Monday, November 15, 2010

Pink and Teacher Motivation

I've completed reading Daniel Pink's, Drive, an inside look at what motivates people to perform.  His thesis is essentially that we are all motivated to perform if given the right combination of autonomy and purpose to complete a task.   On the other hand, he argues that extrinsic motivators often accomplish the opposite of their purpose, especially when the task is complex and requires creativity.   Rather than motivate, extrinsic "carrots" can narrow our focus, and turn enjoyable tasks into a job that we are unmotivated to perform.   Pink does a good job- and I believe much of what he says.   Allow teachers automony, provide them with a sense of purpose, and you are more likely to create a master teacher.   Agree or disagree- this book should probably be required reading for anyone considering new evaluation systems and pay scales based on teacher quality.

However, one statement got me thinking about teaching- and the seniority system of pay that currently dominates the field.   A system where the longer you teach, the more money you earn in a single year.  Pink asserts the following:

Of course, the starting point of any discussion of motivation in the workplace is a simple fact of life: People have to earn a living.   Salary, contract payments, some benefits, a few perks are what I call "baseline rewards."  If someone's baseline rewards aren't adequate or equitable, her focus will be on the unfairness of her situation and the anxiety of her circumstance.   You'll get neither the predictability of extrenisic motivation or the weirdness of instrinsic motivation.   You'll get very little motivation at all.

But once we're past that threshold, the carrots and sticks can achieve precisely the opposite of their intended aims.   Mechnaism designed to increase motiviation can dampen it.   Tactics aimed at boosting creativity reduce it.   Programs to promote good deeds can make them disappear.  
My question is whether or not our current system of pay  meets the requirement of  "fairness" Pink asserts is a prerequiste of  what he calls, motivation 2.0.   A system that does not reward increased responsibility by paying more,  but instead punishes it by increasing your workload.   A system that rewards teachers who take jobs as coaches- often at the expense of missing meetings required by those teachers who do not coach.   A system that says if you would like more money- you should leave your job early and find something else to do.   This does not seem like a "fair" system to me- and it leads me to wonder, "what type of teacher would find it fair?"   Is it a teacher who is not interested in leadership or responsibility?   Is it a teacher who has always wanted to coach athletics?   And which type of teachers leave the profession, or never enter the profession, because this is the type of pay structure that exists?

Maryland teacher's unions, and especially my own union, MCEA, are currently fighting tooth and nail to prevent a new evaluation system that would base 50% of that evaluation on student achievement data.   This new evaluation system proposed by the Maryland State Department of Education  is not likely to fix our educational problems.  It is replete with problems just like our current system.

However, if teachers, and the unions that represent them, were more proactive in addressing the failures of pay systems created more than thirty years ago, you wouldn't have politicians and state school boards trying to mandate changes to local school districts.   If we had teacher-leaders brain storming and researching in an effort to create pay scales based on leadership and responsiblity, instead of rewarding those who do just enough to get by, then perhaps we'd all be happy.   Perhaps we'd transform our schools and our profession.  And perhaps my union wouldn't  have to spend time defending our current broken evaluation system, from another, equally broken system proposed by politicians.

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