Today our superintendent showed the following video from Ted Talks.
The video takes about 18 minutes to watch. The presenter, Dan Pink, is presenting data about how we are going about motivating people in the work place. All the data he has collected shows that what we believe to be obvious is totally wrong. If by offering bonuses we believe people will work harder, according to the data presented by Mr. Pink this is totally wrong. This type of motivation only leads to WORSE performance. I will let the video stand on its own merits. But after the video our superintendent asked several questions. 1) Would offering teachers bonuses or merit pay actually motivate them to be better educators? 2) How could we use Mr. Pink's information in our role as building administrators whether that is with staff or students? 3) What does this say about our approach in the classroom? There were more but you get the idea.
Let's take the first question ... looking in the schools we currently work at most of us know who the good teachers are and those who are not. (I will say I think teachers are surprisingly more clueless about their fellow educators than others in a school building, but for the most part they do have an idea.) Would paying them more money make them better teachers or just higher paid poor teachers? On the other end, the good teachers in our schools are already working at a pace that is making them successful. So would a bonus actually make them work harder or more importantly, "better"? Probably not, as I stated they are already doing their very best. Yes, it would be nice to reward their hard work, but the point here is offering bonuses to get people to perform better.
The second question did hit closer to home for me. I have always believed the steps to teacher success are to create a desire to do what it takes to make a difference in kids' lives and create an atmosphere where teachers feel appreciated for what they do. I have called this over the years the school culture of a building. In this case the culture of a staff. Are they happy to come to work? Do they enjoy what they do? Are they given enough latitude to do what they want, yet get the job done? Do they have a feeling they are making a difference? That is the job of a building administrator. Besides, I have never had control of the purse strings. I cannot offer the bonuses to motivate my staff, but I do have funds available that I can make them feel appreciated. If I am successful in helping develop the school culture in a positive way, then the success follows without the bonuses, teachers will perform at their best.
Part two of that second question relates to students. As a building administrator I have limited direct access to students, I do have a lot of indirect access. Working with staff as stated earlier, and creating the right attitude will only find its way to the classroom impacting students. Then, work with building policy that treats students as young adults (remember I work in a high school), gives students the feeling of respect, which in turn can lead to more student success. I have also said if you can make your students happy, in turn you can ask them to go a little farther then they normally would (same philosophy I had as a classroom teacher).
The last question I think I addressed in the previous paragraph. All this works its way from the top down. The right attitude will find its way to the classroom.
One last thought that did come up (from yours truly) during our discussion today. The system ... part of the problem in education, when you try to step outside the box, the system is there to slap you back. Believe me, I've been slapped often. If you took the time to watch the video clip of Mr. Pinks you may have been like me ... just not sure I buy it, just not sure, because it goes against what seems natural. Therefore, if we take an approach that does not involve bonuses or for that matter awards (scholarships), our community will most likely fight back. A better example is ... "GRADES"... do grades really motivate our students? Wait, I know we do grades to show how well our students learn the subject, but honestly, do they? I can show you example after example how one figures the grades can bring different results? Do we know for a fact that our assessment tools are assessing what we really want or just filling space (ok, this topic for another day)? I do think many would agree that some students don't care about the grade (this number grows everyday). So if we are trying to motivate our students with grades, we shouldn't be surprised at those who choose to fail. This means a system change, so stand back and get ready to be slapped.
Enough ramblings for today ... off to basketball (where many parents get more excited about playing time than whether their child learned the capital of Maine).