Monday, May 31, 2010

A Lesson from Daniel Pink's Drive: Don't Empower... Give Autonomy

As an educational leader I have been doing everything within my authority to empower teachers who work with me. After reading Daniel Pink's Drive, I realize I am doing this all wrong. Beginning next year, I will no longer seek to empower teachers. Rather, I will seek to give my teachers autonomy. Splitting hairs, you say? Daniel Pink would disagree. Let's take a look.

The whole reason I have sought to empower teachers in the classroom and in the greater school community is that I have always tried to hire professionals to a job then provide support for them. In my mind, empowerment for teachers translated into giving teachers freedom and authority. However, according to Pink, empowered individuals never will be as motivated to do a job or task completely, thoroughly and with excellence if they simply are empowered. Why? Empowerment allows my teachers to do things their way only up to a certain point and entirely within the parameters I set for them. This may sound great at first, and it probably is relative to many schools, but it isn't quite enough. After all, I may know good teaching but I don't know Physics or Calculus or Latin.

From this point forward my goal is to grant autonomy to my teachers. Pink argues that for a person to be motivated completely, he or she must have autonomy over four things in his or her work environment: Task, Time, Technique, and Team. without reinventing the wheel, allow me to explain (you should read the book for full details).

Task - If I give a teacher a task and set parameters, he or she will seek to do the task and probably will do it well. If I give a teacher autonomy over the task and I get out of the way, he or she not only will do it well, but also will invest more time, energy and creativity in the task because with autonomy comes ownership. Besides, the parameters I would set probably would be determined by the limits of my own knowledge and experience.

Time - If I require a task to be completed by a particular date and time, practically none of my teachers would take issue with it. If I give a detailed timeline including checkpoints, some teachers likely will work only in the small increments required to complete the task. However, if I assign a task and a deadline and give a teacher autonomy over his or her time, that teacher is far more likely to invest a great deal of time in the task (especially if I have granted autonomy over the task). Do I care if the teacher works in erratic chunks of time including marathon sessions as the deadline approaches? As long as the deadline is met, I absolutely do not. Some of my best work has been generated that way. This is a concept that is causing fits for many baby-boomer leaders and managers who have been brought up and trained to work by a schedule, put in x amount of hours each day, etc.

Technique - If I simply empower teachers to teach a particular way, I am short-changing them and their students. However, if I can give my teachers autonomy over their technique, their pedagogy, I am setting them free to explore new and better ways of teaching, to seek creative new ways of doing the same old thing. By granting autonomy over technique, I will be tapping into what really motivates human beings to excel.

Team - While I can't completely turn teachers loose to choose their own teams in all aspects of daily life at school, I can find some ways to grant teachers autonomy over some of their team assignments. Grade levels and departments obviously must be determined by a division head or director. However, committees, duty rotations, football game gate workers, and more, could be chosen by the team members themselves. After all, who knows better than the team members which teachers will work best together and be most productive?

I hear the cynics now... "Yes, but, you are giving your employees way too much credit." To the cynics, Dan Pink and I both would say two things. First, we are looking for and expecting the best from those who work with us. Second, to grant autonomy to those who work with us, i.e. teachers, certainly requires a higher order of faculty. How do we achieve that higher order faculty? That's a conversation for another day but the short answer is better training of the teachers we have and better hiring to replace those who leave us.

1 comment:

Adam Burk said...

We are very much on the same page. I just wrote about autonomy recently as a necessary condition for schools to become places of authentic learning. I'm interested in your thoughts if you have a moment to read my post.

I am very happy to hear an administrator state that he understands that creating this condition of autonomy will provide the best possible experience for teachers and students. Thanks for being a healthy risk-taker in the spirit of innovation.

Be well,