About Me

Thanks for being here! I am a mom of three (two girls, 15 and 13, and one boy, 9) and a teacher of many (thousands during my more than 17 years teaching high school English and Spanish in Philadelphia). Forever a student, I love learning - whether through talking to others, reading, watching movies and documentaries, or traveling. I also love running (slowly), hiking, and practicing yoga!

Monday, August 29, 2011

What Motivates

What bestselling author Daniel Pink says in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us makes a lot of sense to me. True motivation, he contends, comes not from rewards or punishment, but from our "deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to better  ourselves and our world" (straight from the book jacket! I read more of the book, but this summed it up nicely, as book jackets tend to do). The introduction describes a 1949 experiment by a psychology professor studying primate behavior in which monkeys were given puzzles to solve. Without any prompting, the monkeys began to focus on solving the puzzles almost immediately, and they were successful. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, too. In other words, the simple gratification of completing a task, or attempting to complete a task, was reward enough. Even more surprisingly, when the monkeys were given rewards for solving the puzzle, their success rate actually decreased. The offering of a reward (food, in the case) served to distract and disrupt them! Interesting ...

And I agree, because I know it to be true for myself. I like being rewarded (and hate being punished) as much as the next girl, but I know that what really motivates me is something deeper, something truer.

Genevieve, exploring the floodwaters after Hurricane Irene. She didn't want to come but we promised her a bowl of Pirate's Booty and a movie when she got back. She came. 
So, where did I go wrong with my own kids? How do I know I've gone wrong, you say? Perhaps it was the fact that I "motivated" the girls to walk to the library with me to get this book with a lollipop, or that I overheard Grace saying to 8-month-old Joseph the other day: "Say mama or I won't give you this Cheerio!" (he didn't say Mama). I routinely threaten the girls that if they do not get in their pajamas and brush their teeth with a little more urgency that I will not stay in their room a moment after lights out, and maybe,  on a really bad day, I once hinted that if they didn't start helping around the house more I would have to leave and go live with Nana and Poppa Ty. Movies, shows,  computer time, and sweets are rewards. Praise, too. Lack of the above, and timeouts, are the punishments. And I'm not about to get rid of all of this. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to survive. But ... but .... I want to keep Daniel Pink's ideas about intrinsic motivation close as I try my best to shepherd Grace, Genevieve, and Joseph into lives that are ultimately rich and satisfying, and as I begin the new school year with high school students who are conditioned to work for the A but who may or may not enjoy coming to school and learning. Because doing something for the sheer joy of doing it--as baby Joseph still does--is ultimately the best way to go.