Pink applied these ideas to high-tech software companies in his talk, but I immediately put the ideas in the education context. For teachers, these findings are nothing new. Teachers don't get into the profession or pursue positions of leadership for financial gain. They do it because they see a greater purpose in their actions as educators, because they are driven to improve their professional skills, and because, in the classroom, they have a lot of freedom to teach creatively. (Much as we would like to believe the best about teacher motivation, the autonomy granted by longer vacations surely plays a role as well, though perhaps not on a daily basis.)
Take away a teacher's sense of purpose, ability to strive toward professional mastery, or their autonomy in the classroom, and you will see an unmotivated, burnt-out teacher. Pink's model might seem a little shocking to those in the business world, but it is nothing more than a reminder to educators of what we have known all along about our work.
In spite of this, I don't think we always apply these ideas about motivation very well to our students. Pink explained that, when we want higher thinking skills to matter, using external punishment or incentive is counterproductive. The consequence of success or failure preoccupies the mind, limiting creativity. Our grading practices and high-stakes testing can seriously limit, if not paralyze, the ability of our students to solve problems. Instead, we should seek to empower students with the values of purpose, mastery, and autonomy. Figure this out, and our students will begin to surpass our standards.
In his TED talk, Pink seemed to place a high value on autonomy, giving it more time than purpose and mastery. Autonomy is important, but that perhaps it should come as a result of a student's grasp of purpose and demonstrated mastery. Younger students get their autonomy with creative play. Older students need to be given increasing autonomy with creative work. Often the lines of play and work are blurry, and perhaps this is when learning is the most exciting of all.
Want more food for thought? Check out this blog.
What do you think? What are some concrete ways that educators can increase student performance by giving them a better sense of purpose, mastery, and autonomy?