Friday, 17 June 2011 21:50

Trust: The 8th Nurturing Force of Intrinsic Motivation

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This blog series rolls on with a description of the 8th force (out of 10) I have identified that brings out the best in children by appealing to the best in them.

Instead of trying to gain temporary obedience from our students through the use of rewards and punishments, these forces help us in our attempts to win our students’ hearts and minds and enlist a genuine commitment to the worthwhile aims and objectives we are trying to promote in our classrooms.

Focusing on and emphasizing these forces helps teachers create an engaging, productive classroom environment that brings out the best in students.  For teachers who may be a bit nervous about the prospect of managing a group of children without relying on rewards and punishments, these forces offer a far more powerful, far more genuine alternative to traditional classroom management approaches that are rooted in Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and depend on extrinsic motivation.

These forces work synergistically to create an environment where quality can flourish.  No extrinsic motivators, either alone or in combination, can come close to producing such results.  No student has ever been rewarded or punished into excellence.  True success comes only when we bring out the very best in our students.  These forces do just that.  

In addition to promoting student desire to engage in specific tasks, these forces benefit a classroom more generally.  Collectively, they build morale and enthusiasm for learning, enhance self-esteem, deepen the sense of connection individuals feel to the classroom and to one another, and increase student willingness to put forth sustained effort.

Nurturing Force #8: Trust

Trust is another vital component of classroom environments that nurture intrinsic motivation.  In a low-trust culture, according to author Stephen Covey, supervision is tight and takes the form of “snoopervising.”  (p. 236, First Things First)  Managers manipulate behavior with carrots and sticks.  Rules and regulations are numerous and cumbersome to prevent loose cannons from wreaking havoc.  The emphasis is on control.  Initiative is low.  

Conversely, in high-trust cultures intrinsic motivation flourishes.  People are internally driven by a sense of teamwork and purpose.  The emphasis is on release, not control.  People’s energies are liberated.  Workers are “fueled by the fire within,” (p. 236, First Things First) not by carrots and sticks.  They are able to pursue organizational objectives, free from burdensome rules and regulations.  Individuals experience joy.

Throughout the school year, it is important to build a high-trust classroom environment with our students and highlight specific examples of how we’re trying to do this and why we’re trying to do this.  The first step in building a high-trust culture is to include the concept of trust in our class mission statement.  That way, students will know that it’s a valued priority that we will be discussing frequently.

Once the idea of trust has been established, look for ways to bring it to life on a daily basis and encourage your students to do the same.  Take advantage of “learnable moments.” (By the way, this is my new favorite teaching expression, er..I mean, learning expression.)  

For example, during any formal assessment, many classrooms use “privacy boards” to separate the students from one another and prevent anyone from looking at another child’s paper.  I understand the idea behind these tools, but I tell my students that in our classroom, we will not use them because I trust everyone to look on their own papers.  Of course, should situations arise where one or more students are peeking where they shouldn’t be, I will move them to another location, but we start from a place of complete trust.

I share my thinking about privacy boards with students because doing so sends a strong message.  It conveys to them that I’m serious about creating the type of trusting environment we described in our mission statement.  

When our managers, bosses, or supervisors trust us, we simply behave differently.  We demonstrate our best behavior because our leaders expect us to demonstrate our best behavior.  Students will rise to the expectation level that we set, and the topic of trust is one great example of this principle in action.

Does this mean that we are naive and will allow our students to do whatever they want?  Of course not.  It simply means that we begin from a high place and only adjust our class policies when those adjustments are warranted.  Accountability is consistent and strong, but it exists within a high-trust culture, not a controlling one in which we expect our students to misbehave.  

New Blog Posts appear every weekend of the school year.

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