You want to do something cool? Let me get out of your way.

This week, a member of my faculty asked me if they could a re-design a store room into a learning space. We have a large storeroom in between two classrooms which houses scientific equipment that we can move into another storage space. So this teacher thought if we could clear and clean up the space and find some tables and chairs, the space can be turned into a small learning space where small groups of students can do group work or where students can do quiet independent tasks while the main classroom can be used for other activities. This requires the removal of some cupboards and rearranging some equipment and storage devices. It’s a big task and will probably need few consecutive days of work, but this teacher has volunteered to do it in their holidays. I haven’t prompted this teacher in any way. They just wanted to do this. They want to work for free.

I did have some hesitation at the start for a few seconds. As a leader I often want to take control of a project, but I decided it was a great idea and gave them the freedom to do what they think was best for the space, as long as they updated me and briefly told me what they were doing. But otherwise they had free reign. I told this teacher, “I trust you’ll do a great job. This is a really good idea that would benefit student learning.”

This got me wondering – Why do we do work for free? As teachers, we often do a lot of work for free. Whether this is after work hours at home, on weekends or during the holidays, we are planning lessons, helping our students with extra tutorials or painting our classrooms. Not many other organisations have their workers working for free.

Then I remembered an animation based on Dan Pink’s talk on three factors that motivate people and lead to better performance and satisfaction.

In this talk, Pink talks about autonomy, mastery and purpose as the key factors that drive better performance. Interestingly, money does not motivate people to perform any better. Once you pay people enough so they are not worried about finances, autonomy, mastery and purpose are the main drivers. These three factors are also what drive innovation within an organisation. The teacher that wants to voluntarily come in during Christmas holidays to turn a store room into learning space isn’t getting paid any extra to do this. They are doing it because there is a personal sense of purpose. And I gave them the autonomy to do it. I got out of their way. Hopefully this will be the start of more innovations.

So next time someone wants to do something cool, get out of their way J

4 thoughts on “You want to do something cool? Let me get out of your way.

  1. I almost immediately identified what you would reference in this post. What interests me is that teaching is a profession in which ‘mastery’ is a vague term at best. To encapsulate simply however, we can simply say ‘to help the student/s’.
    That quite recently the media and some governmental/institutional voices have suggested that teachers are the problem- with accompanying directives such as further complicating accreditation- seem to be missing the point.
    To empower the teacher, as you illustrate, one needs autonomy, purpose [which comes quite naturally normally], and a sense of mastery. The feeling that one can be able to sustain students’ needs with independent methods and relevant pedagogy, but also that one can always improve this educating.
    Thus, what really needs to be concentrated on is support and professional (slash leadership) development for teachers.
    Though saying this I doubt you have a view that is starkly divergent from this?

    • I completely agree with you, Hugh. Like the research cited in the video, a cognitive complex task like teaching requires autonomy for people to improve their performance and motivation. iMHO A lot of governments end up doing the opposite. They want more control over teaching and use financial rewards to raise performance. We need teachers to be paid properly so they can live comfortably without any financial worries but after that, teachers need governments to trust them in doing their job.

  2. I agree with all the comments above. That’s what Finland does. Teachers are highly qualified, respected professionals. They have a good salary. But, most importantly, they are trusted and have a lot of freedom to shape the curriculum their way, according to their judgement and students’ needs.

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