Monday, January 24, 2011

What Will Motivate Our Teachers To Do a Better Job

Is Money the Problem? What about Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose?

I ran across a very interesting video (see link below) about the factors that motivate our performance. Here is what it says in the explanatory window of the video: "This lively RSA Animate, adapted from Dan Pink's talk at the RSA, illustrates the hidden truths behind what really motivates us at home and in the workplace.www.theRSA.org" The video itself presents a research about what motivates us in general in our work.

A few days after I watched this video the Bulgarian Ministry of education decided to shorten the Christmas vacation for students. This led to thousands students protesting on the street. Their protests were not just for a couple of more days off of school. They just wanted to be heard by teachers and the minister of education.

This incident revealed a deeper crisis in the system of education. Unmotivated and unprepared teachers, apathic students, dull classes, higher illiteracy... There are so many problems that it is even hard to list them. Most people think that if the teachers get higher salaries this will stimulate them to prepare well and teach in a more creative and attractive way children. But here I want to suggest that this is not the real issue. Maybe the main one is that the whole philosophy of the studying process is wrong at its core. And maybe RSA's video gives the answer why.

First, it shows that even though for simple, straight forward tasks, the carrot and stick strategy might work, but for conceptual creative thinking tasks, that is not always true. Now, you might argue that the task of education is 'simple and straight forward' but let me remind you that even though this is the impression we get, it's not the original idea of education. When you have to do with people, and especially children, the task of education needs to be done with a lot of thinking and creativity! So, even though money is a motivator, it is not the main one. In other words, even if we give our teachers 1500 leva salaries this will not change significantly the situation.

Second, the results of the research done by RSA shows that there are three factors that lead to better performance and personal satisfaction: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

In the sphere of education Autonomy would mean giving more freedom to teachers to choose their studying tools, methods and approaches, on one hand, and giving ability to students to take part in the process of making decisions regarding educational programs, content of respective subjects, etc. This would lead to a higher ENGAGEMENT of both teachers and students in the process. It would also mean that teachers should start treating students like people, not like 'bricks in the wall', to borrow Pink Floyd's famous expression.

Mastery is our 'urge to get better at stuff'. If the minister of education could get all Bulgarian teachers in one room and explain to them that to be a teacher is not a job but a vocation; that teachers are supposed to view teaching as a mission rather than money-making and that this is their contribution to society. Maybe then more of the teachers would love to achieve mastery. And if teachers could get their students in the classrooms and inspire them to do projects just because they will become good at this (music, maths, arts, history, languages...), there would be more students who would have fun studying.

And, finally, Purpose is the transcendent motivator that drives us in a direction. Probably the biggest problem of Bulgarian education system (and all walks of life in this country) is that the 'profit motive gets unmoored from the purpose motive'. If we would want to give teachers a purpose what could that purpose be? Make Bulgaria a better place? What is the thing that could get them up in the morning racing to go to work? Influence the future leaders of the country? When our teachers become Purpose maximizers, and not just profit maximizers, they will complete their task, or better, mission.

All this might sound like a revelation to some. Yet, we can find these truths in the Bible! After all, doesn't autonomy mean freedom and dignity of every human being; and in't Mastery all about working as if we work before God and not for men, and using all our gifts for making the world a better place? And, isn't bringing glory to Jesus Christ the highest impetus that makes us breathe, exist and move on this planet?