Saturday, August 31, 2013

Making the Grade?

Lately I have been reading "Drive" by Daniel Pink. The book focuses on what motivates people and how this has an effect on how productive they are. The automatic assumption is that people who have more money as an incentive, will be more productive. In other words, if you offer someone a bonus to be more productive, they will in turn yield higher results. This seems logical and we can probably cite many cases where this is true. However, research show that there is one missing ingredient here: passion for the job and feeling like what you are doing is important. Without these, studies show that people are less productive even when given a financial incentive.

One of the best examples that Pink talks about in his book is Wikipedia. Microsoft spent an exuberant amount of money, time, and resources developing "Encarta," their digital encyclopedia. They had experts in all fields contribute and had paid programmers working tirelessly to perfect it. However, just when it seemed that Encarta would "hit its stride" along came something called Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a site that is home to information on any topic imaginable from sports to trees. Is is free to the public and the people who write each page do not get compensated. In 1995, if you told someone that the popularity and effectiveness of Wikipedia would dismantle "Encarta"and help start the free sharing revolution that has happened today, they would not believe you. The same goes for the many websites and programs that followed in its footsteps.

This example is the perfect connection to the concept that people must be intrinsically motivated by what they are doing, to operate at their full potential. To find companies that are using this research to improve their production, you need look no further than Google. Daniel Pink talks about this in "Drive." Google gave its employees what they call "20% time." This was a time period where they are able stop working on day to day projects and focus on projects that are creatively inspiring to them and could be used by the company. In other words, its a time for employees to be passionate and explore their creative side, while potentially helping the company through invention. And it did. This was the birthplace of gmail and google maps, among many others. Google employees felt like what they were doing was meaningful, so they were more productive as a result.

So how does this relate to our students and teachers? Well the connection is easy. We have all been in classrooms whether it be as a student or a teacher. Likewise, we have all seen the variety of students that sit in each class. So we know that not all students are motivated by the grade. You can have two kids who respond completely different to an F. One student may nearly pass out for fear of their parent's reaction, while the other will think nothing of it. As teachers and schools, we must realize this and in the words of Mike Niehoff, "transcend the grade."

We need to provide opportunities for our students to be creative and use their talents. We need our advanced students to work to their own high set of standards rather than just enough to get the A grade. We need students to have the kind of relationship with their teacher that makes them strive to make the teacher proud. We need a classroom environment where students are motivated to be successful despite the letter on their report card. We need kids to feel that what they are doing is relevant and meaningful. This is sometimes a very difficult task, but one we must pursue. I can look at students at our school and point out concrete evidence of success without knowing their current GPA. That doesn't mean that GPA doesn't matter. In fact GPA should be taken seriously by all teachers and students. It just means that GPA isn't the only thing that matters.

Rigor should never be compromised. In my opinion, ideas like 20% time, make a rigorous environment more likely. If we teach kids to work hard for an A, some will do that. If we teach kids to work hard and find meaning in life, that will stick with them for a lifetime. Leading is Teaching.

“Greatness and nearsightedness are incompatible. Meaningful achievement depends on lifting one's sights and pushing toward the horizon.”
-Daniel Pink

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