Developing teacher motivation, Part 3

We’re using this holiday break as an opportunity to reflect on school culture. This is the final post in a three-part series discussing the findings of Primed to Perform, a book that develops a framework for understanding motivation in the workplace. In this series, we will examine the book’s conclusions within the context of teacher morale.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

In this piece, we will examine effective career ladders, compensation systems, and role design for educators. Needless to say, if we’re simply thinking how we can assign “tasks and work” to our teachers, we’re going to fall short of our school’s cultural potential. Further, if we fail to design systems that excite our deepest human potential, we’re going to miss the “endless immensity” of our achievement.

Let’s begin by examining role-design.

Role Design – In the book, the authors present an anecdote about the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain. They describe how every employee (from the bellhop to the housekeeper) has been given a budget for the sole purpose of delighting customers:

“One waiter in Dubai overheard a man talking to his wheelchair bound wife about how nice it would be if they could spend time together on the beach. The waiter used his budget to build a wooden walkway so the couple could eat their dinner on the beach. The waiter not only had permission to play, but he could see the results of his experiment and know that it made a difference for his customers.”

The purpose of this anecdote is to highlight several aspects of role design that are often overlooked, but that are very powerful in increasing employee motivation. The authors suggest the following items are most important (for a recap of ToMo scores, refer back to Part 2 of the series):

·         Role design that enables experimentation increases ToMo by 68 points

·         Role design that enables employee learning through variety/novelty also increases ToMo by 68 points

·         Role design that promotes a sense of purpose increases ToMo by 64 points

·         Role design that prevents employees from working alone increases ToMo by 36 points

Now let’s consider these findings in the context of a school. What should we expect the effect on teachers to be from using scripted curriculums? How can a school’s course-offering be expanded to allow for top-rated teachers to experiment in their content areas? What if a teacher’s professional development plan included their own list of collaborative peers and how they wanted to grow? Couldn’t coaching conversations also include new techniques a teacher has tried and how they can master them? Clearly, effective role design for teachers is more complex than simply determining who’s teaching what subjects and when.

Career Ladders – The problem with career ladders in most fields is that they incentivize employees to think about how they can get promoted rather than how they can increase the quality of their work. The problem with career ladders in education is, that for the most part, they don’t exist. The education sector stands to benefit from a wider adoption of career ladders because having them would ensure that as teachers grow additional opportunities and responsibilities would be made available to them. A clear problem that arises, then, is how to do this without damaging motivation.

One answer comes from the Pittsburgh public school district, which came together in 2010 with 70 teachers, principals, and district union officials to find better ways to reward and recognize their teachers:

“They created a career ladder program. Teachers who were ready for more responsibility could apply to several newly created positions. In one role, expert teachers would teach and coach their colleagues. In another, veterans would spend some of their time helping an entire school improve its learning environment and culture. ‘We had some amazing educators, and we wished they had exposure to more children because they had such a tremendous impact on the students they served,’ explained a former leader of talent at the district. ‘A lot of the teachers that wanted to increase their impact really loved working with kids, and didn’t want to leave the classroom for administrative roles.’ They could now pursue alternative career paths to share their knowledge while continuing to develop their own skills.”

Another idea, though more cumbersome to implement, is to create an individualized career ladder for each staff member. In order to do this well, the authors recommend having strong clarity on what good performance looks like at each rung of the ladder and that there are holistic expectations for employee performance. This means that performance indicators should have both tactical (explicit and clearly observable requirements) and adaptive (actions an employee might take that are creative or innovative) measures. Finally, employees should be able to self-identify (that is, without a manager) whether or not they have met the criteria of good performance.

Compensation – In their discussion on compensation, the authors note that money is often a poor tool for motivating employees. In fact, it is more common for money to be an “activator” – the reason an employee decides to take a different position or decides to leave a low-ToMo organization. In education, there have been numerous studies examining the relationship between teacher pay and performance. In one experiment in Nashville, teachers were paid bonuses of $5,000, $10,000, or $15,000 based on student exam performance. It was found that the increased pay had no significant effect on student results or the teaching practices of the instructors involved. Elsewhere, pay for performance schemes have led to accusations and findings of cheating and corruption.

The book presents YES Prep, a network of charter schools in Houston, as a school operator that has made significant strides in improving compensation structures for its teachers (it should also be noted that YES Prep ties compensation directly to its career ladder):

“YES Prep does not believe that our teachers will suddenly work harder for the promise of earning a higher annual bonus,” YES Prep states. “However, public education is one of the only remaining industries where salary is determined by years worked not value-added, and we think it’s time that changed. The goal in implementing the Continuum [the YES Prep Career Ladder] is to reward great teachers and create teacher-leadership pathways where our most effective teachers can continue to grow without leaving the place where they are making the greatest impact – the classroom.”

We will be examining the YES Prep Continuum in more detail in future posts, but it’s clear that their model focuses on creating numerous opportunities for growing teachers to step into. Not only that, but in most cases their top talent is able to continue teaching, broaden their impact outside the classroom, and increase their pay all at the same time.

This concludes our series on understanding the framework for motivation presented in Primed to Perform. We hope that you’ve collected several ideas about how culture and motivation can be improved at your school!