Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us

I remember finding out I was pregnant. I was overjoyed; immediately thereafter I thought (gulp) What do I know about parenting? I hadn’t had much experience with babies or children. My parents weren’t good role models. I was going to have to figure this out and I had nine months to do research. I talked to a variety of people who had children—family and friends of all ages. Suddenly, parents and their children sprung out of every crevice. Examples of parenting flooded the streets, stores, movies and pop culture, parties. I noted the parenting styles I like and didn’t like everywhere I went. I took a child birthing and parenting class with my hospital. I read a handle of books on the topic. But after all, the best way for me to learn how to be a parent was to meet Devin and trust myself one day at a time.   

Daniel Pink identified the three things that motivate people (when money is taken out of the equation) as autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Obviously, money isn’t a motivator to become a parent. And, I was completely self-directed. It was even sometimes aggravating when people gave me and my son’s father unsolicited parenting advice. All three of these factors were present in my learning, but at different times. Mastery – I’m still motivated by mastery! I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve parenting mastery because thankfully the world, my son, and I are constantly changing. Purpose is inherent in wanting to be a great parent. I want the world to be an amazing place for Devin. I know he contributes to the world and the world contributes to him. A few months after he was born, I called him not just ours, but the World’s Baby. I don’t know if there is a greater purpose on earth than loving someone unconditionally and wanting the best for them.

Sadly, my co-teaching classroom and most classrooms, grades and fear of punishment are the major motivators, in addition to getting good grades to get into college. How can I add autonomy, mastery, and purpose to the classroom? Even more, how can I meet education standards, gain parental, administrator, and higher education support, and have autonomy, mastery, and purpose drive my classroom? Some established programs (typically available only to the wealthy via private school), like Montessori and Waldorf schools’ philosophies, are based on autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Not that they are perfect, there are issues with those philosophies and they too have grades and fear of punishment as motivation (specifically if a child needs more “structure” to stay on task). International Baccalaureate programs are few and far between, but are available at some public high schools. Colleges are just starting to accept IB students.

I say we start something new. Budget cuts and rote education where students sit for hours don’t work anymore. I say we leave the “overhead expenses” of the classroom, school, and administrative burden and release the teachers and students into the world and community. Increase the ratio of teachers to students; involve parents, local businesses, community, nature, environment, and the world in education. Meet in small, diverse groups. Give the students a combination of technology, group learning, and individual time. Let them work on their own schedule and passions autonomously. Help them experiment, practice, and find their purpose. Help them to gain true mastery from many people and situations – not just a handful of teachers and professors in artificial classroom environments. Free the teachers and students to be active, engaged, and accountable to each other and the world. This is my vision for education. My purpose as a teacher is to want the best for my students. My purpose is to help students gain autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I want every student to be the World’s Student.

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