As coaches, we are often inspired by our colleagues. We get excited by what they can do with their students, how they approach new ideas in their classrooms, and the amazing learning experiences we can design together.

We can also be frustrated, because we can often see what else they could do, “if only they listened to us” or “if only admin would require all teachers to do this or that.” We can see the potential in our colleagues because we know what fantastic teachers they are, and we are excited by the next steps we could help them take.

But, the problem is, we can’t force them. As much as we might want to (and to be honest, as hard as we might try), trying to force a change just doesn’t work. We can force compliance, for sure, but not interest, motivation or engagement. And it’s only interest, motivation or engagement that will actually create a sustainable and long term change in practice.

Re-Framing Our Perspective

So, as coaches I’m thinking we need to be less concerned with:

  • forcing attendance at events (and disappointment when teachers don’t attend voluntary events)
  • asking admin to “tell” teachers to do certain things (and feeling frustrated when they don’t)
  • expecting teachers to come to us (and feeling useless when they don’t)

The bottom line is, we can force teachers to do these things, but we can’t force them to be the teachers we may want them to be. So we need to find their inner purpose, their drive, interest and motivation to be the person we know they can be. Because ultimately, the person making the change is them, not us. They have to want to do it, to be engaged in doing it, and to value the time it’s going to take to make the change.

I love this concept of riding the motivational wave:

“When that moment’s right — they’re in a motivation wave — then you help them take the steps they need to do to move forward,” Fogg explains. “The motivation wave will go away. Motivation doesn’t always stay high… so what you need to do when the motivation is high is get people to do hard things that then make future good behaviors easier to do.”

In order to help them get to that space and tap into the motivational wave, we, as coaches need to:

  • value them as learners and individuals
  • discover what they are passionate about
  • prioritize their voice – and listen
  • respect their experience and knowledge
  • help them find what’s next in their zone of proximal development
  • tailor the learning to their needs and developmental level

None of those things will be surprising, we have all done them as classroom teachers, but somehow we tend to forget when we’re teaching adults that we’re all learners, and we all appreciate the same kind of experiences. Somehow, often when it comes to working with adults, we just expect them to deal with whatever professional development experience gets thrown at them.

Recently, in a teacher-training session in Marysville, we asked our participants to reflect on two different types of learning experiences: one where they were learning something they were interested in, and one where they were forced to learn. They created a T-chart to describe the differences:

You can see that when it’s something the teacher is passionate about they will do anything to learn, they feel engaged, that want to keep trying. But when it’s forced, it’s all about just “getting through it”. Unfortunately, when coaches are struggling in schools, they often feel the solution is forcing teachers to do the work, attend the session, or follow the protocol.

Re-Thinking Professional Development

How many times have we heard coaches say (or perhaps said it ourselves): “We need to get admin to tell teachers to….” or “well, since I’m not admin, I can’t force people to do…” Even when we know forcing compliance is not the solution.

During a conversation with Ben at Learning 2 this year, at a weekend workshop I facilitated in Saigon, in a COETAIL Instructors GHO, in all of our discussions about our Marysville trainings, on a Facebook thread, and in a related Twitter conversation, this idea of re-thinking the way we shape professional learning keeps coming up. Most recently, Rebekah mentioned this article in that FB thread, and this section stands out to me:

Less known is that there is a whole literature on how adults learn, originating with Malcolm Knowles and his work on andragogy. Knowles and his successors find that much of what we know about how kids learn is parallel to how adults learn, but that there are also some differences. Research on adult learning suggests that adults learn best when:

  • They see the purpose of what they are doing;
  • It is problem-driven rather than content-driven;
  • They bring significant knowledge to the process, which is both an asset, but also means that they have developed conceptual schemas which are difficult to change;
  • Experiences are powerful ways of disrupting these longstanding beliefs and creating more substantial change;
  • Have choice: choice is frequently a powerful driver of meaningful adult learning
  • Adults learn well when they build up a stream of interest in a subject which leads to both formal and informal learning.

Instead of trying to force our colleagues to become the teachers we want them to be through sheer will, constant pestering, and admin expectations, let’s create a breeding ground for motivation in our schools.

Let’s do it through:

1. Positive Reinforcement & Sharing

We all have outstanding learning experiences happening in our schools, but often it stays locked in individual classrooms, grade levels or departments. How can we ensure that we are acknowledging the great work of teachers already – not just in direct conversation with them, but also among and between our colleagues?

Teams have great potential for solving hard problems in challenging contexts. They bring together more skill, knowledge, and experience to work than any single individual can. They can integrate individual members’ diverse contributions into a creative problem that is what is needed. Of course, as many of us know, teams can also go badly by not getting anything done or falling into groupthink. The challenge is to identify what it takes for teams to maximize their potential.

2. Teacher-led PD

Providing opportunities for teachers to share what they have learned with others, to inspire others to take the next step. From something as simple as speedgeeking, to unconference-style sessions during a PD day, or even a full day, week or year of PD that’s led entirely by our teachers, how can we tap into the outstanding teachers we already have on site (rather than force them to sit through someone else telling them how to do their job in this setting)? And along those lines, ensuring that we are involving teachers in the development of PD plans intended to professionally develop them. They might have a few ideas about what they need to learn and how they might best learn it too…

In empowering our teachers to lead PD, we’re also valuing the importance of connecting PD to the work teachers are actually doing in their classrooms:

“Adult learning works best when it is horizontal learning (attached to something that we’re currently working on) as opposed to vertical learning (attached to something that we’ll potentially need in the future). Though both are essential, it is important to consciously realize which type of information we’re absorbing, so that we can be realistic about the amount of retention that must take place.”

3. Connected Learning Opportunities

Working in a busy school is hard (especially when the school is so big that you can “get stuck” in your building and rarely see teachers from other divisions), often teachers don’t know each other, or realize that there are others on the same campus interested in the same ideas as they are. As coaches, we have great connections – between grade levels and subject areas and between divisions. How can we connect our teachers that are ready for the same type of learning so they feel empowered and part of a relevant learning community customized for them?

This is looking at a broader scale, but this article highlights some key points about the power of sharing:

Acquiring ideas, resources, and materials, and then deeply embedding them into personal practice is a huge part of professional growth. But in an age when collaboration, sharing, and transparency are parts of excellent education, we must not only retain and reflect, but share or redistribute that knowledge. We can’t afford a system that traps wisdom at a time when everyone needs the best stuff every day for every kid.

4. Interest or Challenge-based PD

We try very hard to make our PD sessions as appealing as they can be, we create surveys, we talk to teachers, we look for every possible way to make our sessions as engaging as possible, but they’re still almost always about something very content-driven. We need to understand SAMR, we need to make effective use of our Student Information System, etc. Could we look at those needs as an opportunity to design challenges for teachers, perhaps even based on their personal interests, just like we would for students. Rather than focusing on trying to make the boring session more interesting, could we start with a challenge we have and see how our learners can use their individual skills to develop a solution? Is this something that can be ongoing, so it’s not a one-off session, but something that is so engaging it carries through the entire year?

Along those lines, I really enjoyed this article about the power of interest in learning:

“As for its effects on cognition: interest effectively turbocharges our thinking. When we’re interested in what we’re learning, we pay closer attention; we process the information more efficiently; we employ more effective learning strategies, such as engaging in critical thinking, making connections between old and new knowledge, and attending to deep structure instead of surface features. When we’re interested in a task, we work harder and persist longer, bringing more of our self-regulatory skills into play.”

“The simplest way to open an information gap is to start with the question. Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham notes that teachers and parents are often “so eager to get to the answer that we do not devote sufficient time to developing the question.” Yet it’s the question that stimulates curiosity; being told an answer quells curiosity before it can even get going. Instead of starting with the answer, begin by posing a genuinely interesting question—one that opens an information gap.”

5. Understanding the Why

As a coaching team, ideally everyone is on board for why we do what we do and what we believe about technology and learning in schools. And sometimes we think it’s so obvious we almost forget to ensure that it’s clear to all stakeholders. As we bring in new ideas and initiatives, how do we ensure that the reasons behind these changes are clear to teachers, so they can value the purpose and rationale for asking them to reflect and refine their own teaching practices?

“No teacher should ever feel like they are forced to use technology against their will. With those large technology purchases that take place when going 1:1, there is the temptation to set up a strict mandate policy to use the technology—but I caution schools from doing so.”

Last week I had the absolute pleasure of doing an AMA for /r/NextSpace, and one of the questions was about the importance of revisiting “the why” as a school, which was a great reminder to me that we need to make sure all of our pd starts from why we are doing what we’re doing.

Final Thoughts

These are just five prompts or thoughts that have been swirling around in my head this year – by no means is this an exhaustive list, perhaps it’s just a way to think about professional learning differently. The more ownership we can share with our participants, the more closely aligned we can make the content, and the more opportunities they have for sharing their knowledge, most likely the more engaged they will be.

How are you creating a breeding ground for motivation in your school?

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6 thoughts on “Creating a Breeding Ground for Motivation

  1. This article is so timely for where we are at as a school! Already shared it and look forward to taking some of your thoughts and using them moving forward. : )

    1. @Carrie,

      Awesome! So glad it’s useful for you – would love to hear what comes out of the work that you do!

  2. Hi Kim. Thank you so much for this. As @Carrie says above, very timely for me as well. I had just started a blog post on a similar topic. I would be honoured if you read it.

  3. A technique discussed that really intrigued me was challenge-based learning which encourages learning through introducing challenges/scenarios and then turning the class loose to create solutions. The article pointed out that such interest will turbo-charge the cognitive process.

  4. Kim,
    Regarding your thoughts on “Understanding the Why.” Integrating technology brings out some interesting points of view from the different sub-cultures in the workplace/classroom. On the one hand, you have the pro-actives who enthusiastically promote new technology and see many of the advantages.

    Then, you have guys like me who are very skeptical of new ideas and always cautious when it comes to implementing new ideas and technology. My thought is that just because it is a new idea doesn’t make it a good idea.

    Ensuring that the “why” is clearly communicated and re-visited will help to win over the skeptics and allow the team to benefit from all the advantages that these technological advances bring.

    Great article

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