Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Motivating Teachers


Image Source Page: http://apeoplepath.com/motivation-daily-battle-your-mind/
 By far, my most popular post is the one I wrote about the three pillars that uphold a student-centered culture.  In that post, and on my "3 pillars" Prezi, I explain how communication, a growth mindset, and motivation help keep your school focused on student achievement.

That post was mostly written with students in mind, but as educational leaders, we also need to apply those same concepts to teachers.  In this post, I explore the motivation "pillar" from administration/teacher point of view.  As with the "3 pillars" post, I am using Daniel Pink's Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us as the basis for these thoughts.

Let's start by examining a few observations about the "work" involved in teaching.
  1. Teaching, as a job, requires one to use a wide range of skills.  It is not a factory job at which you do one task over and over again.
  2. Some of the tasks teachers perform are routine and do not require much in the way of higher order thinking.
  3. The task at hand should determine your motivation strategy.
  4. Educators, for the most part, are underpaid.  That makes an impact on their lives, and therefore, performance over time.
  5. In the absence of cash, what other "currency" is valued and available to distribute?
Teaching, as a job, requires one to use a wide range of skills. It is not a factory job at which you do one task over and over again.


Teaching, at least the model needed today, cannot be effective in a factory model.  Teachers must also bring a more artful approach to education.  Content knowledge, which was once the key ingredient to great teaching, is only one factor among many.  Effective teachers are flexible, imaginative, innovative, empathetic, and passionate.  These are not the qualities needed on an assembly line where following a detailed procedure of manufacturing is necessary (and also cheaper overseas!).

Therefore, motivating teachers must include clarifying their purpose (cause) and providing them the autonomy (independence) to develop mastery.  If the work of teachers was simply low level thinking and routine manual work, then financial incentives (bonuses, rewards for finishing a textbook unit, etc.) would be another effective alternative. 

Some of the tasks teachers perform are routine and do not require much in the way of higher order thinking.


I find that I am trying to motivate teachers more directly when the work in question is very routine.  For example, getting grades and comments done on time for report card publication.  These less "teaching" tasks are often the ones that drive administrators crazy - much more than any real issues in the classroom.  The issue here is that these tasks are, admittedly, boring and take teachers away from what they do best - TEACH.

Because these tasks are routine, the strategies used to motivate results need to align with the task.  In other words, these tasks generally fall in the category for which some external motivation may be helpful.  Autonomy may not be an option because the reports, for example, must be completed in a standard format.  In these situations, finding the appropriate "currency" desired by teachers can provide the needed motivation to get the job done well and on time.

The task at hand should determine your motivation strategy.


As I suggest above, awareness of the type of task you need to address will guide which type of motivation strategies you should consider.  Routine tasks usually improve with external motivators.  Higher level tasks involving creativity and innovation are supported best by autonomy, purpose, and mastery.
 
Educators, for the most part, are underpaid.  That makes an impact on their lives, and therefore, performance over time.
 
Here is what I believe:
 
Teachers are greatly appreciated.  That appreciation take many forms.  Most educators do not get paid a salary that allows them to not need to worry about paying the bills.  For what teachers provide for their communities and our nation, a higher standard of living is deserved and, in my opinion, has been earned.  Of course, I am an educator and maybe a little biased :), but that is what I believe.
 
The issue with motivation strategies is that because money cannot and hasn't been "taken off the table" it is always a concern.  This concern has an impact on the innovation, imagination, willingness to try new methods, etc.  Autonomy, purpose, and mastery will always be fighting against safety, compliance, and security when teachers are facing the tax collector and bills are due.
 
I am not implying that teachers need an outrageous salary that makes them completely free of financial concern.  What I am suggesting is that if teachers are thinking, "I need this job to pay the bills" more than they are thinking, "I need this job to fulfill my desire to teach and serve this community," then adjustments to salaries may be a good strategy to motivate teachers to be better at teaching the way we need them to in the 21st century.
 
In the absence of cash, what other "currency" is valued and available to distribute?


This final point is one I like because often schools, administrators, and educational leaders only focus on money as the "currency" by which to engage educators.  Finding other valuable commodities hidden throughout your school may provide simple, effective, and cheap alternatives to help motivate teachers.
 
In my experience, outside of money, teachers value time and space.  Look for ways to use both.
 
Here are a few "currencies" I have used to help motivate teachers.
  • Providing food and drinks at faculty meetings.
  • Taking teachers to lunch (or paying for their lunch with colleagues).
  • "Thank you" notes and emails.
  • Substitute teaching for them to give them time to grade papers, write comments, or observe other teachers.
  • Find better space for them to work outside of class (reserve space in library, give up my office, reserve an off-campus site).
In conclusion, motivating teachers requires an artful approach and an awareness of the types of work being done.  Having motivational strategies that align with the work is important.

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