Drive, by Daniel Pink, examines modern research and philosophy surrounding motivation.  He argues that the old forms of motivation, based on meeting biological needs or working for a carrot or to avoid a stick, are not well suited to many modern jobs that are more complex, problem-solving, and creative.  ”Motivation 3.0,” as he calls it, relies on intrinsic motivators:  purpose, autonomy, and mastery.

One idea that stuck out to me in this book was the idea of baseline pay vs rewards beyond your salary.  From the glossary:  ”If someone’s baseline rewards aren’t adequate or equitable, her focus will be on the unfairness of her situation or the anxiety of her circumstance, making motivation of any sort extremely difficult.”

Teaching seems to have lots of room for autonomy (sometimes too much, sometimes too little), mastery (helped along by good mentors, ideally), and purpose (this is probably what keeps most of us teaching–the effect we have on our students).  So how does teaching do in the baseline pay area?

Most teachers, and the general population, would say that teachers are underpaid for their services.  First year teaching salary matches an entry-level pay but you are expected to perform above-entry level work.  Education struggles with those famously high dropout rates for new teachers (50% in their first 5 years of teaching, according to the US Department of Education )–is this in part because the baseline pay is not enough to keep new teachers from focusing on the “unfairness” and “anxiety of {their} circumstances”?  I know that our charter school staff is paid significantly less than District teachers and yet most of us are motivated to work hard for the students anyway.  However, every time we are asked or told to do something extra, to push a little more, or to step up, we respond with resentment and frustration.  We are already under baseline-paid, and now we are supposed to want to do more?  It’s a hard sell and I think a good part of why we turn over 20% of our staff each year.

Is there a way to improve the baseline pay for teachers, with perhaps a more gradual pay increase to keep the overall salary schedule in budget?  Would districts/schools ultimately save money if they could attract and retain committed teachers rather than replace teachers constantly?  Would increased pay make a difference if underlying motivation problems aren’t addressed (i.e. imbalances in autonomy, mastery, purpose)?

Of the readings, two struck me most:  the excerpt  from How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, and the slideshow notes from Netflix:  Resource Guide on Our Freedom & Responsibility Culture. In so many ways, these very different texts were illuminating the same idea:  What’s working and how can we do more of it?

The Heath’s point out that focusing on a situation’s “bright spots” and looking for ways to expand those brights spots is a more home-grown and successful method than analyzing all the reasons behind a problem.  In the Netflix philosophy, they reward employees who meet high standards and weed out the underperformers to make room for more “stunning colleagues.”  In both texts, the authors believe that focusing on and building more of what works is the key.

I particlulary liked the Netflix concept:

We’re a team, not a family.  We’re like a pro sports team, not a kid’s recreational team.  Coaches’ job at every level of Netflix is to hire, develop and cut smartly, so we have stars in every position.

My question:  It actually came up during last week’s teacher fishbowl:  as educators, we have a duty to serve ALL students, not just the most successful.  Is it hypocritical or somehow dangerous to weed out teachers with the severity suggested by Netflix?  If we “focus on the bright spots” and aim to support teachers who are underperforming, are we wasting students’ valuable time and schools’ limited resources?  Who would be left if we asked ourselves, as Netflix does, Which of my people, if they told me they were leaving in two months for a similar job at a peer company, would I fight hard to keep? My fear is that, in the world of teaching, those left standing may be a very small group.  My hope is that, those left standing would raise the bar and welcome bright new “stunning collegues.”  Of course, the next step of the Netflix philosophy was paying people what they are worth so….

As is so often the case, the idea of merit-based pay seemed, at first, straightforward.  However, the more I read, the more I struggle to envision a system that would address all the concerns raised.  Within the context of our budget unit, one of my fears is the current inequity in funding for schools.  Will merit-based pay break the cycle of the poorest schools having the worst pay scale and least experienced teachers?  Will there be funds directed to those schools to attract the best teachers or will all the best teachers draw towards the best schools where they are able to achieve the best performance and have the best administrators and thus the best paycheck?

Lauren Smith’s article about Washington D.C. schools states:

Early signs of success (with merit-based pay) exist: The District of Columbia has shown impressive gains in its student test scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress tests since 2007, and in the past two years, the achievement gap between white and African-American students has closed from 70 percentage points to 50 percentage points.

These are impressive results in two years and make me wonder how they were achieved.  Were the teachers brought in to replace those fired that much better at teaching?  Were complacent teachers, secure with tenure, shocked into performing?  Did teachers change the focus of their instruction so that students performed well on the tests (and did this sacrifice or enhance their “education”)?

Kim Marshall describes schools that are having success with student achievement:

In many of America’s most effective schools, principals make frequent unannounced visits to classrooms and give informal feedback on what students are learning and how instruction can be improved. Teacher teams in these schools collaboratively design curriculum units, give common assessments to their students every four to six weeks, immediately huddle to discuss what worked and what didn’t, share best practices, reteach what wasn’t mastered, and help struggling students.

Certainly, the current pay scale does nothing to encourage this level of collaboration or motivation to improve.  If a merit-based pay system encourages more environments like this than I believe schools will see improvement in their students because the emphasis is on supporting and improving teachers.  Will the DC district continue to see improvement without encouraging a support system for its teachers?  Is a merit-based pay scale enough?

Marshall, Kim. “Is Merit Pay the Answer?” Education Week 16 Dec. 2009. Print.

Smith, Lauren. “D.C. Schools Chief Michelle Rhee Fights Union Over Teacher Pay – US News and World Report.” US News & World Report – Breaking News, World News, Business News, and America’s Best Colleges – 21 Dec. 2009. Web. 15 Apr. 2010. <>.
I had read Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities as an undergrad so was curious to see it pop up again, in a budget course of all places.  However, this is a very appropriate place for Kozol’s work to appear as it spotlights the Underlying Issues of education and how they are and are not intertwined with money.

On the one hand, money is everything.  For example, Kozol describes the differences in funding for schools when those funds come primarily from local property tax.  ”Total yearly speding–local funds combined with state assistance and the small amount that comes from Washington–ranges today in Illinois from $2,100 on a child in the poorest district to above $10,000 in the richest.”  How did it come to be this way?  I’m sure Larry can help trace the decisions and it seems obvious to me that those making the decisions are going to protect their own first–thus the inequities.  It infuriates me that, as Kozol points out, privileged society sees themselves as willing to “sacrifice” more in order for their children to have a better education.  Do they really believe that, given the same income, the poorest parents wouldn’t spend just as much on their children?!  I also wonder if there are states that have bucked this property tax system and distribute money equally to all the state’s children.  It seems unlikely we’ll ever be able to convince anyone with a “better” anything to give it up in order for someone else’s children to have more.  Money IS everything when you consider these underlying inequities.

So, let’s imagine the other scenario: that money isn’t everything.  I have to hope this to be true.  I have to look at the charter system, which is generally given far less funds per pupil than the traditional system but often returns better or equal results.  I have to look to classrooms like Mrs. Hawkins where wonderful learning and support are happening.  These are hopeful things.  But money isn’t just about schools, it is about the students’ whole lives.  In neighborhoods with no work, no grocery, no prospects, no support, no educational leadership–how are these students going to compete?  And, most frighteningly, could the American economic/social system even support a 100% well-educated population?  I try to stretch my mind to consider what that might look like…

I’ll close with the analogy of the burning building brought up by Howard Fuller:  If the building is on fire, we must rescue as many as we can while we still work to put out the flames.  I suppose this must be true with school finance too–we move forward knowing that some students are being burned and strive to put out those flames (without igniting new ones).  I’m looking forward to this course!

I chose to read The Book of Learning and Forgetting for my School Reform book group because of the intriguing comments Year 2 students had made about it. Also, the title sums up how I feel about most of my formal education.

The Book of Learning and Forgetting is a short (102) but powerful exploration by Frank Smith into the natural state of learning and the perversions formal education has forced upon students and teachers along the way. The book is broken into three sections:

1. “The Classic View of Learning and Forgetting” in which Smith illustrates that humans “classically” learn without effort from those around us, including authors. We symbolically join “clubs” and learn from fellow club members. For example, we join the “literacy club” by having parents that read to us when we are young and we learn from their guidance, modeling and support. This Classic View is how people have learned for all time: apprentice style. I appreciated this section because it reinforced the “soft” ideas of learning and returned teaching to the art of mentoring and not just the control, test, and tell methods of today. I also liked the analogy of club membership when I think of “struggling” students. How can I better create inclusive clubs as a teacher?

2. “The Official Theory of Learning and Forgetting” developed recently and is heavily tarnished with military and “scientific” terminology. The Official Theory includes ideas like grouping, IQ, repetition, and segmentation of concepts. These are all in direct conflict with the Classic natural way humans are wired to learn. The Official Theory continues to hold ground, however, because it is based on “data” and measurable “outcomes” even though the theories behind these data and outcomes are shaky, at best. One point that struck me from this section is connected to the title of the book: a scientist named ____ studied how long it took people to memorize (learn) nonsense words. His work has since been used to support repetition = learning and learning = hard work. Sadly, the other side of his study is ignored: that subjects forgot words at the same rate they learned them. Thus, what was learned by repetition was really not learned at all since it was rapidly forgotten too.

3. “Repairing the Damage” focuses on Smith’s suggestions for returning education to a more “whole” state. He recommends informing others, starting small, and changing the language we use about schooling. He acknowledges that this process will be difficult but well worth it!

Quotes and Questions:

“Schools should be places where students–and everyone else for that matter–can find opportunities to learn everything that is worthwhile in the world outside (the emphasis on the doing, not on the teaching).” p. 98

I LOVE the idea here–but it seems we, as teachers, parents, politicians, and society in general, have wildly different opinions on what is “worthwhile in the world outside.” This is why school choice makes a lot of sense: one size does not fit all. However, there is a reason learning moved from apprentice to mass-education: economy of scale. Is it feasible to return to a more personalized approach to learning on a nation-wide scale? Are schools like HTH replicable financially?

“But today, learning and education don’t mean gaining experience, they mean acquiring, storing, and retrieving information (which is what computers do).” p 74

This quote is in the section discussing online education and the increase of technology over teachers. I find this intriguing as I chose the HTH Flex/online school option for my project. Is it possible to create experience online? Is a virtual experience as valuable as a face-to-face experience? I wonder if there is an evolution of a new kind of communication and relationship happening or if we, as humans, are just cheating ourselves out of “real” life.

I couldn’t wait to graduate my traditional high school and get to college where, I was certain, “real learning” happened. Instead, college turned out to be advanced high school: teacher and text know stuff; I absorb it; I regurgitate it; I have no idea when I would use it after the test and forget it.

I transferred through 4 colleges before finding Prescott College, a tiny (400 students give or take) experiential college in Arizona. I experienced first hand “real learning” which was personal, self-directed, process AND product oriented, and experiential. Somehow, without being formally schooled in education reform, I had naturally known that learning could be flexible, rigorous, and all-consuming (think back to your childhood and the hours you gladly committed to hobbies or day dreams or projects of interest to you). I pushed myself more at Prescott College despite the fact that there were no grades. Brilliant.

Now, I am teaching in an essentially traditional charter school. I am doing all the things I never wanted to do as a teacher; all the things that my high school teachers did that made me want to become an educator so I could NOT do those things. I just did a two day training on the 7th grade state writing test and how to drill our kids to perform better on artificial test questions.

So, what do I think about reform?

I’m halfway through Linda Nathan’s The Hardest Questions Aren’t on the Test and am thinking she’s got a great point: with a framework in place, quality learning stays consistent even though technique or lesson plans or “curriculum” changes. I wonder if this concept could be applied to the field of education as a whole? Is it possible to develop national frameworks that identify what we value in education? Then, can states and schools be freed to create their own programs to meet those goals? Or is that too chaotic? I can see the value in developing students, nationwide, who graduate with consistent skills. A student should expect that the skills they graduate will be valid regardless of what or where their next step in life may be.

I suppose this is the problem: what ARE we preparing our students for? College? Business? Workplace? Citizenship? What will these things look like by the time our students graduate?

Whew. I am looking forward to (hopefully) creating clearer thoughts as we progress…..

Karen Evans


Philosophy of Leadership

I do not come to leadership lightly. I understand that school leaders are in the tremendous position of influencing the cultural, mental, social, emotional, and physical capacities of our future citizens.  It is a sobering and exhilarating thought.  Add to that the responsibility to staff, parents, and community and one begins to realize the immensity of the job.  Being a school leader is serious business.

In all honesty, I am not sure what form my leadership will take.  However, I am increasingly clear on what I value in myself and in leadership.

Currently, I teach.  I have 120 seventh-graders.  I teach language arts at a traditional school, on an outdated campus, with florescent lights and asbestos-tiled classrooms.  We have 45 minute class periods marked by an obnoxiously loud bell, a 23 minute lunch with no hot food served, and… we have a uniform policy that requires belts and tucked shirts.  The best compliment I ever received from a student?

“Ms. Evans, your room is always so…comfortable.”

My students are humans and I treat them as such.  We are individuals working together.  We make mistakes and learn from them.  We overcome difficulties and strive to become better people.  The ultimate achievement in my room?  Being on “D Level” behavior: doing the right thing even when nobody notices.  I accept my students; they find comfort in my room.

This is what inspires me to lead: my students.  If I have any sort of knack for creating comfort out of the madness we call “education” then I must lead.  Without consciously seeking it, I am always in leadership roles at my school.  I like solving problems and, heaven knows, there are plenty of challenges to address.  However, like a pebble dropped in water, the heart of school leadership is centered first with students, then ripples out to staff and beyond.

This year, I have accepted the role of Lead Mentor for our 1st and 2nd year teachers going through the BTSA program.  During the first meeting, one of my “mentees” jokingly bowed like a student in a kung fu movie and said to me,

“Yes, Mentor.”

I know he was kidding around, but I flushed with honor at the title.  A mentor is not an iron-fisted leader, but a trusted guide.  It is truly an honor to lead through mentorship.

With 9 mentees it is not possible for me to address all their needs and questions, so instead I strive to help them help each other too. I am learning how to empower them so that they become stronger without relying on my support.  I am learning to ask more questions than answer, to delegate efforts, and to bend to the needs and passions of my peers.  To me, mentorship is about flexibly weaving outside pressures and requirements with the passions and wisdom of each individual.  Often, it is about unscripted encouragement, empathy, or advocacy.  As a mentor and leader, my job is to enhance those around me.

Looking forward, I can envision my leadership role expanding beyond my classroom or BTSA meetings to students, staff, and community–what I think of as a school’s Team. I know the practice and growth I’m gaining as a Lead Mentor will serve me well as I seek to nurture others.  As an unknown author once said:

“A good leader inspires others with confidence in [her];

a great leader inspires them with confidence in themselves.”

This is how I want to lead.  The key to developing confidence and trust is establishing and maintaining an environment of security.  Of course, this means the bare minimum of physical safety and functional facilities.  However, these alone do not create a school worth leading.  The security I seek has to do with belonging and being heard. This is the less tangible dimension of emotional security: trust, respect, inclusion, support, and guidance.  With these “soft” tools in play, a Team could overcome the setbacks of physical danger or dysfunctional facilities;  I think we have all seen a fair number of movies inspired by such true life scenarios.  No one, however, is making inspirational movies about physically safe, highly functional facilities filled with disrespectful, exclusionary, chaotic individuals.

It is easy enough to write about the importance of emotional security and much more complex to put it in action.  There are a few guidelines I believe are critical:

Be Human–When I am in a leadership role, I don’t want to be seen as “separate” from my Team.  I think it is important for them to see that I feel frustrated, make mistakes, misunderstand, dream big, and have a life off campus.   Likewise, I must remember and value that my Team is made of humans who, too, feel frustrated, make mistakes, misunderstand, dream big, and have a life off campus.  Communication and actions should strive to be humane.

Be a Learner–How often I have been at professional development for teachers where the very advice we are supposed to use in class is not followed by the presenter.  “Teach with visuals!” they lecture.  “Teach in small chunks!” they ramble for the third hour.  A goal I have is to remain the kind of passionate, life-long learner I hope our students are becoming…and to expect the same of the adult members of the Team.  To achieve this, I encourage reflection, risk-taking, collaboration, new ideas, and honest feedback.

Be a Listener–I don’t have a crystal ball or magic wand.  I can’t read minds or puppet-master others.  I can listen.  Really listen.  Then, I can think, reflect, and guide.  Ideally, I will listen more than speak–something of a personal challenge for me 

I do not come to leadership lightly. I am not sure where I am headed with it.  Sometimes, it intimidates me.  In many ways the seven years I have been in education have been like the seven years I played soccer as a child:  Starting in kindergarden, I faithfully attended practices, ran laps, devised drills to practice at home, and cheered on my teammates.  During games, I ran like a gazelle, up and down the field until my face was bright red.  I was a great supporter.  From the sidelines, my mom would call, “Kick the ball, Karen, kick the ball!”  But, I could probably count on my toes the number of times I actually kicked the ball during a game.  I was too afraid of making a mistake, not being good enough, or not knowing what to do next, so I made sure other girls made it to the ball first.

Now, “kick the ball” has become a little code between my mom and I.  Whenever I am bogged down in the what ifs, maybes, and yeah-buts of life my mom will remind me to

“Kick the ball.”

I think this is brilliant leadership code too.  Often times, no one else is going to get that ball rolling.  In many cases, the ball seems headed toward the wrong goal.  Sometimes the Team will work together and other times a leader is going to have to take risks.  If I am going to put the effort into running up and down the field of education, I best be a full member of the team.  Wherever my leadership journey may take me, I am ready to kick the ball.

Wow.  I have been trapped, as both a student and teacher, in far too many uncomfortable rooms and this video series, by Prakash Nair, made me reflect on that sad fact.  I find it hard to easily visualize what a school could or should look like because I am so steeped in what they have looked like.  I’m sitting here in my classroom, under the harsh florescent lights, listening to the neighboring teacher through the slim walls, and staring at the uncomfortable plastic desks.  Yuck.

There’s a reason Starbucks is a popular place to meet friends or go to do work: the spaces are cozy, comfortable, and diverse.  The two analogies that struck me from the presentation where when Nair compared the amount of space we give students to that allotted to prisoners (prisoners get more space), and when he compared the quality and comfort of the seats to those of McDonalds (not a place I would want to sit all day).

I am very interested in brain research and what we know about learning.  I have read much about how the physical environment affects the way people feel and how those feelings, in turn, affect our ability to acquire new information.  For example, the brain prefers natural light over florescent, the color red seems to stimulate hunger, and our eyes appreciate different focal lengths.  Here’s an interesting article by Nair’s partner, Fielding: I like that the ideas behind Nair’s facilities support what we know about the human mind as well as address the learning we believe the human mind will need in the future.

My question:  Is there hope of integrating these ideas without remodeling or building a structure?  My school leases a building from the District and I know other charter schools are in similar situations.  What can be done within a traditional box room?

This year I’ve had the good fortune to also read Malcom Cladwell’s Tipping Point andOutliers as well as a book called Nurture Shock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.  These authors write wonderful exploratory narratives inspired by playing with data.  Each book has examples of data that has been mininterpreted, under applied, or counter intuitive.  Richard Rothstein’s The Way Were Were? focuses in on the delightful subjectivity of data an gave me both a sense of hope and despair for ever sorting out our education system.

Two quotes particulary stuck with me:

Q:  If Americans believe their schools perform more poorly than they used to, reforms will be designed differently from reforms aimed to improve a satisfactory institution.  It is difficult to make a careful assessmet of schools’ ills and successes, or to develop a plan to improve them, if myth gets in the way….  p. 31

Q:  How can I simmer this down to my own classroom or school?  What myths am I in the midst of that might be misguiding my evaluations?

C:  I could copy the rest of this paragraph as I felt it was the cornerstone of the whole book for me.  In all our efforts to improve it seems we are constantly blinded or distracted by things that turned out to not be the real issue at all.  In my classroom, I seem to go through cycles of thinking my instruction is brilliant or miserable–one week the students are on fire, producing amazing work, focused and collaborative like pros.  The next, they give me the classic blank stare, bicker with each other, and fail half the quiz.  What am I doing wrong?! I wonder.  Or, does it even have to do with me?  And, of course, if my state test scores come back high, did I do a good job?

On the flip side, our school happens to have a uniform policy which convinces many parents that we are practically a private school and obviously do not have behavior issues.  While this isn’t necessarily a harmful perception to have out there, are we really upholding an academic and behavioral environment that matches the perception?

I am beginning to really appreciate the complexities of data.  It is a powerful tool and distractor.

Q:  Certainly, we will never all be above average.  p. 111

C:  HA!  This popped out at me as a hilarious truth and one of the funniest things about data: every time performance changes, what is “average” changes.  Even when we try to have criteria-based tests, we are basing the criteria on what the “average” candidate should be able to do to be “proficient.”  So if educators miraculously helped every student test “proficient” or “advanced,” the average student would be the majority.  Anyway, just a funny play on words and meanings and terminol

Q:  No wonder studies consistently find that there is no connection between student performance and teachers who hold master’s degrees. There are likely to be graduate programs that are exceptions, of course. But which ones? Clearly, there is no substitute for good data to distinguish among them, and yet the vast majority of graduate programs have no data on how well their graduates do in the classroom.

At our university, the University of Washington, in Seattle, we don’t hide from these simple facts. Rather, to the surprise of some of our higher education colleagues, we’ve embraced them.

Here’s our thinking: If teacher-salary scales were to be redesigned so that compensation was structured around increased student outcomes (instead of awarding sums after the attainment of any master’s degree of any quality), we’d certainly expect that teachers (our clients) would change their degree-seeking behaviors. Many universities rightly worry that teachers would be less likely to pursue a master’s degree at all. However, and this is an important point, those who did pursue master’s degrees would become more demanding customers: They would seek out master’s programs oriented toward genuinely improving classroom effectiveness.

C: On the surface, I agree very much with what is being said here–certifications and trainings and degrees do not a good teacher make.  I salute the University of Washington for being bold enough to stand up for a meaningful, if less easily achievable, master’s program.  Having spent 5 years earning my BA, 1 year earning my teaching credential, and now 2 more to earn a masters, I have certainly wondered whether my education is really comparable to some of my peers who achieved their BA, MA and teacher certification in an all-in-one 5 year program (and, due to the “master’s bump,” will have made about $20,000 more than I have by the time they are on their 7th year of teaching.)

However, I am stumped by how to gauge “how well their graduates do in the classroom” or how to design a payscale where “compensation [is] structured around increased student outcomes” because this brings us back to the dilemma of defining student, and thus teacher, success.  It is based on entrance to college?  Graduation from college?  The majority of my close friends work in business and IT and none have college degrees–all of their training has been through their employers or through technical schools.  They make twice what I do and have had far more success with job opportunities, too.  So, are they successful students of the public school system?

Can we base student outcomes on test scores?  Progress made?  Is the school in a wealthy, well-educated neighborhood more or less successful than the school in a high-poverty, immigrant neighborhood?  Perhaps the wealthy school has high test scores but have their kids made progress?  Have the teachers there really done a better job teaching or have they just been handed students that are nearly complete to begin with?  Can I, at my small suburban charter school, say I am a better teacher than my sister-in-law, who teaches migrant students in a gang-ridden, high drop out, high teen pregnancy school?  I mean, my test scores are higher so I must be better, right?

Q:  So, my question becomes, Whether we are a preschool, high school, or college, how to we gauge the success of our students, and thus, teachers, in a meaningful way?