#Oneword at #sunchat: Top Tweet for January 2015

Reflection is a powerful tool- one that goes unwielded so often in the flurry of planning and doing that generally fills our busy days. I noticed that if I wanted to spend time harnessing that power, I would need to develop purposeful structures that would help to cause it to happen. To that end, I’m experimenting with this “Top Tweets” series.

Following the reflection gained by looking back at a year’s worth of tweets in 2014, I thought it might be interesting and helpful to increase the frequency of those reflections, to go back on a monthly basis and expanding on the ideas of the “top tweets” of each month. While the depth of “A Year In Review” can resurrect powerful ideas, I think I’d much prefer keeping these ideas at the forefront of my mind much more frequently.

Here is January’s top tweet:

#oneword Tagxedo for #sunchat – 1/4/15

Most every Sunday morning at 9AM ET, a group of passionate educators come together for #sunchat, a free-form educational chat moderated by New York educator Starr Sackstein. Ultimately inspired by the book One Word To Change Your Life (though more likely by the twitter zeitgeist, which was #oneword-ing all over the place at the time), Starr challenged each of us to choose and commit to one word that we hoped would embody the year to come, and to share it during the first #sunchat on 1/4/15 along with the hashtag #oneword:

I find these types of chats to be extremely energizing- especially those focused on springing forward into a new year. In the hour that followed, educators from around the world inspired me with their drive and enthusiasm around the practice of teaching and learning. By the end, I didn’t want it to stop, though I knew that it would have to if we were ever going to make our #oneword become reality.

Seeing the collection of tweets, I remembered a couple of different approaches to using word cloud generators as an artifact of learning, which I thought might be interesting to capture our #oneword posts. Thankfully, #sunchat is always full of motivational energy:

And so, the Tagxedo image of our #oneword discussion on #sunchat was born. PS If you’ve not used Tagxedo before, I’d recommend it- a word cloud generator similar in nature to Wordle, but with the added functionality of allowing you to customize more of the features (including the shape).

Side note: The #oneword strategy itself has been a rejuvenating one, both for me and for those with whom I work. My #oneword during this #sunchat was “reawaken,” which helps me remind myself that each day is a gift I need to embrace, and that there is a larger world outside of the short-term goals that govern my day-to-day life that I need to see. When I shared it, one chatter asked, “Have you been asleep?” My response: “In a metaphorical sense, I think maybe I have been.” Here’s to waking up in 2015!

Dan Pink’s take on “merit pay” in education

A few months ago, I read Drive – Dan Pink’s latest book about “the surprising truth about what truly motivates us” – and instantly found myself reading it through my educational lens, through the lens of the profession where it is the love of learning more than anything that draws me in (along with so many of my colleagues).  

On March 20th, a small group of central Virginians were able to discuss this latest book with Pink as he visited Charlottesville as a speaker during the Virginia Festival of the Book.  An intimate 40+ person crowd collected in Charlottesville’s CitySpace on the first warm day of the year, engaging in a discussion about the concept of “merit pay” in education as it relates to the central theme of Pink’s book.  During that conversation, Pink asserted, “What teachers, principals, and school superintendents do- to work so hard, for so little pay, in a profoundly screwed-up system- is heroic.”

The contents of that powerful discussion found their way into my e-mail inbox yesterday afternoon in the form of Dan Pink’s latest e-newsletter, sent out for all subscribers to enjoy. Many thanks to Dan Pink (@danielpink on twitter) for adding his perspective to this continuing conversation:

UPDATE: Since the publication of this blog, Dan Pink has posted “Eight Points about Merit Pay for Teachers” on his own website. Pretty high-quality post, highly recommended reading.

Q: Dan, there’s been a lot of talk lately about “merit pay” for schoolteachers – that is, tying teacher salaries to student performance, especially on standardized tests. What do you think of this approach?

A: A few years ago, I thought this was a great idea. Incentivize teachers and the pay the outstanding one more? What coud be wrong with that?  It’s logical, straightforward, and fair.

However, after looking at 50 years of research on human motivation for DRIVE, I’ve changed my mind. I think that this approach, despite is surface appeal, has more flaws than strengths – and that there’s a simpler, more effective alternative. 

Here’s my reasoning:

For starters, most proposals for “merit pay” (sorry, I can’t use the term without quotation marks) tie teacher compensation to student scores on standardized tests. That’s a disaster. It focuses teachers almost single-mindedly on training their students to pencil in correct answers on multiple choice tests – and turns classrooms into test prep academies. (What’s more, it can encourage cheating, as Georgia’s experience shows.) So let’s knock out this approach to merit pay.

A second option is for school principals to decide who gets performance bonuses.  Again, there’s a certain theoretical appeal to this method. But I’ve yet to meet a teacher who considers it fair, let alone motivating.  Teachers worry that principals don’t have sufficient information to make such decisions and that “merit pay” would be based too heavily on who’s best at playing politics and currying favor.  So let’s kibosh this method, too.

A third approach is to use a variety metrics to determine who gets a bonus. You could measure teacher performance using: standardized scores for that teacher’s students; evaluations of the teacher’s peers, students, parents, and principal; a teacher’s contribution to overall school performance; time devoted to professional development; how much the teachers’ students improved over the previous year; and so on. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea. But it has a huge downside: It would force resource-strapped schools to spend enormous amounts of time, talent, and brainpower measuring teachers rather than educating students.  Schools have enough to do already. And the costs of establishing and maintaining elaborate measurement systems would likely outweigh the benefits.

In short, I can’t see a way to construct a merit pay scheme that is both simple and fair. What’s more, it strikes me as slightly delusional to think that people who’ve intentionally chosen to pursue a career for public-spirited, rather than economic, reasons will suddenly work harder because they’re offered a few hundred extra dollars.  Truth be told, most teachers work pretty damn hard already.

Fortunately, I think there’s an easier and more elegant solution – one that’s also supported by the science of human motivation. 

First, we should raise the base pay of teachers. Too many talented people opt out of this career because they’re concerned about supporting their families. For prospective teachers, raising base salaries would remove an obstacle to entering the profession.  For existing teachers, it’s a way to recognize the importance of their jobs without resorting to behavior-distorting carrots and sticks. The science reveals a paradox about money and motivation: In most cases, the best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table. Raising base salaries would help take the issue of money off the table. Instead fretting about paying their bills on an insufficient salary or scheming to get a small bonus, teachers could focus on the work they love.

At the same time, we have to make it easier to get rid of bad teachers. Teaching, like any profession, has its share of duds. Showing these folks the door, which now is quite difficult, is the right thing to do.  It’s better for students, of course. But it’s also better for the teachers who remain. Just as it’s very motivating to have great colleagues, it’s incredibly de-motivating to have lazy or incompetent ones.

So . . . if I could wave a magic wand, I’d dispense with elaborate and complicated “merit pay” schemes for teachers. Instead, I’d raise teachers’ base pay and make it easier to get rid of bad teachers.  That solution is simpler, fairer, and much more consistent with what truly motivates high performance.

Thanks again for reading.

Cheers,

Dan Pink

P.S.  Hope you’ll also check out the Pink Blog if you get a moment.  Our two most popular posts last month explored whether purpose is really an effective motivator and examined the differences between failure and mediocrity

DanPink.com is my website on business, motivation and creativity.  You can also follow me on Twitter @danielpink.

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