Friday, April 15, 2011

Some Stolen Wisdom about Motivation

Writing a guest post on The Answer Sheet, Larry Ferlazzo points out
One of the lessons community organizers learn is that you might be able to threaten, cajole, badger, or bribe someone to do something over the short-term, but getting someone to do something beyond a very, very short timeframe is a radically different story. Organizers believe that you cannot really motivate anybody else. However, you can help people discover what they can use to motivate themselves.

This is very similar to what Edward Deci, one of the premier researchers and authorities on intrinsic motivation, wrote: “The proper question is not, ‘how can people motivate others?’ but rather, “how can people create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves?”

When we are trying to motivate students—often unsuccessfully—the energy is coming from us. When we help students discover their own motivation, and challenge them to act on it, more of the energy is coming from them.
Ferlazzo is a fine example of a Romantic.  He conveniently forgets that many voters now consider community organizing an evil occupation that is only a little lower that pimp.  His minor memory error does not prevent him from making a wonderful point about the goal of education.  That reminder is needed during a week that has NCLB testing as its focus.

Years ago, a volunteer leader in one of our community groups (I had a 19-year career as an organizer prior to becoming a teacher) was comparing two organizers with whom she had worked. She learned a lot of information from Ralph, she said. “But Johnny taught me how to think.”

Perhaps if we’re able to keep some of these concepts in mind, our students will describe us more like Johnny than like Ralph. And perhaps they’ll say we also helped them light their own fires.
I pray that I can get a few students to think this year.

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