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What motivates teachers?

Daniel Pink argues that humans are not motivated by carrots and sticks and yet that is the direction of motivating teachers towards improving their students’ test scores. What are the implications of his very interesting argument for teachers?

Watch this video and post your comment:


and speaking of motivation, being motivated also and especially applies to students.


Robert Samuelson’s OpEd in the Washington Post on September 6, 2010, “The failure of school reform.”


Can teachers be accountable to themselves?

Well here’s a quagmire for you. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan was quoted in the Washington Post


“We want to hold you accountable for high standards” he said, “but give you the room to get there”…” Our job is support you” Duncan said.  “Our job is give you a chance to make a huge difference in children’s lives.”

Can teachers feel SUPPORTED when they are penalized directly for students’ test scores?  Where is the personal accountability in that? Where is the “CHANCE” for teachers in that? Do test scores = high standards?

The Secretary is giving it everything he has to “take reform show on the road” but it’s not a road show and there is no magic bullet to educational reform.

Teaching reform begins with teachers feeling they are not pawns in a political game. Making a difference in children’s lives is what matters. How do we get there without demanding that teachers as well as administrators fix it all and then penalize them if they don’t?

What might happen if we encouraged teachers to be accountable by examining their teaching with the support of colleagues?

Things that are most worthwhile do take time.

They especially necessitate that we are honoring and supporting the work that teachers are/ and CAN DO through reforming in the first person through a self-study of their practice.

What does it mean to “think like a teacher”?

Consider the people you know in different professions. What would they tell you about how their professional training taught them to think? What is their habit of mind for their daily practice?

For example, a lawyer may tell you she was taught to think about arguments, claims and warrants; an engineer may indicate that he understands logic and problem-solving, and a scientist may say she follows the scientific process and examines evidence.

Next, I ask you to blog about what you think it means “to think like a teacher”.

What is essential to “thinking like a teacher”? Is there one key factor?  Is there a common set of thinking?

Does the thinking necessitate:

  • a common knowledge base?
  • specialization in one or more subject content areas?
  • a common set of courses?
  • a Master’s degree?
  • state certification?
  • passing the PPST tests?
  • being National Board Certified?

Join the conversation!

Teacher Be Gone!

Imagine schools without teachers. Are we headed there?  There sure are a lot of efforts to get rid of teachers. DC is just one example- and even with the support of teacher unions.

As in any profession, there are those who are ineffective and in “teacherland” that translates lately to students’ test scores. But what would happen if we reversed the psychology and actually said to teachers:




Why should students invest 50K to become a teacher, with few teaching positions available,  and then be  scrutinized and subjected to a narrow scope of outside assessment? Standards do matter and so do teachers.

There has little conversation about how teachers are motivated to improve their own practice. They are after all the direct players; the ones we all want to be “highly qualified”; the ones who are held responsible for improving students’ learning and enacting a flood of standards. How are teachers encouraged to improve the quality of their teaching?

Is it by the use of incentives like merit pay, a tier professional pay scale, or a “race to the top” by school? Is it by punishments with hordes of teachers being dismissed from their school? The current approach for motivating teachers does not appear to working and some might even just suggest we break the mold.

Despite teachers’ frustrations with the educational system and perhaps the system with them, the one thing teachers know they can change is themselves.

What might happen if we ask teachers to choose to study their own reform effort with school colleagues in order to improve students’ learning?

Revolutionary? You betcha! Students and teachers deserve better than our current approach.

Hot off the Press!

The time has come. . . . I am pleased to announce that my new book, Self-Study Teacher Research: Improving Your Practice Through Collaborative Inquiry, Sage Publishers, has gone to press!

Jump Inside Your Teaching

I begin this blog by inviting you to join me in jumping inside your teaching and sharing your explorations and research about your teaching inquiries.

Are you frustrated with high-stakes standards that are impacting your teaching?! Let me say that that your teaching begins with you. The power of your personal narrative to define the parameters of your own classroom inquiry is at the forefront of your academic thinking and professional development.

This does not mean that there should be no outside accountability. It does, however, bring to mind that change that is demanded by others is less powerful, less meaningful, and less sustainable than change that is self-initiated and self-motivated.  You are a generator of knowledge who can learn about your teaching and about your students’ learning by studying your own classroom. Despite any frustrations you might have in trying to change the educational system, the one thing you know you can try to improve and change is yourself.

Ann Lieberman and Desiree Pointer Mace in their article, Making Practice Public: Teaching Learning in the 21st Century, [2010, Journal of Teacher Education, 61 (1-2), 77-88], call for a “local teaching” movement where  “Growing your own professional development” means giving value to your efforts to shape teaching and learning in your classroom; “Just as a local-foods gardener is invested in the daily care to grow food that will grace the tables of his or her community, teachers can assess a greater investment in their own knowledge and expertise by sharing their fruits of their labors with each other” (p. 86). The key is to belong to a learning community in practice. And so the support of critical friends is essential to our professional practice as teachers.

Many years ago I taught preschoolers and observed how much they learned by getting their hands dirty by jumping into new projects and sharing their work. My advanced studies involved learning about early childhood education, human development, curriculum and instruction, and teacher education. You can read a bit about me on my personal webpage.

I find myself smiling when I reminisce on teaching young children. I watched 3-year olds energetically and enthusiastically dig their hands into finger paint, shaving cream, clay, and mud as they played with and shared their ideas with classmates. With busy hands, they traced and painted, designed and cut, and placed and glued fabric, yarn, and buttons on their self-portraits, which were posted in hallways and on home refrigerators where they were made public. “Look at what I made at school” they shouted.

As we get older, we often forget how much we learned by playing and sharing our ideas with colleagues–by muddying up our hands, making mistakes, and sharing our ongoing understandings of practice. We sometimes lose faith and our sense of agency as teaching professionals. For the last decade, I have been learning and practicing what is called self-study teacher research.

Self-study is a methodology to critically examine one’s own teaching as a way of developing a more consciously driven mode of professional activity (Samaras, 2002); that is you are examining your own teaching from the inside and sharing it with others outside of your classroom so as to add to the knowledge base of teaching and learning. Self-study research involves a self-reflective stance in concert with self-responsibility as well as a responsibility to others. As teachers conduct self-study research projects, they are reminded about the important role they play, and can play, in addressing performance measures and improving the educational system.