Friday, October 21, 2016

What Really Motivates Us?

A few years ago I had the opportunity to listen to Daniel Pink speak at a conference  about his research and at that time his recently published book A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future.  I walked away thinking that it was one of the best presentations I had ever heard, inspired to purchase his book to learn more about the role of creativity and how it would shape education, business, and industry.  The book did not disappoint and it served as a source of a lot of my fundamental beliefs that I hold today.

Four years after A Whole New Mind, Pink published a book that had even further reaching influence.  Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us has unlocked the key to how people perform at a high level and at the same time experience a great deal of satisfaction in all aspects of their life: work, school, and home.  What Pink discloses is that all of us have a deep, innate need to direct and be in control of our own life, as well as to create things.  Each of use has a strong desire to do better by ourselves and our world.

Pink, a lawyer by education with experience as an aid to former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and chief speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore, initially started writing about the changing workplace a number of years ago.  He relies on meta-analysis designed research and quickly started applying his findings to education as well.  In Drive, Pink shares that there has been a disconnect between what science knows and how business/education has used to motivate employees/students.  

For years business and schools, and for that matter, parents, have sought to motivate employees, students, and children through the carrot or stick philosophy.  A sweeter carrot or sharper stick would bring about the outcome that was desired.  The most common example in business are pay for performance and in education, typical grading programs.  According to Pink, that is a 20th-century mindset that does not work today.  He has supporters that share the same opinion.  A study conducted by the London School of Economics resulted in the finding “that financial incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance.”  The London School of Economics is home to a dozen Nobel Prize winners for economics.  In essence, the systems used in business and many schools are based “more on folklore than science,” and simply do not work.  According to these studies, the extrinsic systems of the past need to be replace by systems that place an emphasis on intrinsic motivation.  Rewards narrow one’s focus, and in today’s world we need workers that widen it.

In school we have students there are motivated by the carrot, in our case, grades.  But that is a very small percentage of students, and even for those “grade-chasers,” straight A’s do not always result in a high level of learning.  For some, the grade is an inaccurate measure of performance because of the system that is in place, and students find at the next level that they were more focused on the reward than the learning.  Shifting from an extrinsic system where an emphasis on grade rewards to one based on learning is at the focal point of our standards based grading program that we are moving toward.

Pink states that there are three elements of “true motivation” that should be put into action.  They are: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  In Drive he shares about successful companies that have employed these and have become more productive and successful.  Autonomy is control over one’s life and is prominent in businesses and schools that become high performing.  When students have control over their education through choice and personal accountability, the depth of their ownership in their own learning increases.

The desire to get better at something is how Pink defines mastery and is at the core of standards based learning.  In the system we are moving toward, mastery of specific content knowledge and skills, and the ability to demonstrate that, is the goal for every student. When students master something, there becomes a strong internal sense of accomplishment, especially when one is able to do something they did not believe they could do.

Perhaps the third, purpose, is the one that we have done the poorest job of using in school and business.  Purpose is to do something that is important beyond ourselves.  Today our schools are full of young, “me-focused” teenagers, and the millennials that have entered the labor force tend to be very self-centered.  However, they very much want more, and are very motivated by opportunities to impact others when given the opportunity.  They want to make a difference in the lives of others.  We need to give them that opportunity.

In the business world employers still have to pay workers adequately and fairly, but those who have given employees a day each week to go off and work on something they really want are finding invaluable rewards.  At Google, 20% of a workers time is spent working on anything they want and the result has been a number of new products that Google has developed and put on the market.  We have a couple teachers experimenting with what is commonly called “genius time” where students are able to work on anything they want and direct their own learning.  In addition to providing purpose, this learning is self-directed and often results in a very high level of learning.

Pink has given us the tools to improve how we teach and motive students.  Now we must have the “drive” to do so!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Why Do You Do That?

There is no way I can begin to estimate how many times people have asked my why I choose to be a high school principal.  Either that, or they say something along the line of “There is no way I would ever do that!”  Yes, it is a tough job and there are certainly those days when I go home at night exhausted and with some form of negative emotion, perhaps anger or disappointment, but most often, frustration.  But, I am not a stupid man — stubborn, but not stupid — and I would not keep doing this if the negatives outweighed the positives.  There are many more days that give me positive satisfaction than the tough ones, and I do subscribe to the philosophy of “if you enjoy what you do then you will never work a day in your life,” though this job is a lot of work!  What people who are not in the school building day in, day out do not know, is that every day is different and there are incredible things that happen that more often than not bring me great joy!  

So what are those things that bring me great joy?  The list could go on and on, but here are a few.  I love watching happy people.  Sometimes without even knowing what is going on, I get a smile on my face and a good feeling in my soul watching kids being happy.  It may be a girl running up to a friend with a skip in her step, a huge smile on her face and wide-eyed, to share some important news.  Who knows, and who cares what the news was! They are excited and you can’t help but crack a smile yourself.  Suffice to say, being in the presence of happy people makes the day go better, and a day doesn’t go by when you don’t see some of this.

I love seeing a student’s eyes light up when they “get it” or when they have a chance to talk about something they are passionate about, or when they hear some unexpected good news.  When any of these things happen I get a warm feeling in my stomach, and sometimes I have even gotten a lump in my throat.  In regard to passion, in recent years nothing has brought that to the surface with students as much as the Capstone project.  To watch and listen to a young man talk about fly fishing, and another about bass fishing was actually moving.  Or when a young lady produced a style show of prom dresses over the decades and headed off to college to study fashion and design.  Passion is hard to  disguise and is contagious.

It is really cool when a student takes a moment to go out of their way to share about something big that has happened to them.  This is far better than parents bragging up their child because when you hear it from the kid you know it is important to them. Of course you have to love humility, but when a student comes up with a look of pride and shares that she was accepted to her first college choice, that is memorable.  Or when you receive word through ACT that five students in the class scored 30 or better on the test, you just can describe the feeling you have.  

After sticking around for an extra day to finish up some work, a senior in the Class of 2016 got his check out sheet signed by Mr. Clark and as he walked down the hall to turn it in to Robin Albert, he raised both arms above his head and yelled a loud “Whoo-hoo!”  Making it all the more enjoyable to see and hear is that this particular young many was one of the softest spoken members of the class.  I had a few conversations with him over the past year, but he was far from a talker!  I loved that response because school has not been easy for him.

Another very important memory took place a few years ago at graduation when a student who has overcome incredible obstacles in her life, coming to this country from a life lived in what we consider primitive conditions surrounded by a lawless environment with gun toting criminals, was something I certainly could not identify with.  The first female in her family to earn a high school diploma, and since, to go on to college.  On that graduation day after the ceremony the small family was gathered outside and as I walked by I made eye contact, smiled, and nodded at the group on my way to my car.  As I opened the door I felt a tap on my shoulder and one of the family members asked me if I would join the young lady and her family in a photo to mark the accomplishment.  I was honored to be included and it is one of my favorite moments of my life!  

I have been at this teaching and principal gig for 30 years now, and the number of these types of things are far too numerous to count.  And, I have forgotten more than I remember!  Watching great teachers teach is another joy that I have.  There is no question that there are times in the classroom that are pure magic, when the preparation of the teacher leads to an outstanding learning experience for the students.  Just as important are the incredible things that teachers do that impact students, both in and out of the classroom.  One of those on the list is the complete 180-degree turn taken in a relationship between one of our teachers and a student from 7th grade through the student’s junior year.  It would be safe to say that a few years ago the student and parents did not like or have an ounce of respect for the teacher, as was displayed during meetings, phone calls, and email communication.  What has happened since, while not a miracle, is certainly one of the best examples of people treating each other with respect and putting the past behind them.  While the student has faced a number of struggles, this teacher has been there for him every inch of the way.  While it may be one of the most extreme turn of events, it is not unusual that when students mature and are given more than a couple of chances, sometimes the incredible happens.  I get a great deal of satisfaction when the incredible happens, but also when those little things like getting a student with a sad look on their face smile when you say “Hello!"

Saturday, October 1, 2016

This Dad Sent Back His Kids Trophies: I Agree With Him

I am not a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, but as a football fan, I have tremendous respect for the organization.  Since I was a young fan during the Terry Bradshaw and Steel Curtain era, the Steelers have played the game at a very high level and have been one of the most respect organizations in professional sports.  The Steelers have always been known for a ferocious defense that usually had at least one or two very aggressive hitters.  One of those in the not too distant past was James Harrison.  Harrison had a very successful professional career and I can visualize a number of punishing hits he dished out on the playing field.  Yet it is not something that he did on the field that has drawn my attention to him.  It’s not even something he did as a linebacker.  This article is all about something he did as a dad.  What did he do?  When his sons came home with some really cool looking participation trophies, he sent them back!

When Harrison played, he had to earn everything he ever achieved as an N.F.L. linebacker.  No one gave him trophies for showing up.  He was an underrated free agent out of Kent State University.  These guys don’t get big contracts or signing bonuses.  They are kind of like walk-ons at college.  They have to fight and scrap to get on the field and grab the attention of their coaches in those brutal summer N.F.L. training camps.  Harrison did that and eventually became a five-time Pro Bowl player that earned two Super Bowl rings.  Nothing was ever given to James Harrison, and he wasn’t going to stand for anything to be given to his sons.  If his sons were going to receive a trophy, they were going to earn them like he and his teammates earned those Super Bowl rings.

Don’t get confused that this is about win at all costs.  There is nothing to suggest that Harrison had that kind of an attitude when it came to his sons and their participation in youth sports.  He may have very well had that attitude for himself as a professional football player, but there is nothing to suggest this was his attitude toward his sons.  No, his attitude is one that I wish more parents had when it comes to raising their children: Nothing is given to you.  You have to earn it.  I have bemoaned what I have seen as a ridiculous practice in one of my favorite sports, wrestling, that I have seen develop over the years, and I believe has had a detrimental effect on the sport.  In youth wrestling in Iowa and I would guess other places, most youth tournaments have been turned into fundraisers for high school teams and wrestling clubs.  They aren’t about the development of young wrestlers.  How do you make more money for your team or club?  You attract more wrestlers to your tournament who’s parents are willing to shell out a $10.00 to $15.00 entry fee, pay $5.00 at the gate to get into watch their kid wrestle, and pay for food at the concession stand.  It can be quite lucrative for a small town high school program or wrestling club!  But how do you get the kids to come to your tournament rather than another one on the same day?  You give a bigger trophy to the winner and medals to everyone who comes.  Even the young boy that gets pinned three times gets a medal, stands on the podium, and gets his picture taken.  In essence, his parents bought him a medal with the entry fee and he has a tangible award for getting pinned three times.  What did he earn?  It is no different at the end of the soccer season when the coach or the league hands out a trophy to all of the players who were on the team, whether they won the league championship or didn’t win a game.  Everyone gets a trophy!  This is where James Harrison pushed back and said to the football league his boys played in, “You can keep your trophies.  My sons didn’t earn them." 

Harrison posted this on Facebook, along with a pictures of the trophies his sons brought home:
“I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very                proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them 'til the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy.  I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise to boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy. #harrisonfamilyvalues"

I see the same thing in school.  We have some students that think that they should get a good grade because they showed up, or handed in a paper, regardless of the quality of work.  It has been my mission the past twenty years to raise the bar and demand more because to succeed in life you have to do more than show up.  An “A” on a paper or a test should be earned.  Grade inflation has ruined public education and all one has to do is talk to veteran teachers who have been in the profession for thirty years.  I have asked the question: “Is your “A” that you give today based on the same quality standard of work that it was 30-years ago?”  The response is 100% “No!”  So I have followed up with “Why?”  And that is where it gets difficult.  When teachers actually reflect on why this has happened they don’t like what they see.  Parental pressure and concern about the self-esteem of their children are the two most common answers.  Many educators got tired of the complaining and the challenges from parents, and basically gave in.  Many got tired of the fight.  Some felt pressure from principals because they were getting pressure from parents and their bosses.  And then the concern about building confidence through tangible reward era came about, and before you know what happened, yesterday’s “C” had become today’s “A,” and people like me have asked, “What have they done to earn it?"

No, I was never a fan of James Harrison on the football field.  He was a vicious player that I felt stepped over the line.  However, I am a fan of James Harrison, the dad that wants his children to earn what they get.