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Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best

What Would Motivate Our Kids?

In another great RSA Animate YouTube film, Daniel Pink shares what really motivates us. It’s not what we think. After watching this video, I wondered what schools might do with this information.

Currently, our schools use grades and privileges to both motivate and punish students. High grades and special privileges are supposed motivators, and poor grades and removal of privileges are punishments. But extrapolating from Daniel Pink’s research, one wonders whether the incentive of good grades, or the fear of bad grades, and the incentive of greater privileges and the fear of removal of privileges, are really the motivators that we assume. Probably not. Not only does the goal of achieving a high grade often lead to rote memorization (often forgotten) and cheating, it also separates what should be the real goal: learning, from the real reward: learning!

Most of us love learning, and as this video describes, people are willing to learn a musical instrument on their own time with no external reward in sight. They’re also willing to share their learning with others, again with no extrinsic reward. When learning becomes its own motivation and reward, we’re golden, and when we realize this simple fact and hire engaging teachers who love to learn and love to share their learning, and abandon our carrot and stick approach in schools, we may find that our students astonish us with their capacity to learn, produce new ideas, and go on to teach what they know to others.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education and Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life


About zoeweil

I'm the co-founder and President of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). IHE works to create a world in which we all live humanely, sustainably, and peaceably. We do this by training people to be humane educators who teach about the pressing issues of our time and inspire people to work for change while making healthy, humane, and restorative choices in their daily lives. We also work to advance the field of humane education, and to provide tools and inspiration to people everywhere so that they can live examined, meaningful lives. I'm also a writer. So far I've written six books and several articles.


3 thoughts on “What Would Motivate Our Kids?

  1. I try to use a self-reinforcing loop of relationship-building. choice, freedom, and respect of students’ choices and freedoms. It short circuits sometimes, but relationships, choices, and freedoms are all entry points back into our class culture that are much less harmful and much more useful than, say, reprimand, detention, and compliance.

    For students without healthy learning habits, ongoing scaffolding and feedback within that loop help, too. Questions are better guides than commands.

    Friends, how do you help students develop healthy learning habits so they can identify and trust their pro-social and pro-learning intrinsic motivations?

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | January 15, 2011, 8:34 pm


  1. Pingback: Mentoring Motivation - What Daniel Pink Might Say | Christian Mentoring and Leadership - April 4, 2011

  2. Pingback: Rewards: motivating compliance or learning? « Cooperative Catalyst - April 21, 2011

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