Motivation and change, values and passion: Making the connections

[cross-posted at LeaderTalk]

I will be returning to the classroom at the end of August after a year as a special education consultant and professional development facilitator. I decided to return for a variety of reasons, the most important being that I miss the energy I pick up from daily contact with students and the next that there are so many things I want/need to try with students as their learning contexts change at such an exciting and fast-paced rate.

Today I am still a consultant and I am preparing for a teacher induction session we are designing for new teachers in our school system, the Association of Jewish Day Schools of Montreal. (Interestingly enough, I will be facilitating that session on the 21st and participating in one at the new school system on the following day!) The other day I spent the afternoon looking for video examples of different aspects of classroom management to include in the session. What I found was certainly food for reflection.

Essentially, I seem to have a choice between the inspirational teacher a la Erin Gruwell
(Freedom Writers) and Jaime Escalante (Stand and Deliver) in Hollywood teacher movies or the angry teacher in student cell phone videos on youtube.

I have yet to meet a teacher who become one in order to be angry at his or her students or in order to expect mediocrity from them (check out this cute little movie on that theme :) ) yet … I know teachers who do this on a regular basis.

On the contrary, most teachers I have spoken with became teachers because they want to make a difference in the lives of learners, like Erin Gruwell, and because they want to share a passion they have around a certain subject and see it grow strong in young people, like Jaime Escalante.

I have recently had the pleasure of working with teachers who had forgotten why they became teachers.

Yes, it was a pleasure.

I want to give my reason by framing it a bit first. Kelly Christopherson‘s recent post in LeaderTalk addresses the issue of motivation and it got me to thinking.

How do teachers stay motivated to teach and to learn when the playing field changes on such an astounding level?

I am motivated to teach and to learn, to action, when what I am doing has relevance for me because it is tied to my core values, my passion. The answer for me, therefore, lies in this next compound question:

How do we reconnect teachers with their passion AND reframe it within changing contexts?

I firmly believe that before we can motivate teachers to do anything new we need to connect it to what is important to them, to tie it to their values and their passion.

Relevance and seeing purpose are key to internal motivation – and we know that internal motivation is key to learning. Dr. Marvin Marshall writes, in Using a discipline approach to promote learning:

“True change must come from INSIDE an individual, and therefore a teacher must understand how to create an environment in the classroom in which children WANT to learn, WANT to behave appropriately, and WANT to achieve.” (para. 5)

Not only must a teacher understand this for students in the classroom, but the same understandings apply for leaders about the teachers in their schools.

Now, to return to the teachers who had forgotten why they became teachers.

It was a pleasure to work with them because we began a change process that started off as some run-of the mill PD on Differentiated Instruction (DI) that is becoming a shift in school culture that will allow Differentiated Instruction to take root as a learning model in that school.

It was a pleasure because I saw angry and unmotivated teachers rediscover their passion for teaching by being allowed to have the time to talk with each other and their school leaders about their concerns and fears, but most importantly about their dreams for themselves as teachers.

At first, many of the teachers at this school did not want to learn about DI. They said it was nice in an ideal world but would never work in their classrooms. So we stopped teaching the theory and the strategies and we started to focus on the teachers. I asked them – What is it about teaching that touches your soul? And the conversation grew from there. By the end of two sessions the teachers (all but 3 who are still holding out, but their colleagues are working on them!) asked us to return to the DI workshop we had begun because they insisted it was relevant to their needs and the needs of their students.

The school’s principal fully supports the learning that her teachers need to do together and has abolished monthly staff meetings in order to allow structured time for groups of teachers to meet to talk and learn together. This support is integral. The most inspired of teachers can lose their inspiration without it. In researching this post today, I found an article that underlines this importance:

Stand and Deliver Revisited. The untold story behind the famous rise — and shameful fall — of Jaime Escalante, America’s master math teacher.

As I transition back into the classroom and into a new school community I will bring what I learned while working with this group of teachers with me. Values and passion are powerful stuff. If we can stay connected to that our schools will become powerful indeed – and imagine the students!

So, I ask you…

What is it about teaching that touches your soul?

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creating a whole brain model for education reform

Image: Brain Dissolving Detail by flora.cyclam made available by a creative commons license on flickr.

The Information Age we all prepared for is ending. Rising in its place is what I call the Conceptual Age, an era in which mastery of abilities that we’ve often overlooked and undervalued marks the fault line between who gets ahead and who falls behind. (Daniel Pink, Revenge of the Right Brain, Wired 13.02, 2005)

This is where we need to focus – right within that fault line.

I believe that it is where current reform, at least in Quebec, is trying to focus. But the fact that we are in a transitional space, the fact that we are trying to implement a reform that highlights right brain activity such as synthesis, emotional expression, and context within a left-brain structure that continues to emphasize the importance of literalness and sequencing through end of session exams…well…this is problematic. It’s problematic because the two notions are competitive. I hear teachers saying ALL THE TIME that they can not afford to focus on collaboration and knowledge management when they are working towards a traditional end of course exam.

We know that both hemispheres of the brain work in tandem for much of what we do. It would be interesting to extend this concept to educational organizations. Instead of working within a competitive structure we could teach and learn within structures that are whole.

Questions to ask are

  • How can we create a ‘mashup’ of left and right brain tasks and environments that make sense to kids as learners and teachers as educators?
  • How can we create professional development experiences that not only teach these ideas but model them as well?
  • How can we manage the transitions?

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mind bending…for real ;)


I just discovered this new (to me, at least) blog On the Brain by Dr. Merzenich, a leader in neuroplasticity from UCSF.

I’m excited about this little discovery because brain plasticity – the ability my, your brain has to reorganize itself – supports my belief that I can find ways to help people learn, that learning can happen as long as it is consistent, appropriate, and timely. I’m looking forward to staying up to date with the latest research here.

Among the many resources here I was led to children of the code, a site based on learning to read and understand ‘the code’ – the techhnology of written language.

In a nutshell, taken from the site:

The Children of the Code project has four major components:

  1. A three hour Public Television, DVD
    and Web documentary series;
  2. A ten-hour college, university, and professional development DVD
    series;
  3. A series of teacher and parent presentations and seminars;
  4. A cross-indexed website/database containing audio, video and
    transcripts with the world’s leading experts on reading.

Each has five major themes:

  1. The history of the code and its effects on the world around and
    within us;
  2. The cognitive, emotional, academic, and social challenges involved
    in learning to read;
  3. How the structure of the code effects learning to read it;
  4. How the brain learns to read;
  5. How teachers and parents can help children learn to read
    better.

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