A few years ago I read Drive by Daniel Pink. As a result of the book, I changed the face of my 8th-grade science classroom where I taught at the time. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the book was a game changer for me. I re-read it again for a class that I'm taking on leading change in my doctoral program. Given what I've learned (and re-learned in reading it again) and how the book changed my own practice in my final year in the classroom, I'm prepared to say that Drive should be required reading for all educators.
What Pink shares with us is not a recipe for success nor a plan for how to lead change. Instead, Pink provides clarity in understanding the culture of an organization that must be present in order for change to take root and flourish. This is the power of Pink's work: it outlines the precursor for institutional change. It is important, however, to note that Pink doesn't provide a recipe for how change agents should lead institutional change. While that may be seen as a weakness by some, I feel that his work is critically important for the foundation it provides. It's also important to note that Drive does not specifically speak to education (with the exception of an appendix for teachers and parents), though Pink does reference schools from time to time. That doesn't mean that his work is not pertinent, but it does constantly require the reader to think through the lens of education. Somehow, it all works because it speaks to what motivates us as human beings regardless of our profession. Pink also provides some specific resources at the end of his book, in what he calls his "Type I Toolkit". "I" here stands for intrinsic, which is the heart of what motivates people in the complex world in which we work and live.
Why Pink Matters for Education
For several hundred years, education prepared students to insert tab a into slot b and repeat. Individuals had to follow procedures as directed and needed to know some basic facts to accomplish their jobs well. They may have received rewards based on how quickly they could accomplish the task. And if you didn't work fast enough, you may have been penalized. School looked a lot like that too and grading emphasized compliance with procedural expectations more than anything else. Our educational standards fell in line with this as well - know stuff, regurgitate it when asked, choose from A, B, C or D. The motivation that was needed by people was what Pink called "motivation 2.0" which was driven by "carrots and sticks" or rewards and penalties. That was then. (Though it still seems like many schools are stuck in this "then"...but that's a discussion for another time.)
Fast forward to now. For better or worse, many of the routine "insert tab a into slot b" tasks have been replaced with machines. The jobs that remain are those that require creativity, critical thinking and complex problem-solving. To survive in this new world, we need to be intrinsically motivated, a type of motivation Pink refers to as Motivation 2.0. Pink would argue that giving performance-based rewards (or punishments) for creative work is detrimental and will actually produce less creative products. With Common Core and NGSS, school is starting to look a lot more like this creative and conceptual world of work. Students have to develop their conceptual understanding and apply it to novel situations in creative ways. The emphasis is more on the broader habits of mind and less on factual recall. So, if teachers think the old style of instruction and grading with your top-down information transmission and carefully crafted system of rewards and punishments is going to cultivate a classroom culture that values creative thinking and problem-solving, they are sadly mistaken.
I think the first step towards the new standards documents is to shift our classroom culture. How do we give students the opportunity to demonstrate and experience autonomy? How do we craft learning experiences that will allow our students to demonstrate mastery of the content? And most importantly, how do we infuse our work with an authentic sense of purpose? Pink would argue those three components (autonomy, mastery, and purpose) are the keys to what he calls "Motivation 3.0" which is what we need to develop in our students if they are to be effective creative problem-solvers. No adopted curriculum from a multi-million dollar publisher will help you develop that in your classroom, but a $10 book from Amazon, and a lot of tough conversations might be a step in the right direction.
I am thankful that I had a reason to re-read Drive and reconsider what Pink shares with us. Given my new leadership position and the experiences I've had in the past year and a half, I certainly see the world of education through a new lens. Now I can see and appreciate the work for what it says about cultivating the culture of an entire organization, instead of just within the four walls of my classroom.
Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Riverhead Books: New York, NY.