All life comes with a degree of risk. Will you pursue that dream? Will you take that job? Should you invest in something now with the hope that it pays off later? Most of us learn to minimize risk as we grow, understanding that a slow and steady approach to life is usually safer than taking big, impulsive leaps. The key word in that last sentence being “usually”. There are moments when taking a gamble isn’t just prudent, it’s necessary. Right now, our world needs to take a chance on teachers. Otherwise, we’re choosing to set our students up for a long and difficult future.
We’re all driven by the same three things: Purpose. Mastery. Autonomy. According to Daniel Pink, the author of Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, true intrinsic motivation stems from those three roots. Sure, we’ll work for food. We’ll work for money, and for a shiny new pickup truck. But when it comes to what really drives us, what instills our jobs with meaning and turns an occupation into a vocation, it all comes down to the big three. Purpose. Mastery. Autonomy.
The best teachers strive for all three. They find meaning in their work. Their passion is contagious, and they cultivate a deep and abiding love of learning in their students. But even the best teachers aren’t immune to the drawbacks of the job. Long hours, poor funding, and a lack of support inevitably take their toll. We see it all the time with burned-out teachers leaving the profession in droves, and In-between them, a vast continuum of teachers ranging from sporadically motivated to barely hanging in there.
A Question of Trust
One huge problem is trust: teachers need it, but culture is often hesitant to give it to them. It’s much easier for the public to put its faith in big curriculum companies—the ones who project success and promise that if we just implement their program with fidelity, if we just stick to the script, we’ll get everything we want and more! So, we hand them gobs of money, and the American education system languishes. It turns out critical thinking doesn’t flourish when stifled by a ridged academic system, and neither do teachers. So what’s the solution?
It’s Time to Take a Chance
Perhaps it’s time for Americans to take a chance on teachers. Why not loosen our grip and give some power back to the educators? Teachers already have purpose—after all, they have the opportunity to change lives in a marvelously impactful way. They have, in communities that support them, the chance to develop real mastery. If we saddle them with top-down initiatives that deprive them of autonomy, we end up cutting their drive and removing all creativity from our schools.
When we trust faceless corporations with our children’s education—instead of investing in the people who have dedicated their time and lives to raising our children – we sap our classrooms of the priceless gift of having a truly driven teacher.
How To Help
So what can we do? How can parents and principals and policymakers around the country give teachers the autonomy they need? How can we take a chance on teachers?
- First, step away from direct instruction. If your school makes teachers read a script, speak up. Encourage the administration to shake things up. Make sure your teachers have a voice in the decision-making process.
- Secondly, discover how teachers yearn to teach. Finding out what they believe can deeply impact the students in their classrooms. Ask them how they’re planning to change lives and positively impact the world. Just ask them. They care, and they know the way.
- Lastly, help them get the support they need. Teachers are dying for time. They are desperate for curriculum, and they could really use more resources. Ask them how you can help to lighten the load.
Building A Better Future
Generally, you support teacher autonomy when you help them make their visions a reality. Create a GoFundMe. Offer to volunteer. Support their professional judgments and be an active member in the learning community. Write a letter of commendation about something awesome about your child’s teacher to read into the minutes at a board meeting. You can disagree with teachers, certainly; but recognize the value of their experience and advocate for the initiatives you mutually support.
When we go out of our way to recognize and appreciate our teachers, we cultivate classrooms where passion and purpose thrive. Remember, when teachers are driven by purpose, mastery, AND autonomy they’ll do more than stick around. They’ll drive classrooms to greatness.
What about you? Are you ready to take a chance on teachers?
Editor’s Note: Today’s image is from A Letter to My Teacher by Deborah Hopkinson and Nancy Carpenter. Find your copy today!