Thursday, February 2, 2012

Montgomery superintendent and Daniel Pink discuss new ways to motivate teachers, students in book talk

Montgomery County superintendent Joshua Starr said he is “disappointed” and “astounded” at the national direction of school reform and its emphasis on standardized testing, but that Maryland’s largest school system can pursue a “third way” to improve performance by focusing on what motivates teachers and students rather than how they perform on an annual test, said superintendent Joshua Starr during his second book talk

Since No Child Left Behind was signed into law in 2002, “we’ve come to know so much more about brain research...and about how kids learn and how adults learn...Yet we choose to have a 180 departure from it,” he said.
(Josh Starr hosts his second book talk with author Daniel Pink. Photo courtesy Montgomery County Public Schools)
“We have missed wonderful opportunities to redefine what American education should be in the 21st century,” he said.

To stir new ideas about what helps teachers and students invest in their work, Starr invited author Daniel Pink to Rockville on Tuesday night to discuss his best-selling book “Drive,” which draws upon 50 years of research on the science of motivation.

As a new superintendent in Montgomery County, Starr proposed a series of book talks to introduce his educational philosophy to the community. The 90-minute conversation was filmed in front of a studio audience and broadcast on local television. A second group of parents and teachers watched the live event from a Barnes & Noble in Bethesda.

Pink told viewers that the prevailing wisdom about motivation — namely, that rewarding a certain behavior encourages it while punishing a behavior discourages it — does not hold true in today’s businesses or schools.

Extrinsic motivators, such as financial incentives, helped speed up assembly lines during the industrial age. But they don’t work as well to encourage the creative thinking or sound judgment needed in the more complex jobs that characterize today’s economy.

Despite the national push for merit pay, boosting teachers salaries is not a surefire motivator, Pink said. The key is to pay teachers — or any employees — enough, so they do not feel unfairly paid, but beyond that, they need to find motivation from the work itself.

A better way to motivate people nowadays is to give them more autonomy to direct what they do and how they do it.

In some ways, public schools are difficult places to introduce flexibility and autonomy, since they have long compliance checklists of federal and state requirements.

But Donna Redmond Jones and a teacher from Rosa Parks Middle School in Olney joined the conversation to talk about how they implemented ideas from Pink’s book.
(A second group of parents and educators watched the webcast from Barnes & Noble in Bethesda.)
They said teachers can be given more freedom to decide how they want to structure lessons or planning time and staff meetings. And students can be given more choices of activities or different ways to respond to questions or take notes.

For more on the discussion, an archived version in available on-line.

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