Sometimes it seems to me, we live in a world dominated by extrinsic rewards and competition motivating activities. I think for most people, it defines most of what we do during the week. Go to work and earn a paycheck. Come home to watch tv and dream about who you could be or where you could live. Then go online or on the cell phone to play a game.
But, if we stop with just extrinsic rewards and competition, we have an incomplete picture. Those are just the first levels on a progression. And so, we continue to Identification or Self motivation.
I am amazed by the level of effort my teaching colleagues will put into the profession, when they are the teacher. When they own the teacher role. And we see this in other lines of work - or as these individuals may prefer to call it: professions.
There is a simple self test. Do you go to “work.” Or, has that always sounded strange? If it does sound strange, you may rethink calling it work. Because, maybe it isn’t. It was once said to me, “You go to work to get paid.” From this I inferred a difference between a work and a career. I stopped going to work years ago. For awhile I did - working summer jobs in college to help pay for school. Then I became a teacher.
Side note: Want to kill the drive of a self-identifier? Distract them with external rewards. Here’s an example: imagine the older daughter who generally loves tying her younger brother’s shoes. Offer her a reward. Give it to her the first time, then don’t the next. Do you think she’ll ever tie his shoes again? Watch the activity cease, and a bit of aggravation set in. When you look for it, you will notice occasions where functioning intrinsic motivation is undercut by introduced extrinsic motivation...
I enjoy working with individuals who are motivated by self-identification. It is very prevalent in the oldest generations. (One word of caution for this generation from my observations: a single identification and retirement just don’t mix well. Make a serious effort to find a hobby and/or service group.)
It makes me feel very comfortable at an office visit with Dr. Yoder. She is the doctor. Steve, who’s worked on our cars for years. He is the mechanic. Identification gives us comfort. And, it should. We live in a funny world, where professionals are sometimes expected to be perfect. An odd notion. Nobody is perfect. We should be glad there are individuals who operate at such a high functioning (motivational) level. Motivated by identification is a natural progression which sometimes leads naturally to one more…
Motivated by service to Others.
Wow. You meet these people, and you are blown away. These individuals generally live very full lives, in each year of their existence. Some work extraordinarily hard. Sometimes they are on fire with energy. Sometimes they are calm with compassion. Sometimes, they lose their lives. Most of the time, others find improvements in their lives because of the work of these individuals. When you run into people at this level, you feel blessed. I've had many, many students who would love to say, "This is me." Yet, it is a small collection of these extraordinary students I count in my hand. Yet, thankfully, many adults motivated by service to others have crossed my path. Thank you, each of you.
So far, I have given you just a bit more than a good education psychology course would introduce to you. But, let me add my twist.
What if you take the difficulty level, from too easy to too difficult, and place it on a horizontal axis, and stack these levels of motivation on a vertical axis? A lane of engagement seems to appear. A learning curve?
But, more about this relationship next time. And, how it relates to the new school career pathways.
More to the story.
To push through college financially, I worked a lot of factory jobs. Meeting a wide variety of people, I learned most didn’t really love their job. Some didn’t even like their job.
So why do it?
To understand their motivation it helps to dive a bit deeper.
In education, we talk about motivational levels. I like to think of the progression moving this way:
External - future - competitive with others - and, competitive with self.
Sometimes competition is misunderstood. When it comes to competition, it can be more than okay. Alright, here’s my opinion (take it or leave it). Even in a classroom. Even in a workplace. Among friends. In a family. It can be a very good thing.
Perspective is key. In a classroom, we all glanced at the grade on the paper next to us, to get a check on how we were doing. It caused an immediate emotional reaction. We were competing with others. When we recognize it as healthy competition to inspire us to do better, let's encourage it. If it relates to a feeling of self-worth, we have a problem. With students, this is generally an easy fix through communicating the role of competition. Communication. An amazing thing. Can we compete, so that all rise? Can it be a way to engage momentum and motivation - for everyone? Can it provide healthy feedback? Again, communication is key. (And for those of you competitor types who enjoy watching the demise of others - I’m sorry, you’re all losers, with some real insecurity issues! Issues that the rest of us wish you would get resolved.)
I’ll have to admit, I wasn’t sure about opening the conversation with students. Could they get past feelings of shame, about the low score? Would they want someone else to see the score, or would they identify as, “I’m a ‘D’ .“ The real question is, “Can we get others to be self-competitive?” It changes the game. An amazingly different student.
One more pause.. with self competitive versus with others competitive. A revelation of my own (in competitions) was the difference of the two competition levels on the game field. Self competitors are a more feared opponent. “Other” competitors enter the arena hoping they win. They are vulnerable to a loss. Self competitors are thinking how they will do it, and how they can improve. In a way, they are beyond the win. The latter are most generally the tougher of the two. They never really ever lose, they just get better. BTW: Self-competitors also do tend to win a lot. Not that winning is critical to them. It happens as a healthy consequence.
But there is more than rewards and competition.
Next time. For now, be the best you, you can be!
From the last wondering thought:
So,... if you have entered a work situation, or class setting as the stellar individual, everything coming super easy, and a year later are left wondering, “how has everyone passed me up?” Yep, your boredom undercut your motivation and they all did pass you up. The right level of difficulty keeps us at our best.
Too difficult - the downward spiral.
At the far end of the difficulty spectrum, is the place few desire to hang out. And, honestly, you shouldn’t. (Although, there is more to it than we can digest in this draft, in a later blog - “Why some people excel and others don’t as things get harder.”)
I think we all have been there. Shut down is usually inevitable. As a kid who could generally coast through life, my first real experience hitting a wall came at a summer “I DID IT” Iowa style intensive wrestling camp. It was basically a boot camp for high school kids. One of the many slogans was, “I know I’m going to heaven, because I’ve already been through hell.” It was likely the only camp where campers disappeared daily after parents came and rescued them.
But, thanks to J. Robinson and his crew, the majority of us survived. We learned over 10 days how to push through the “wall,” and win. Because we were forced to do it,... repeatedly.
Thankfully, perhaps, difficulty is fluid. Practice, communication, seeking help, all slide the difficulty level down. Think of the video game you mastered, and then grew bored with over time. A well designed video game always keeps pushing the upper difficulty level at a comfortable and addictive rate. Other factors move the difficulty level the other way: limited time, distraction, memory dump,...
A quick note: Some of us are a hair-trigger each way, between too easy and too difficult. It is good to be aware of your fickleness when handling difficulty. It is something that can be worked on, if you are aware of it. Life is more engaging for those of us with wide engagement lanes, where what defines too easy and too difficult is significantly different.
Our motivation is directly connected to how well we learn, perform, and engage. And this is true in many settings. There is an amazing researcher, who’s name I still cannot pronounce: Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in the mid 70’s described his thoughts on balancing our motivation and our engagement to reach a state of “flow.” Imagine times when you were caught up in an activity where you completely lost track of time. Mihaly would say you were in a state of flow. Activities which are too difficult or too easy do not make this happen. Some researchers have said not in the middle either, but a bit above center. We need a challenge, just not too much of one.
We need difficulty to engage. If we choose healthy doses of difficulty, we are more likely to engage.
It amazes me how many kids today do not know Michael Jordan. MJ is the poster child of self-competitive motivation and achieving flow. He always needed a challenge. As a highly talented individual, on the spectrum of difficulty - he always worked towards moderately difficulty. Even an average difficulty level wasn’t good enough. Annually improving himself in the NBA. Taking the Bulls to the championship round,... and winning, repeatedly. Setting record after record. Just Google “Michael Jordan NBA records.” Needing a new challenge, he tried the MLB. Then, coming back to the NBA, after time off and doing it again! Average was never good enough. That million dollar bet he made for a golf shot makes some sense, now.
Too easy not good. Too difficult not good. In the middle - maybe okay, but not as good as a good challenge we can handle. It makes some sense? But there is more to it.
I hope this has been of value. I often ask student, “Make sense?” More than a comment, a time of self-reflection, to help us find our zone.
More on this next time.
To investigate more of the work of Dr .Csikszentmihalyi and others: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26924995/
Within the last few months, the Board of Directors and staff have developed a strategy to catapult ETHOS into the future and have chosen Jim Finan to lead the way. While building strategic partnerships, developing program excellence, and formulating a regional model for growth, CEO Jim Finan will lead a reorganized team of dedicated staff members committed to STEM education and innovation for our community and region. He will follow the work of John Taylor who will continue in a newly designed role, Director of STEM Education.
Jim has a rich professional track record in forging relationships between stakeholders, community partners, and investors in all positions of his Economic and Business Development career. Prior to joining ETHOS in 2019 as Chief Strategy Officer, he managed Economic Development initiatives for AEP’s Indiana Michigan Power and for organizations within the South Bend / Elkhart region comprising St. Joseph, Elkhart, and Marshal counties in Indiana and Berrien and Cass counties in Michigan. He is experienced in fundraising, budgeting, management, and public speaking. Jim earned a Bachelors in business operations and a MBA from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. He is married to Ellen and collectively they have six adult children and eight grandchildren with No. 9 coming in December.
As an educator and a parent, I know for many of us, the most difficult student(s) to teach can easily be our own.
So, for many of you parents, teaching your own students at home, I feel for you. Thankfully, we can learn a few lessons from a kid’s show which featured a blue dog, “Blue,” and the dog’s owner “Steve.” Steve Burns is a modest guy, only a few years younger than myself, and with teaching skills he has helped many more than he realizes.
One of my first points of advice for new teachers,... “Watch Blue’s Clues.”
My advice for parents… “Watch Blue’s Clues.”
What are you there to learn? #1: Wait time. Steve was the master. As he spoke through the camera, intentionally breaking the fourth wall, there were those long pauses. Long pauses.
The dead air involved with wait time is endless! Initially. Then, it gets easier. We see its effectiveness and understand the timing. Allowing our children the comfort of time to actually think before replying. Empowering. Do you have a child who responds before thinking? Yep, you contributed to that immediate response. Time to practice wait time. Next time you ask a question, try to start over in your mind and search for multiple answers in your mind - or count to 10, if you get to 10 before a response. (BTW: If you get to ten, you count too fast!)
#2 play dumb. Then, turn the question around. Sounds simple? Initially, it is excruciatingly difficult!! …And, then it gets easier and becomes fun.
A couple problems we have to overcome:
As parents we like to be smarter than our kids. It can be tough to let this go. Good news: you are smarter. Bad news: Google has you beat. But, teaching our children to learn, think, and know how to find relevant educational experiences, is more important than content knowledge. So it just doesn’t matter how smart you are. Playing a bit dumb, takes us out of the primary learner position and transfers it to… our kids. Amazing.
So before the next time you ask a question verbally, try this once. Keep the question in your head. Then, restart your brain, and contemplate the question and its multiple answers - both right and wrong. Consider the amount of time which passed. Your brain operates much faster without speech, so double the time. Now you have an idea of the time your kids need to process - really process an idea or question. Even in an ongoing dialogue. Yep, it’s really a lot of time.
Blue’s Clues aired on Nickelodeon, with variants on Nick Jr. Also viewable on YouTube.
So, let’s start off this conversation about something we all think we know - after all, we spent a lot of time there: school.
Imagine: A young, new, clueless teacher walking into a classroom. Clueless, not on the content or the material to be covered... but, on the engagement of the students. Presenting the material, the students are asking no questions… The teacher wonders, "Am I going too slow? A lot of empty eyes out there, and no one is asking questions. Are they getting bored?"
The teacher increases pace, and runs through more and more exciting content, hoping to engage the students. But, rather than getting excited, the group seems less engaged, and eyes seem to wander. And,.. no questions,.. just stares. Students leave, and the teacher is still marveling how efficiently he covered so much content in such little time, and then wonders what he has left to cover the next day.
The period ends... the session draws to a close... and the students leave completely shutdown.
But, this shutdown is not caused by boredom,.. rather, the other extreme - by a month's content being dropped in their lap in a day.
They just passed through a bad twilight zone episode,.. Sadly, about thirty years ago, that was me. Not the student - the teacher. Some of us have experienced this in school. Some at work. Some in conversations with family at gatherings. My students experienced this when I started teaching on an emergency license, heavy in content knowledge, but with very little actual education experience.
We all teach. Sharing an education moment with others is not limited to “teachers.” And, one of the challenges each of us has to deal with is reading the engagement of the learner. Boredom and frustration are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but they look the same! Too easy leads to boredom, and too difficult leads to frustration. Both cause the same effect - shutdown. For a foreman, reading the learner is needed when training the new hire. For the parent, teaching the kids how to take out the trash, or helping with math homework. Among friends, it is sharing cool things we saw on the web, or read in a blog :-).
Easy is shutdown
I remember as a kid, easy seemed like a good thing. It was why we got the sub distracted at school, right? Made it an easy day. Although, pulling that off did seem to take a lot of work. And, it was really boring afterwards. (Maybe we weren’t that smart!)
I had the ultimate experience with experiencing “easy” in the 80’s on what would seem like a great job. Just out of high school, I was ready to bank a huge paycheck - far above minimum wage (surprisingly, more than many high schoolers make today on their first job). And, it came with twelve hour days and a bonus. The money sounded great. But, when I showed up with the other new hires, the equipment for the line hadn’t arrived. So, we were all given an option, quit or start a slow dance with a broom across the floors of this huge, new open building which was missing equipment. And so it began. We swept,.. And we swept. About 4 hours later, our quartet had successfully completed the task. What now? Sweep again (or be fired!). Yep, we swept away,.. and again,.. and again for 12 hours and then headed home. Funny how much quicker it is to sweep a clean floor. What a crazy day. By the time we were done, the floor had been covered in multiple criss-cross patterns - you would think it was a golf course.
Day 2. Yep, no equipment for the line. Here we go again. Yep, there is nothing easier to do than sweep a clean floor. And, yep, it was borderline insanity! 12 hours! At the door of the facility at the end of the day: the sun was setting, and we were discussing who was going to stay with this job, or find something else. The money was good, so everyone decided to stay on.
Day 3. By this time an interesting thing happened. No, the equipment still had not arrived. But, instead of sweeping, guys are talking about quitting. Guys start finding places to hide to take naps. We were shutting down while pushing our brooms. With the same wood handle feel pushing across the same smooth concrete floor. It was too much to handle! Our actions were now defining insanity. But, if we were caught not working we would likely get canned. But, nobody cared. Nobody cared. It would be better than losing our minds.
On day 4, Finally! When we were put on the line, everyone was ecstatic, and we had learned a valuable lesson. We may have been the weirdos in the building, but we were excited to be working! Easy is akin to experiencing hell on earth. Something to be avoided.
But, frustration is an equally awful experience. I think we each have many of these experiences in our past. The ones we like to forget.
And, while we work out of frustration by perseverance, practice, and getting help, we ironically want to shut down. Which leads to more frustration…
A solution in the classroom.
So… after the first few days as a new teacher, I tried something novel. I asked.
As teachers, parents, friends, boss, mentor, we can ask. And, then, listen. It was essential to know the perceived difficulty level of my students. My students and I began discussing the two ends of the spectrum: Material coming way too hard - leading to frustration, and material which is way too easy - leading to boredom. In a classroom setting, both can be very bad, but appear the same. Did you catch that? They appear about the same. And at each extreme, students shut down. Colleagues shut down. Workers shut down. Friends disengage.
And, so I asked my students where they were... I polled them daily. What an eye-opener. It was an odd thing for a physics teacher to do, but it worked and it solved other problems, too. That loud student complaining ‘no one is getting anything you are saying.’ Yep, he is primarily a solo act. And the students who needed help, we connected, and they got it. One of the best things I did early on in teaching. (Anonymous polling is increasingly digital age easy.)
So,... if you have entered a work situation, or class setting as the stellar individual, everything coming super easy, and a year later are left wondering, “how has everyone passed me up?” Yep, your boredom undercut your motivation and they all did pass you up. The right level of difficulty keeps us at our best. (More about that next time.)
And, if you are having trouble motivating a youth or coworker… you may just want to ask about how tough they perceive an activity is, realizing verbally it may take a few asks to get an accurate picture - or pushes of the broom.
7 Takeaways From One School’s Experiences With Distance Learning | Edutopia
As an educator, one of my favorite online forums is Edutopia (edutopia.org). While I enjoy multiple professional online journals, this one tends to really put out the good stuff for the aspiring teaching professional and parent "in the know of all things education."
As a science educator, I span the views and social reactions to help gauge our country's job of educating the masses. Each day is a mixed bag of individuals thinking their way through the day to stay healthy through this disease, and then those who interact with health science as an inscription on a magic genie bottle. The former considers being upwind versus downwind to other people. They understand "6 feet" is not a magical number, but a relative term. It may actually mean less distance between well masked and disinfected people, and a football field from the unmasked family, with the feverish kid,.. who just entered the restaurant!
(BTW, genie bottle or not, I will strongly encourage 6 feet is a good minimum for all.)
So,.. looking to the fall. What has been the best of our reactions to COVID? We need to consider these best practices of the past few months. Personally, I hope those are the policies and procedures we will likely see in the states in the immediate future. And, I hope they are traded for better policy as we continue to learn more.
Looking to Mary Davenports synopsis, #1 and #2 on her list, are not the "6 foot separation" or "wear masks" we have become accustomed to in our new normal. What are they??
Teamwork between schools and agencies (with solidarity) and communication. Awesome! In my opinion, teamwork and communication are in the top two list of our best science teachers’ top three list.* Now, do we need the separation and masks, of course, but without working together and disseminating the ever-morphing battle plan effectively, they may not matter much to really overcome this disease.
One change I would suggest? Move #7 to #3. How about to the #1 spot? People. People have to be #1. And, not ourselves first, but others. It’s a higher motivation tier. Also, it’s important to keep the people in front of the disease, in front of the machine we're building to battle this thing. Not the other way around, or we risk losing focus and drive. People have to come first. It is the why.
* (For years, I thought the best thing about teaching physics was the awesome content. Now, don't get me wrong, the physics content is awesome, but it loses its value without individuals working together to solve problems, and finding effective (and cool) ways to get the word out. These last two make the science fun and rewarding with new opportunities to really explore physics. Then, when you realize the significance of the many individuals you are working with, and put them at the top of your equation, teaching takes on a new dimension.)
After this crazy Spring, all schools are now preparing for the fall, with everyone working to figure out what plan could survive the uncertainty. And similarly, every online educational journal is taking a stab at what the fall will look like, and offering its own two bits.
It may be helpful to think, as we are already into summer, "without the disease how would we have acted differently over the last few months in a previous year?" Through this period of pandemic, we have seen individuals who have taken new modes of operation and demonstrated the best of the human spirit. The amazing people "on the front lines." If we each have not said a prayer recently for these individuals, then we should. What are they doing today that is different, or better, from what they were doing back in March? I would suggest: improved focus on 1, 2, and 3.
And, we should also consider those "in the trenches behind the dotted white line." These are the ones behind the counters of businesses, whose owners are hoping to stay open enough to survive this disease. Considering recent events, are the owners now thinking, "how will I survive if my business is the epicenter of a couple dozen new cases?" Last weekend, across the state border, I entered an eating establishment, gauging the workers were well protected, also wearing my mask, and keeping the social distance having read the signs on the door. On the door was a sign which clearly stated to customers "No entry without masks," and another detailed designated areas for the customers. Yet, over my short stay, I watched a majority of individuals arrive without masks, and sit where they wanted. Hmm. (1) I don’t think they were putting the worker’s health in consideration, (2) they definitely missed the solidarity effort, and (3) their 2nd grade teacher would have been disappointed at their lack of ability to read a message posted on the front door.
As Americans, we can be pretty fickle. As the public deals with cabin fever, it will be important to support our schools and educators. And hope we all keep thinking as we get through this page in history.