Thursday, March 17, 2011

Professional Reflections on Literature

The past few years I have read some inspiring books. Teaching is a career that takes a lot of time to nurture so I choose my readings wisely and consciously. Below are the past 3 books that struck a chord with me regarding where I am professionally as well as some brief reflections.

The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman ©2005
This book provides a historical overview of the US and world economy of the 20th century and how technology has affected it. This was my first eye-opener of how quickly technology is changing our society and our world. As educators, we can either get on board with this new perspective or we can continue to bury our heads in the sand and pretend nothing is happening around us. If we continue to teach 21st century students with a 20th century approach we will undoubtedly fail.

From Good to Great by Jim Collins ©2001
Three things stuck out in this book to me.
1. Good is the Enemy of Great
Education is steeped in tradition. Making decisions based on the past and what is traditional makes us complacent. In order to progress and move forward, we can not settle for "good". Good is comfortable; it's easy. Our children deserve much better than good enough!
2. The Ship Company
Collins described a ship-making company in one of the chapters. They posted a sign in front of their plant. "We built great ships, hopefully at a profit, sometimes at a loss, but always great ships!" What sign are we hanging in front of our schools? What are we hanging our hat on each and every day? What is our logo that drives us? Can we say the same of our students [or citizens, employees, insert your own noun]: We produce great students, sometimes National Merit Scholars, sometimes fast food workers, but always great students?
3. Hedgehog Concept
This is similar to the ship-making company. Collins' website,, describes a Hedgehog Concept in this way, "The essence of the Hedgehog Concept is to attain piercing clarity about how to produce the best long-term results, and then exercising the relentless discipline to say, 'No thank you' to opportunities that fail the hedgehog test." You may call this a mission statement of sorts for a company, business, or school. It is a single, long-term goal that is to be attained. All decisions are made based on that goal. If an opportunity does not allow clear movement toward that goal, regardless of how enticing it may appear, it is rejected. How many times do we as schools and educators jump at the next shinny bell or whistle that comes along? Let's step back and evaluate how that will help us reach our goal. Does it fit our Hedgehog Concept?

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink ©2009
Motivation 1.0: Food, water, and sexual gratification - Survival
We operate under basic survival instincts.
Motivation 2.0: Carrots and Sticks - Extrinsic
In the 20th century we were driven by positive, extrinsic rewards (carrots) and avoided negative extrinsic consequences (sticks). These may include if-then rewards: if you do X then you will get Y. Menial tasks could be performed using carrots and sticks and we could make a living with these veggies and fiber. Unfortunately, the carrots and sticks negatively impact motivation in the long run. However, as Friedman points out, these types of tasks are being outsourced; anyone can do this type of work. What companies want, and will pay for, is what we are now calling homeshoring: America's creativity and out-of-box thinking, bringing us to...
Motivation 3.0: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose - Intrinsic
When companies (and teachers and parents) give employees (and students and children) these three freedoms, productivity significantly increases and turnover significantly decreases. Personal satisfaction and "flow" reaches an all-time high. This is best described by "FedEx Days" and 20% time. Rewards are granted with now-that approach: now that a job is completed, you will be granted Z. Once basic levels of compensation, benefits, etc are met, autonomy, mastery, and purpose become more important to retaining high quality people and getting high quality work. "Hire the right people, pay them well, and get out of their way." How are current educational systems allowing administrators, teachers, other staff, and students to be autonomous, reach mastery in their jobs/course, and giving purpose to their work? Perhaps a better question is how (and why) are these discouraged and suppressed?

How do we improve education in America? How are we improving what we are doing in our own classrooms? What are we doing today that we didn't do yesterday? last week? last year? What steps are we taking toward our Hedgehog Concept? How have our ideas changed regarding what education is and how it is delivered since we started our own path in education? What sign are we hanging in our state, in front of our school and classroom to advertise who we are? How are we contributing to Motivation 3.0? What steps are we taking to give up control to make staff and students autonomous? If money and time were no option, what would your idea of education look like? What are you doing with your 20%? What will you be delivering tomorrow as a result of "FedEx"?