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Caught Stealing? (Goals, Motivation, and Joy)

". . . business school professors suggest they (goals) should
come with their own warning label: Goals may cause systematic problems for
organizations due to narrowed focus, unethical behavior, increased risk taking,
decreased cooperation, and decreased intrinsic motivation. Use care when
applying goals in your organization." (Pink, 2009)

you ever been
just about to do
something helpful on your own only to have someone ask you to do precisely the
thing you were about to do?  Kinda takes
the joy out of it, doesn’t it? I have actually, on occasion, refused to
continue the thing I was about to. For a long time I thought this was due to my
pride—and, ultimately, it probably is—but now I attribute it to ownership. When
I decided to perform the act I owned the action. When someone subsequently
asked me to do the same thing I no longer owned the action, but was merely the
vehicle of their ownership. I felt as if they had stolen ownership from me.
Worse than that, they had stolen my joy. Another way people can lose their joy,
or their creativity, is not due to theft, but via contract.

to Daniel Pink’s 2009 book,
people are less creative, less productive when they do something for an agreed
upon extrinsic reward than they are when they would do the same act for its own
reward. Consider this example from
of a study in Gothenburg, Sweden, in which 153 women expressed interest in coming
in to give blood. Researchers utilized this group to conduct a study and
divided the women into three groups. Group One was told their participation was
voluntary. Each member of Group Two was told they’d get paid 50 Swedish kronor
(about $7). And Group Three would also receive a 50-kronor payment each with
the immediate option to donate the amount to a children’s cancer charity. When
the opportunity came to follow through on their expressed interest the results
of the three groups may surprise you. Fifty-two percent of those who were
promised nothing (Group One) decided to donate blood. For Group Two, one might
expect the number to increase because the researchers had sweetened the pot.
However, only 30% of the women in this group decided to give blood. Group Three
responded much as the first group did; their participation was 53% (Pink, 2009).
So why did those who stood to receive no monetary reward respond in much higher
percentages than Group Two? Pink would argue that the original desire to give
blood was based in altruism; one might have any number of personal reasons for
wanting to give blood. However, once money became part of the equation, their
focus changed from intrinsic rewards to an extrinsic monetary reward. I would simply
say they sold their joy. In either case, studies show that those who complete a
task for an extrinsic reward may have short term success, but long term
complacency, whereas those who complete tasks for intrinsic reasons experience long
term fulfillment in that endeavor.

So let’s
take this out of book-speak and frame it in questions that have relevance to us
as educators. Do parents take the joy out of on-going learning when they offer
their kids $5 for every A? Do educators steal the joy of our students’ learning
when we use extrinsic rewards (grades, tokens, detentions, etc) to get them to
do their work? (And why do we call it work?) Do we, as teachers, turn in our
best work (there’s that word again) when asked to present professional goals at
the request of administration? What kind of intrinsic awards can we as
professional educators devise to take our students from short term success to
long term, on-going accomplishments? What can we do on our own to grow professionally
so that administration does not feel compelled to compel us to turn in a
professional goals sheet?

short, how do we keep the joy in learning for all involved and still educate
the kids? And, more personally, as teachers, do we steal the joy from our
students or encourage it?


Pink, D.H. (2009). Drive. Riverhead Books, New York, NY.




21st Century Leadership

I've said yes to doing my first web-based presentation on February 10th for Wisconsin Educational Media and Technology Association (WEMTA) at 7pm.  The meeting is on from 7 – 8pm and I'd love to have more than 2 people attend!!  If interested, go to the WEMTA website and navigate to the registration page

The focus of the presentation is 21st Century Leadership in education and the realities of leading in a world that is changing incredibly fast.  Please jump in on the meeting – and offer comments here.  The power point is here for you to preview.  

All wisdom is welcome! 




Alvin and Heidi Toffler on the roots of education

I received several questions about my previous post as it felt to some like an attack on public education.  The purpose of blogging is to create healthy dialogue, so to those who reading and asking questions, thank you!  I feel obligated to frame this in a larger context, so here goes…

Make no mistake, those who work in public education are salt of the earth people who believe in using their time, efforts, and resources to equip tomorrows leaders for success.  They love kids, work incredibly hard, and do so while taking a great deal of public criticism.  I am one of them.   I am a teacher at heart, but I am also a leader.  My call is to make the system, the team, and individual educators better to improve how we teach kids and serve the community.  There are thousands of heroic educators pouring their hearts into educating kids every day across our world, however I believe the overall system in which they work has some real structural issues.  Our system is not structured or equipped to truly prepare kids for 21st century challenges.  We educators, like in business, are struggling to adapt to the fast paced changes in technology that are actually creating huge change to international economics, sociological power structures, and human behavior. 

As mentioned in my previous post, I subscribe to many of the writings of scholars and futurists, Alvin and Heidi Toffler.  To give you a slice of some of their thoughts on education, here is a brief video of them at a recent conference:



Is public education designed to support our economy?

As a first year teacher, I copied (polite way of admitting I was a thief) the framework a colleague of mine used to teach history to high school students.  This teacher spent a significant amount of time every fall making sure his students understood Alvin Toffler's wave theory before diving into timelines, textbooks, and the details of time. The theory gave students an essential framework through which to connect the dots and to ask, debate, research, and answer "why questions."  I quickly found that the facts of history were largely irrelevant and unimportant to nearly all students unless I could help them recognize how explanations for human behavior in the past largely help us understand our present and our future.  Toffler's work made this "click" for my students and for me. 

Below is a short interview with Economist Richard Florida discussing what he calls "Unleashing the Creative Economic Revolution."  I confess I haven't dug deeply into his work, but the comments in this interview seem to line up closely with the arguments of Daniel Pink, Thomas Friedman, Tony Wagner, and of course, Alvin Toffler.  Because my job is to lead a school effectively so all students can be successful when they leave us, I can't help but struggle – at a very deep level – with the core misalignment between the structure of public education and the economy these scholars describe.  If indeed the "creative economic revolution" is upon us, how can we justify a political arena in which the arts are being cut to increase "drill and kill instruction" to make AYP?  Why aren't our legislators demanding a different structure to public education that empowers students to be creative individuals designing their own educational paths instead of placing them on an assembly line and being told to hold still? 

In an effort to be more optimistic, I recommend that we educators begin preparing plans and laying groundwork for this "revolution" sooner rather than later.  In MN we kept our heads in the sand as the accountibility movement gained momentum and then we cried foul when our legislators slapped a "Basic Skills Test" on the table almost two decades ago.  We didn't own and lead the very enterprise in which we are the experts.  Maybe this time we can be the leaders of change so it gets done right…  Maybe this time, we can bring sound ideas and proposals to the table with strong arguments supporting the purpose.  Maybe we can trust that common Americans understand, at a very common sense level, how misaligned the structure is with the world economy that is unfolding before us.  Maybe Richard Florida's reference to a "creative revolution" can be viewed as a wonderful opportunity to better deliver on that which we are so very passionate about… teaching the leaders of tomorrow… teaching kids.

"Unleashing the Creative Economic Revolution" on big think



I-pods in the classroom??

If you're thinking about i-pods in the classroom, this resource is for you!!  Might we finally be getting to a real, afforable 1-1 tool?



Would you have acknowledged the burning bush?

Earth's crammed with heaven,

and every common bush afire with God;

but only he who sees, takes off his shoes —

the rest sit around it and pluck blackberries (Barton, pg. 64).

One quarter of the way into Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton, reads this Elizabeth Barret Browning poem that brought me to an abrupt halt.  How many burning bushes have I missed in my principalship journey? 

Barton's book is a study of Moses' leadership, and she directs her reflections squarely at those called to spiritual leadership positions.  Maybe because I am a leader constantly trying to find the right path, and maybe because I don't leave my own soul in the car when I walk into the public junior high school that I call work, I believe Barton's thoughts are applicable to the principalship.  Indeed an average suburban principal, if true to this calling over an entire career, will impact the lives and education of thousands in the walk through 21st century wilderness, Red Seas, plagues and Pharoahs.   Barton's reflections on Moses' mistakes, on the make up of his soul that spilled into his leadership, on his decision to pursue solitude, and on his struggle to overcome his weaknesses to deliver on God's call for him are incredibly insightful about real soul struggles in the day to day business of leading a school. 

Learning to pay attention and knowing what to pay attentino to is a key discipline for leaders but one that rarely comes naturally to those of us who are barreling through life with our eyes fixed on a goal.  One of the downsides of visionary leadership is that we get our sights set on something that is so far out in the future that we miss what's going on in our life as it exists now.  We are blind to the bush that is burning in our own backyard and the wisdom that is contained within it… Amid the welter of possible distractions, leaders need time in solitude so that we can notice those things we would otherwise miss due to the pace and complexity of our lives (Barton, 63). 

Isn't it incredible how well intended goals, efforts and initiatives – that are wonderful causes on their own – can actually distract us from that which may be most important?  Barton forces us to question if we are walking right past the burning bush in our organization or in our personal life.  Even worse, we may be looking right at it and "plucking blackberries," oblivious to the blaze that is actually right in front of us! 

How does that look in the life of a principal?  Many days go by when I fail to acknowledge the magic of learning that is happening all around me.  Some days go by in which I don't speak with a single student.  The incredible flow of thoughts, issues, and strong opinions coming at me often demands all of my attention leaving me to ignore the deep wisdom of the silent majority.  The pressure to be visible at and attentive to every event and detail frequently distracts me from my most important role – being a husband and father.  No doubt, this leader has missed a burning bush or two…

One does not need to be a person of any particular faith or religion to gleen wisdom from the reflections that Ruth Barton offers us on Moses' leadership journey.  I invite you to join me in this read and offer your thoughts .  How is your soul as you walk the leadership journey?  Seen any burning bushes lately?


Daniel Pink on incentive pay…?

Daniel Pink's new book Drive is focused on the science behind motivation.  I found his book A Whole New Mind incredibly insightful and look forward to what he has to share in Drive.  He argues that the business model assumptions based on pay incentives for performance actually have an ignorable or even negative effect on actual task performance in most situations.  His work is based on studies published by highly respected economics scholars and brain research.  Hmmm…  Does this play into the "pay for performance" debate raging in public education?  Take a look and share your thoughts!




McLeod to NEA

Scott McLeod recently gave a presentation to the NEA Board of Directors and has posted his power point for all to see.  Take a look and share your thoughts here.  How should we be doing business differently in public schools?  How are we to address the issues he presents us with?