student achievement

Teacher-Powered Schools Use the Power of Motivation to Their Advantage

Everyone should view Dan Pink’s TED talk on The Puzzle of Motivation. More than once. He provides great examples of how people think and work. WARNING: I'm going to spoil the ending. (Watch it anyway). According to Pink, motivation has three key ingredients: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Let those sink in. Autonomy. Mastery. Purpose. The Teacher-Powered Schools Network has identified more than 90 schools across the country that have these three ingredients. These teacher teams design and implement student-centered, teacher cooperative learning environments. Although each school has its own unique qualities, their similarities in these three components of motivation are moving teacher-powered schools to the forefront of education.

Teachers need and deserve autonomy

At teacher-powered schools, teacher teams have secured autonomy to make final decisions that impact student success. This keeps teachers motivated to provide the best learning environment for students and the best work environment for everyone. Collaboration is an essential practice and all voices are heard. Teacher leaders emerge and emerging teachers are heard. The hierarchy is no longer necessary. Those who work with the students on a daily basis are making the decisions that affect those same students. Together. Rightfully so, all schools have varying degrees of teacher autonomy. The question is how much do teachers in your school have? Could it be more? When teachers have the autonomy to make collective decisions, we are motivated to create the environment we want to work in, teach in and share with our students. It's our school. When given more autonomy, teacher-powered schools are:
  • Motivated to create a student-centered learning environment where students also have more autonomy
  • Motivated to collaborate at a transformative level and
  • Motivated to create the school environment where we want to stay long-term.

Using mastery to work smarter, not harder

Teacher-powered schools utilize the talents and knowledge of our teachers to run the school. Why? Because teachers know and understand our students. We have the knowledge (mastery) to make learning personal, engaging and meaningful for individual students. When teacher teams are trusted to call the shots, all are engaged in the big picture. That's motivating. A positive culture within the school classrooms, and how students are involved in their own education become common practice when decisions are shared instead of handed down. This also means teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards and/or unions are all working toward a common goal. Jobs are not necessarily eliminated. Teachers, administrators and all parties involved begin to share the work and collective decision-making. [pullquote position="left"]The school functions like a well-oiled machine with each part playing an equally important role. In teacher-powered schools, the accountability is high for teachers, as it should be, because of the ownership of decision making. When individual talents and mastery levels of all staff members are used to their fullest potential, the workload is shared. Everyone has a say but experts are utilized to present best options. Ownership of all decisions is shared. Ownership is motivating. When teacher-powered schools utilize the mastery of our teachers:
  • We work with a “boots on the ground” mentality and are motivated to do what's truly best for students.
  • We engage teachers in the whole picture for a vested interest in the entire school.
  • We are motivated to be held accountable for the decisions we make.

Teachers knowing and believing our purpose

Teachers go into the profession with a purpose: to make a difference. Teachers in teacher-powered schools are afforded more flexibility to make a difference when we have autonomy and influence in making the decisions. We feel our purpose in action. Teachers, and the entire building staff, are not just supporting students when we are with them, but the entire time they are in school. That's a big difference. Teacher-powered schools also have teacher leaders in different roles and/or rotating responsibilities, thus eliminating the traditional pyramid hierarchy. Purpose leads to passion. We all know teachers have a passion for the job. The additional autonomy and ownership of a teacher-powered school increases the passion and the motivation to make sure every student is successful, not just the ones we have in class. The relationships in teacher-powered schools are incredibly strong. Everyone has a role and is supported by his/her colleagues and the students. When students see teachers, principals and superintendents with shared ownership in the school, it influences them. Students feel the passion and share in the ownership. Everyone is motivated with a purpose to be there. The purpose of a teacher-powered school is for teachers to:
  • Feel motivated to make a difference in a bigger picture.
  • Find supporting roles we are passionate about in order to help the school.
  • Build relationships across the school that motivate positive change in education for kids.
Motivation is incredibly key in schools. For generations, educators have mostly relied on the carrot and the stick, rewards and punishments, control and comply methods as motivators. According to Pink, these methods are outdated. When autonomy, mastery and purpose are extended to the working professionals in a school, and a teacher-powered school is born, the results are amazing. How do I know? I've been teaching in a teacher-powered school for eleven years. At my school (yes, I call it mine—I know I have ownership in it), Wildlands School, our teacher cooperative is given multiple levels of autonomy. We are trusted with the mastery of knowing our kids to individualize the curriculum. We have a true purpose: create a school where students want to be and are motivated to learn. When we utilize these critical ideas of autonomy, mastery and purpose in our school, intrinsic motivation is the daily practice for teachers and students alike. Do you already work in a teacher-powered school? Let us know at info@teacherpowered.org. We’d love to add you to our inventory.
Liz Seubert
Liz Seubert is a co-founding teacher at Wildlands School, a 2016 Teacher Ambassador for the Teacher Powered Schools Initiative (a joint project of Education Evolving and the Center for Teaching Quality) and co-author of An Improbable School: Transforming how Teachers Teach & Students Learn.

Join the Movement