Dare to Care

construct, create, communicate, collaborate, and think critically

29/Oct/2011
by Denise Krebs
5 Comments

Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose


I just returned from a conference for adjunct faculty at Buena Vista University. The keynote speaker was Troyce Fisher, a great educational leader in Iowa. She helped us unpack the college’s vision statement:

BVU’s Vision
We aspire to be a remarkable educational community, focused on learning, challenging every student, faculty and staff member to set and meet the highest standards of academic achievement, character, conscience and compassion.

My greatest takeaway came from the Dan Pink RSA Animate “Drive” video (below). When people are engaged in meaningful work, the motivation for them to do better is not for pay; they are motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Autonomy – When people are self-directed and engaged, they do wonderful things. Management needs to get out of their way.

Mastery – People have an urge to get better at stuff. We do it not to get wealthy, but because it’s satisfying. Technically-sophisticated highly skilled people all over the world are working for free. (e.g., Linux, Apache, Wikipedia). Challenge and mastery are great motivators.

Purpose – When profit becomes unhitched from purpose, the results are uninspired workplaces and people don’t do great things. Flourishing companies are animated by purpose.

I like that I am part of an organization that aspires for every student, faculty, and staff member to “meet the highest standards of academic achievement, character, conscience and compassion.” It seems they know something about what I have learned over the past year about motivation, being a lifelong learner, and 21st century learning for all students.

Now, my question is, can I apply the motivating qualities of autonomy, mastery, and purpose to my full-time teaching job with 7th and 8th graders?

Autonomy – Can I get out of their way and let them make decisions on how and what to learn? Hmm…I’m not sure. We have the Iowa Core/Common Core hanging over our classrooms, feeling stifled at times. However, I believe there is freedom built into the standards. I know my 7th and 8th graders cannot be as autonomous as adults who have already found their way into engaging and meaningful careers. I still have to offer some structure. As Steve Hargadon recently said at #ITEC11, “When we balance structure and freedom, we unleash individual energy and potential.” I am working on what that balance of structure and freedom looks like in my classroom.

Mastery – If I manage to give them some autonomy in choosing their way, then the projects they are working on should be things they are motivated to do well and get good at.

Purpose – Education can be purposeful. It has to be for more than the grades they earn on their report cards. What a lame excuse for a motivator! I tell my students, if it’s only about grades for them, then let’s just all pack up and go home now.

We just finished a wonderful “unit” in 8th grade exploratory, where students planned and accomplished a Relay Recess for all the students in K-8 in our school system. Talk about purposeful! They were motivated! They were given lots of autonomy in the planning (along with the ready support of four of their teachers), they were given time to pull it off with excellence (mastery), and the purpose was obvious when we saw the wonderful time that was had by the K-8 students, survivors and other guests. (More posting on our American Cancer Society fundraisers and the Relay Recess later.)

What do you think?

Can we give students meaningful work all the time so that these intrinsic motivators guide them? Rather than the “payment” of the grades on their report card?

Here is the Dan Pink video. It’s really enlightening!

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