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!

You Are a #Rockstar

Tracy Watanabe has tagged me in the #Rockstar meme for bloggers. Originally started by Miguel Guhlin, the meme has been traveling around the globe for about three weeks now. Thanks for including me, Tracy!

5 Ways Blogging Has Rocked My World

  1. Like-minded colleagues – Like Tracy, I too am energized by those who are passionate about education. In her Rockstar post, Tracy said, “I thrive when I’m having fun learning, creating things, connecting, and making a difference in the lives of students and teachers. My batteries recharge when I’m around others who have the same passion.” Yes, indeed. Me too! I have been energized and more engaged in teaching since I began blogging.
  2. Writing – I’ve always written and wanted to be a writer. Now I am, in my own bloggy sort of way.
  3. Contributing – Sometime during the past year, I dared to contribute, as Miguel suggested. I began to participate in the online conversation. It was actually quite simple. Instead of just randomly wandering to an occasional blog post, I became deliberate. I signed up for free online services and began making an online presence for myself. I joined the conversation by logging in, leaving comments, and sharing my own writing.
  4. Connecting –  As a result of daring to contribute, I have made connections. I have new friends and collaboration partners through my experiences blogging.
  5. Inspiring – My students are bloggers too. We inspire each other. They have seen me make connections over the past year, and several of them are stretching beyond the limits of what I’ve asked them to do on their blogs. They are making connections and contributing to the world. I would like to think that I inspired some of that, and that rocks my world!

Blogs I Follow

I have dozens of blogs I follow, and on any given day, hundreds of blog posts wait patiently in my Google Reader. To be honest, most of them I just glance at the titles.  Many I scan. Few I read. The ones I read most faithfully are by those that I have connections with. When I see that these folks have posted, I read their posts from top to bottom. These people have become my friends, and I want to see what they are saying. Tracy Watanabe, Sheri Edwards and the fine bloggers below are some of those who have made blogging special for me.

One of these is a local friend who has been blogging longer than I, one is a brand new blogger sharing her beautiful photographs, one is a young teacher fairly new to blogging, and three are friends I met in the teacher blogging challenge in January of 2011.

Nancy CarrollTeaching is Elementary

Michelle TeGrootenhuisMrsTG.com

JoAnn JacobsColor Wheel Symphony

Theresa AllenCSRN Technology

Lyn HowlinCosy Corner

Laura CoughlinLove::Teaching

How Has Blogging Rocked Your World?

I am tagging these six to join us in the #Rockstar meme. Should you choose to accept this challenge, you can write a blog post telling how blogging has rocked your world. Link back to the original post by Miguel and then tag five (or six, as Sheri and I did) more participants.

Thanks for rocking my world with your beautiful blogging and the connections you have made with my students and me. You are all ROCKSTARS!

I Am So Proud of My Students!

We are busy–up-to-our-eyeballs busy–getting ready to host a K-8 Relay Recess for the American Cancer Society. Junior high students come early to school, work during recess, and then some more at home–creating genius ideas, editing handouts, making gifts for survivors who will join us.

I can’t even begin to tell you how proud I am of them and the REAL-LIFE work that they are doing this month. We are all energized and excited. This is what school should be about! It’s been fun to see in action the principle: Never Work Harder Than Your Students. They are definitely working as hard as, or harder than, I am! I will share more next week after the Relay Recess, but today I have a picture of one of their fundraisers, The Tree of Hope, which is hanging in our entryway at school.

In addition, here are some of their blog posts about our fundraisers.

Iowa Technology Education Connection

Today was the first day of ITEC11. It’s been a challenging and thought-provoking day. ITEC is populated by technology leaders and newbies, alike. The name Iowa Technology and Education Connection is a good name. We are not only making connections with other educators, but we are discussing how education is connected to technology. Just some random thoughts…

Which is more important in our technology-driven environment? The pedagogy or the technology? They are interwoven into one. We’ve always taught with technology–pencils and books are technology. I enjoyed hearing Punya Mishra’s comments about this.

The terminology is changing from technology use to technology integration. Now, to technology innovation.

Can we teachers get out of the way enough to allow students to solve problems innovatively with technology?

Evaluate where you are and where you want to go on this Technology Integration Matrix. I am nowhere near the lower right hand corner, but that’s where I’m headed! I want to get out of the way so my students can be involved in goal-directed transformation. Sounds like Student-Centered Learning to me!

My favorite takeaway from today was Gary Stager’s keynote address this morning. So simple, yet so profound. “Ten Things You Can Do With A Laptop” are all available for children and adults to accomplish in school together. There are resources galore for these and other activities for our geniuses. What are we waiting for? Let’s get out of their way.

  1. Write a Novel
  2. Share Your Knowledge
  3. Answer Tough Questions
  4. Make Sense of Data
  5. Design a Video Game
  6. Build a Killer Robot
  7. Lose Weight
  8. Direct a Blockbuster
  9. Compose a Symphony
  10. Change the World
  11. (Bonus) Be a Scientist, a Mathematician, an Engineer, a Luthier, etc., etc., etc.

Can’t wait for tomorrow! Day 2 of ITEC.

NaNoWriMo YWP Blog Series Index

I have been a crazy blogging maniac the last week. A friend made a suggestion, and I took it seriously. In fact, I wrote 8 posts about NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program, sometimes known as the YWP. I guess I am getting warmed up for NaNoWriMo because I have written exactly 5,168 words since October 7. That is the equivalent of 3.1 days of writing on my novel starting in November, but–oops!–it’s been 9 days since I started.

That’s OK! I can ramp it up. I know I can do this!

Anyway, now this series is over. (Unless, of course, someone mentions another potential topic…)

No…no…I must tell myself.  It is now time to try to find a plot, meet my characters, and freeze some casseroles.

Here is an index of the NaNoWriMo blog posts I made, which I hope will be of some help to teachers who are new to National Novel Writing Month with their students. You still have plenty of time to learn about it, sign up, and get started! (I know, because my first year, students actually started noveling on November 1 before many of them had had a chance to sign up.)

Later Posts

Blurring the Lines Between Author and Audience

Noveling, the Common Core and More

Magical Moments in Teaching

Congratulations, Winner

We Wrote Novels

Off on Another Year of NaNoWriMo

Best of luck and happy noveling to all the Young Writers and their teachers!