ve been working non stop for a while and lesson after lesson brings with it new challenges, the marking pile gets ever bigger and more work is asked of you by your leaders. It is at those times we need to remind ourselves of our why!
What has interested me of late is the tremendous motivation that teachers have for the young people in our care. We will do anything to help, encourage and support them in their times of need. However, do we support teachers well enough in their time of need. Some teachers are often so overworked they suffer from burnout but this should never be the case. We must question why we do things? why must always ask.. does this add value to the learning and experiences of the young people.
When discussing burnout, stress and other factors that cause teachers to stay up late at night and miss days at work I came to the conclusion that maybe we don’t have, what Daniel Pink describes in his book “Drive” (2009) enough Type I teachers. In his book, released in 2009, he sets out a new vision for workplace motivation that he calls “Motivation 3.0”. He does so because he explains that we have moved on from “Motivation 1.0” (think our primitive responses for survival and “Motivation 2.0” (think of a culture of reward and punishment). Does judging teachers simply by their exam results from 30 pupils after 12 months of hard work with 300 pupils seem like a fair way to reward or punish them? Does this motivate staff to work even harder next year? Daniel Pink would argue that it doesn’t.
“Motivation 3.0” is described as intrinsic. motivation (or Type I). This is manifested when people are self-motivated and they are given the freedom to do the work they enjoy. In an environment which support this innovation and creativity are key and people are allowed to thrive by doing the work they love. Which brings me back to why you got into teaching in the first place? This should be the energy and driver to you being self motivated. Another reason why it is important to remind staff about this at regular intervals as I mentioned earlier.
Pink (2009) outlines the three key components of eliciting intrinsic motivation in your staff: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.
This is defined as the need to direct your own life or work. To be fully motivated you need to be able to control what you do, when you do it and who you do it with. It is difficult to offer all of this to teaching staff the children are timetable to you. Given this how many of you feel that you have the autonomy to do what you want and are given the space to think creatively with your classes. Yes, we have a curriculum to enact b ut teacher are the ‘curriculum makers’ who bring it to life. Through our Curriculum for Excellence Scottish Teachers have this opportunity and autonomy to deliver the Benchmarks in any way they like. I remember attending an event which empowered me to assess children using any of four criteria can they say it, make it, write it or do it.
Contrary to this are you forced to deliver lessons plans for you, do you have a rigid lesson structure you must follow or do you feel that you have no autonomy at all? The beauty of schools is that we come across a wide variety of ideas, styles and creativity. This should be harnesses and heralded for the great opportunity it is. If you are a school leader I want you to consider if your staff have the autonomy to teach how they want? of course, they have to report, monitor and track under, perhaps, a rigid system but how they get their should always be up to them and how they see the curriculum being enacted.
Now I’m not saying we can go all footloose on curriculum as children must learn to read, write, run, jump, throw, create, explain etc. But to be truly motivated as a teacher or in any line of work you must have some autonomy.
Mastery is defined simply as the desire to improve. If you are motivated by mastery, you’ll believe that your potential is unlimited and you’ll seek constant improvement. In schools e have a tremendous missed opportunity for improvement. Each other. How often do we feel isolated, like an island all on its own when teaching our classes. With the staffroom becoming slowly a thing of the past it is now even more important that we get out and watch others teach. We ask them why they chose that approach, why they moved that child there and why they used the language and tone they did with 2D. In any school there are 1000s of years of experience and we are very poor at sharing that experience and quick to judge others, even if we haven’t been in their rooms for more than 10 minutes. EduTwitter is a great place to share ideas but this community must be built in our schools as what we learn there directly impacts on our young people.
People may become demotivated and become disengaged if they understand or invest in the “bigger picture”.
Regardless of whether your school leadership, faculty head or mentor is good, bad or ineffective we should never stray from the big picture in education – the young people. It must always be for them and only them.
As I mentioned earlier always think back to why you became a teacher. It will serve you well, even in the worst of moments in your career.
With this knowledge in mind, how do we create teachers and schools that are full of intrinsically motivated staff. Try out the following ideas and let me know if they work in your context (note: they are all ideas from Daniel Pink’s book, it is worth a few hours of your time)
- Take steps to give up control – involve people in setting their own goals, reduce controlling language like “you must” or “you should” use terms like “consider doing” or “have a think about doing” and have open door hours when people CAN come and speak to you on matters arising.
- Give staff “Goldilocks Tasks” – these are tasks that are neither to hard or too easy but encourage focus and flow and encourage them to develop mastery.
- Always promote collaboration – make your school a place with a learning culture, think ‘when you open your doors and let others in, magic can happen’
What motivates others is a real interest of mine and of many teacher. The ideals discussed here can also be applied to the young people learning in your classrooms. Think about the past week and consider how much autonomy and purpose you gave the children. Where any of them in a state of flow? where they developing mastery skills? or were some of your tasks far too easy which results in boredom and challenging behaviour?
For me, I can think of at least 3 classes I had where the tasks I set were simply too easy. This happens for everyone but that is why I want to continually learn and develop mastery in my teaching craft.