Croskey’s Corner: Gratefulness
Recently, one of my friends ran into another friend of mine. They had not known each other prior to being introduced. Later, one of them told me about the meeting. Somehow, they quickly figured out that they had at least one mutual friend, me. To this day, I don’t know how they figured out that they both knew me. Or why. I guess I at least understand the point of Facebook’s Mutual Friends section now.
It is bewildering yet truly gratifying to me to know that people actually think about me when I am not there. I subscribe to the theory that if I am out of sight, I am out of mind. I used to wish that I had a red light bulb somewhere close by (it could be green; or orange; no matter). Anytime someone thought about me, the light bulb would flash. (You know, like the old saying that if someone is being talked about out of their presence, their ears will burn or turn red. ) I told a friend about that. She said, with all sincerity, “You do have that light. Every time people are thinking of you – and its more often than you think – the light bulb glows. You just don’t know it!”
This all sounds pretty self-absorbed, huh? If I had perfect confidence, complete maturity, was fully poised, I would probably not need to know whether I was in the thoughts of others. Well, those goals are on my “To Do” List – and they’re not checked off. In the meantime, I am the typical educator; pretty intrinsically motivated; less tied to monetary rewards as a way of measuring professional growth, but needing some appreciation. Schools have built-in “Teacher Appreciation Day” (May), National School Counselor Week (February), Secretary and Administrative Assistant’s Day (April), School Custodian’s Appreciation Day (January), and even School Psychologist Awareness Week (November). Interestingly, during that week, school psychologists are supposed to do MORE for their staffs to promote awareness. Funny, I thought we were supposed to serve our staffs every day! I have no idea who set these dates. Hallmark? FTD? Hershey Candy Company? Anyway, it is clear that someone thinks that educators need formal occasions where those whom they serve can express their Gratefulness.
Do educators feel that they are appreciated? Are parents (or Students!?) Grateful? Battelle for Kids Human Capital Director Emily Douglas does speaking engagements with teachers’ groups. She conducts an experiment. Her proposal to her audience: “I need a research paper on any topic you choose that is 20 pages long, with 1-inch margins, double-spaced, in 11-point Arial font, and uses at least five primary sources from 2010 to present. But, I need it in 168 hours or 1 week, exactly. No late papers accepted. Any questions?” Pretty much nobody offers to do it. Then she says she’ll pay someone $500. A few offer. She increases the offer to $1000, then $5000, then $10,000. Each time, more people respond until everyone has agreed to the price by the last offer. Ms. Douglas claims that her “experiment” shows that most of us have a “price” whether it is in money or non-monetary rewards. (There is an old joke which has the same “punchline” as this story but it is probably not appropriate for a Character blog!)
But, is this how teachers work? A great deal has been written and said about merit pay, teacher evaluations tied to test scores, and research suggesting that teachers be paid for high test scores upfront and then have to pay the amount back if kids don’t score well. I am not sure that is the total picture for how to “appreciate” teachers. Nancy Flanigan, who writes the Teacher in a Strange Land blog for Education Week thinks there is more to the picture. She feels that using big money (e.g., $150,000) to motivate “good” teachers is a plan designed to motivate already good teachers with competition (“I am three times as good as you and I have the salary to prove it”) and rewards of cash.
But, Ms. Flanigan quotes Daniel Pink and his book, Drive: the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. In that book, he tries to show that, once a task moves beyond rote behavior, people (teachers ARE people aren’t they?) are motivated more by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. (For a clever video of Pink’s thoughts, do an internet search for RSA Animate – Drive.) Teachers want some opportunity to control what happens to them, what they teach, how they teach, how they do their job. Teachers want students to master the skills and information they offer so that the finished learner looks like the teacher’s idea of what a person who mastered the big ideas of that course would look like. Teachers do not want to be the one who turns on the power switch so that computer-based learning can take place. They do not want to be the one who reads a script and follow a same-day/same-lesson lockstep approach. Teachers want to serve a purpose.
So, how can principals, parents, school boards, and the general public show their Gratefulness to teachers? Grant them some measure of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Do we still have to pay them? Of course, but it probably will not take $150K to get them motivated. They already are – intrinsically. Give them the environment to use the tools they already have and they will continue to turn out grateful students.