Sunday, May 31, 2015

Why are we so stuck on extrinsic motivation?
Reading through Pink's Drive a second time, I came across the passage where he mentions a huge literature review that confirmed his hypothesis, and I wondered again:

Why are we still so wedded to extrinsic motivators when the research overwhelmingly points to intrinsic motivators?

And then I came across this critique of Pink, "Memo to Dan Pink and Friends: Incentives Do Not Undermine Employee Motivation," and I realized, it's not just that people haven't heard Pink's ideas: not everyone agrees with him.

This threw me into the following sequence of thoughts:

1) Wow. I'm all wrong about this intrinsic motivation thing. Ouch. I've been blogging for a year about and running my classes based on it.

2) But that's OK. At least I'm trying to improve--pushing the envelope. Failure is fuel.

3) Wait a minute. Why aren't there any links to the studies this guy mentions that refute Pink?

4) Hmm.. and why does he pull an ad hominem, mentioning that Kohn was a school teacher and Pink a political speech writer. Why does that matter?

5) Hmm... let's see what the Harvard Business Review has to say about it. After reviewing the results of several major studies and reviews, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic concludes, "The fact that there is little evidence to show that money motivates us, and a great deal of evidence to suggest that it actually demotivates us, supports the idea that that there may be hidden costs associated with rewards."

6) I understand it's a nuanced thing. Extrinsic rewards do motivate people to do better at mundane, routine tasks that they don't like doing, and some people do seem more motivated by money and other external rewards. But there seems no question that intrinsic rewards, like autonomy, mastery, and purpose are more powerful: "employees who are intrinsically motivated are three times more engaged than employees who are extrinsically motivated (such as by money)."

A month of motivation in my biology class
So I think I'll stick with the plan for now. Though my student's engagement levels are up and down, and not perfect (see chart), I'd rather focus on teaching them habits of intrinsic motivation than extrinsic.

The potential is there for really revolutionary change. And even though changing the educational system sometimes seems like trying to moving the pyramids of Giza, it's worth it. The data is there. They need to move.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

How we came to real consensus

The Teacher Evaluation Committee (stay with me...) has been working for months on revising our Teacher Evaluation Plan.

Doesn't sound like the most exciting thing ever, I know. (And it's not.)

Probably sounds downright excruciatingly boring. (But it's not that, either.)

But I have to say, this time, it needed up being kind of exciting.

Here's why:

I'll spare you the boring details, but we all came into the meeting with different ideas about how administrators should score the three "informal" observations currently required for tenured teachers. (Don't worry about the details, I just want you to see the flow.)

We all started at different places: I wanted to simplify the form and make it more of a flow-chart. Other's wanted it to be more quantitative. One veteran teacher suggested we allow the informals to build on each other, recording them all in the same form. Another suggested we replace one informal observation with a formal observation, using the other two informal observations as formative, rather than evaluative, tools.

Many liked that last idea, but then we went back and forth on what to do with the two informals until a new teacher suggested we just use the informals only to flag problems or to allow a teacher to move up a level from their formal.

Then an administrator suggested we just record comments (not scores) from the informals and use them to adjust the scores from the formals.

We played idea ping-pong again for a while, but found ourselves drawn to that final model, and ended up voting unanimously for it.

To me, it was an exciting example of "ideas having sex." That's Matt Ridley's term for what happens when people get together like this to really collaborate: Ideas combine in unpredictable ways and we get a sum that's greater than the whole of it's parts--something that wasn't there before in any one person's mind. It's a self-organizing process.

It was a great example of Pink's "Yes, and.." approach--a great example of how humans work best.

That's the power of collaboration. And that, to me, is more than kind of exciting, because in my mind, if we can unleash that power within education as a whole, we can change things.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Making a habit of autonomy, mastery and purpose

My differentiated biology class is based on the concept that humans are most powerfully motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose--a concept I got from Daniel Pink's powerful book, Drive.

But another powerful book has gotten me wondering lately whether I'm missing something: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

Duhigg breaks down habits like this: Habits consist of a cue (a trigger, like stress), a routine (like biting your nails or drinking), and a reward (dopamine).

But Duhigg emphasizes that it's really not a habit until you start craving it--until your brain starts expecting the reward every time it sees the cue.

I'd like to help my students form new habits, but at first the idea of habit seemed contradictory to Pink's trinity of intrinsic motivators.

Then I realized how the two ideas fit together:
  1. Motivation is a craving. 
  2. Autonomy, mastery, and purpose are routines that can produce rewards for your brain (dopamine). 
Some students crave good grades. Others don't.

Some develop the habit of doing their homework. Others don't.

We could focus on teaching them to crave grades and fear penalties, do their homework, and turn stuff in on time.

But I want to aim higher. I want to help my students develop habits of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

I want to help them crave the reward that comes from those things.

Because that's the essence of intrinsic motivation. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Quality vs. success

In her book, The Rise, Sarah Lewis contrasts the "momentary nature of success and the unending process required for mastery."

That process, she says, is what's important--not the goal of success, which forever retreats into the distance.

It got me thinking about whether I'm more focused on "success" than mastery, perfection than the process, and recognition than relationships.

It made me wonder if slow is better than fast, cultivation, than harvest, learning, than winning, growth, than achievement, creativity, than conquest.

And I forced myself to sit in the yard under a tree for an hour on Sunday and watch my bees.

And today as I hiked to Wolf Den again, I wondered if it's really more about the quality of each step than about how fast I make the round trip.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Making a habit of accomplishment

I've been re-reading Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit, and I've been seeing connections with Pink's Drive.

I was looking for connections, because it's not obvious how the concept of habits would connect to motivation by autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

But it hit me the other day, when I was thinking about how to merge the power of habit with the motivations I'm trying to build into my mastery-based biology class.

Duhigg tells the story of Febreze: It was a failure until the marketing team met a lady who used it every time she cleaned her house. She spritzed the bed with it when she finished making it. It was like the fresh smell indicated that the room was clean, and was linked to a sense of accomplishment. It's similar to the Pepsodent story--toothpaste caught on because Pepsodent left a tingly sensation in the mouth that people associated with clean teeth.

Duhigg says all habits are made of cues (triggers), routines, and rewards, and you have to use these 3 components when you build a new one or replace a bad one. In bio class, I've been working hard to create a routine of independent learning and project completion. I thought about how I could apply the Febreze/Pepsodent technique.

I need something students could physically do, and physically see when they complete a project, something that acts like a tingly sensation or fresh scent.

I came up with this chart on the board showing their progress toward completion of the unit projects. I asked them to color in their progress each day.

(I have no intention of this being a competitive thing. In fact, I told them as soon as everyone is done, we'll have a celebration. I intend to encourage them to help those who are behind.)

They loved the idea. All but a few were anxious to mark their progress.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Four things I gained from my admin. prep program

Two years ago I decided I wanted to be a school administrator (why? see here). Last week, I finished UCONN's school administrator preparation program (UCAPP), and here are four things I gained from the program (not including all the things I learned in my internship):

1) Perspective. I walked in there thinking I had education all figured out, but being exposed to other perspectives has a way of shaking up your paradigm. Somewhere along the way, through nine courses--courses like Program Evaluation, Educational Policy, Law, Supervision, Curriculum, and School Climate, my paradigm shifted. It was a shift from seeing my job as mostly about the kids who could (or wanted to) learn, to seeing it as about every single student, equally. I began to see the job of a principal as making that happen (by building capacity in teachers).

2) Practice. I'd like to think it also improved my teaching practice. Two years of poring over the CT teaching rubric, studying the new teacher evaluation system, observing teachers and practicing evaluations, and listening to my colleagues talk about their teaching, gave me perspectives and insights I'd never been exposed to before. I feel like I learned more about teaching in the past two years than I had in my previous twelve.

(Funny how that works. It proves that experience alone does not lead to improvement. Improvement takes more than that. It takes new ideas and outside perspectives. And it takes other people. It takes collaboration, because otherwise we get stuck in ruts, comfort zones, confirmation bias and the status quo.)

3) Preparation. I feel very well prepared to be an administrator. We produced school improvement plans, program evaluation plans, school climate analyses, teacher evaluations, theories of action, and curriculum plans. We looked at tons of data, from case studies, our own schools, and our internship schools. The hands on projects we did, cutting-edge readings and research we studied, case-studies and data we analyzed, and discussions we had, built on and amplified our internship experiences, and I feel like we walked away with authentic experience.

4) People. UCAPP uses a cohort model for their program. Fifteen of us spent two years together. I made new friends--lifelong colleagues I’ll be able to call on in the future. And I learned a lot from them. It was a two-year collaboration, and I was introduced to approaches and perspectives different from my own. They challenged and changed my thinking in many ways, and I’d like to think I absorbed a part of each one of them.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Perspective, practice, and precision: Lessons from an internship

I just finished 2 years as an administrative intern at Tolland High School as part of UCONN's administrator preparation program, UCAPP. Here are the top three reasons it was a powerful experience.

1. Perspective. When you've spent the majority of your working years in one place, it's easy to get tunnel vision--to start thinking that your organization (school) has it all right, that your way is the best way, or the only way. But spend some real time in a "competing" organization, and your eyes get opened. E. O. Smith, where I've taught for 14 years, and Tolland High School are very different in culture and the way they are run. But they are both awesome.

2. Practice. Putting in the equivalent of 5 full weeks of work at Tolland over the past two years, not only shadowing the Principal, but participating in teacher evaluation and support, conflict resolution, planning, scheduling, collaborating, analyzing data, setting goals, and having in-depth discussions about school leadership, I got first-hand experience at being a Principal. I learned their days are hard to plan, because you can't foresee home fires and discipline issues, that attention to detail is essential, genuine concern and care for students and teachers is the name of the game, and a collaborative approach to leadership is a powerful way to build an effective school.

3. Precision. One of things that stands out most about Tolland High is the way it runs like a well-oiled machine, and I think its Principal, Dominique Fox, has a lot to do with this. She is meticulous, whether she's checking schedules to ensure there are no conflicts, checking disciplinary records to ensure fairness, carefully crafting systems and structures for teacher evaluation, scrutinizing data to identify students that need more support, continuously collecting feedback and input from her staff, ensuring that decisions are made collaboratively whenever possible, and taking time to build relationships and capacity with well-chosen words, visits, questions, support and encouragement. It's all a manifestation of the value she places on her students and teachers, and the result has been a smooth-running, collaborative structure and continuously improving climate. It's proof that if we carefully build the right structure, everything will fall into place.

I'm grateful to the UCAPP program staff and Regina Birdsell, my clinical supervisor, for making it all possible. But most of all, thanks to  Principal Fox, Assistant Principal Martello, and all of the awesome staff and students at THS for this great experience!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The clinical classroom

I've noticed something cool since I started keeping track of engagement in my differentiated bio class: I'm able to view the whole thing more objectively, take it less personally when things go wrong, and see more clearly what works, what doesn't and what and how I need to change (I hope).

A few times during each class, I just walk around, a scientist with his clipboard, and note how many students are actively engaged in working on their projects, reading, writing, or discussing content.

As a scientist, I often see the world in terms of variables and data, but it's funny I never looked at my classroom like that until now.

My goal is to start doing controlled experiments, changing one variable at a time to see how it affects engagement. I know this is a tall order: I can't control all of the important variables (home life, events outside of school, in other classes, etc.), but I hope I can get some good info anyway.

On tap for this week: First, a much cooler project than last week. Let's see if it changes engagement. Secondly, I'm going to try getting more data than just counts of students who are working. Instead of just writing a check-mark if they're working at all, I'm going to use a version of my engagement scale:

1. Students watching a video (I give only brief lectures, but I post instructional videos on our Moodle site).

2. Students reading their text.

3. Students researching online, typing an essay, or drawing a poster.

4. Students discussing the project with classmates.

5. Students researching online, typing an essay, or drawing a poster AND discussing with classmates.

(I was discussing the measurement of engagement with a colleague this week, and we wondered how our flipped classrooms would compare with a traditional teacher-led, whole-class instruction classroom if we used a scale like this.)

My idea is to just record all of the numbers and the total score.

The next step is to track it for individual students, but that would take more time, I think. I'm trying to keep this minimal so it doesn't take away significantly from my teaching.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A 38% Day

Today was a 38% (engagement) day in biology.

My average up until today was 59%, though I didn't measure it two days this week because we were doing the pGLO lab, because it was so intense it took all of my attention to help the students with the lab. (I wish I had measured engagement, though: My guess is it was higher than 60%)

But I have a few hypotheses for why today in biology was so low:

1. Clarity: The pGLO lab was engaging. Doing real genetic enginnering on bacteri to make them glow is wild. But the packet they had to complete afterwards was downright confusing. They all got hung up on the same ambiguous questions, and this stalled them. Many were still working through this packet today.
The pGlo lab--genetically engineered bacteria
we made earlier this week.

2. Curriculum: Those that had completed the pGLO packet had to work on their Assignment 23. I knew going into this that Assignment 23 was going to be rough. I put 2 chapters worth of concepts into one project, in a misguided effort to gain some ground in the curriculum.The result was a difficult and awkward assignment that they are still struggling with. The packet option was way too long.

3. Clarity: I adjusted Assignment 23 earlier this week, having already seen the problem. I gave them a highly scaffolded project option and also the option of just doing the videos and quizzes instead of the project. But in this effort to assuage their fears about the assignment, I think I overshot. Some got the impression that there wasn't much to do for 23, and so they relaxed too much. Again, a lack of clarity was the problem.

4. Time of year: We're in the 4th quarter, after all, and burnout becomes an issue for teachers and students. I measured engagement in my two honors chemistry classes one day this week: 50% (they were working on problem sets) and 53% (working on a lab).

So, in short, I was not surprised at the dip in engagement today. The question is, what to do about it.

My plan:

1. Grade the pGLO lab with a rubric looking for general understanding rather than scoring each answer for correctness. Lesson learned: Make sure questions are clear--rewrite pre-packaged materials.

2. Not much I can do about 23 at this point, but in the future, don't succumb to the pressure to ram content through just to keep up with the curriculum. It's just not worth it if it kills engagement. Definitely need to cut some slack when scoring 23.

3.  Make sure Assignment 24 is clearer and more meaningful, and bites off less content. I think I've got this covered.

4. Plan for end of year slump by making assignments even more engaging. :-)