What Motivates Teachers: It’s More Than Money

…In a 2010 lecture entitled “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,”author Daniel Pink described the three important factors for motivation in the workplace: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. School leaders take note: These are precisely the factors that are being stripped away from teachers in the name of greater accountability.

In the same lecture, Pink describes an interesting experiment on the link between pay and motivation. Test subjects were asked to perform both mechanical and complex cognitive tasks. While a reward system provided the subjects with motivation to perform better on the mechanical tasks, it actually had an adverse effect on those trying to complete a complex cognitive task. The results indicate, according to Pink, that people aren’t necessarily motivated to do better at complex cognitive tasks by financial incentives; they are motivated by more substantive factors. Since teaching is, at root, both cognitive and complex, this raises questions about performance-pay initiatives.

Which is not to suggest that teacher pay isn’t important. Though teachers are often required to earn attainments in order to qualify to do their jobs, they are paid lower than other professions that require similar attainments, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute. An overall increase in the base salaries of teachers would ensure that money would not be a deterrent for entrance into the profession or a primary cause of attrition. And it might improve teachers’ ability to master their craft. As Pink notes in the same lecture, “Pay people enough so that they are not thinking about money, they’re thinking about the work.”

Additionally, the question of how to hold teachers and students accountable is certainly a valid one. But reducing teacher autonomy and discretion isn’t the way to go about it. Instead, a supportive administration that engages teachers in reflective practice through observations and discussions of teaching and student assessment will go a long way to promoting student learning and giving teachers the respect and the space they need to improve their craft. <Read more.>

Via Shara Peters and Jody Passanisi, Education Week.