Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

In Dan Pink’s book Drive, he talks about the real basis of human motivation. When it comes down to it, people are motivated by the opportunities to pursue the items outlined above: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. It seems like common sense, but can you think of schools or work environments that provide individuals with the opportunity to pursue all three? Reach brings purpose to the work done by our tutors, often for the first time, by giving them the chance to teach. Additionally, we give our tutors the opportunity to achieve mastery in necessary academic content. Autonomy, however, has been our greatest challenge. How do we provide the right level of support so that our tutors can independently excel in teaching?

There have been days where we provided our students with too much freedom. As I wrote in a previous blog post, our tutors seem to have difficulty when given creative freedom. As I said in that post:

When we asked the students to create discussion questions and set up a debate, they really struggled. They are so accustomed to choosing from presented options that the activity of creation is particularly challenging.

We have, at times, also provided activities that provided no flexibility. The tutors have successfully completed all the tasks required, but the sessions fail to appropriately challenge them. Finding the sweet spot in the middle – the right mix of structure and autonomy – has proven difficult.

Yesterday, however, I felt like we had one of our best training sessions of the year. Tutors were split into five groups, and each group was given a new addition to our library: Corduroy, The New Adventures of Curious George, Little Critter: Going To The Firehouse, Bad Dog Marley, and You Can Do It! In their groups, tutors had to develop three different types of comprehension questions: predicting, clarifying, and summarizing. Additionally, each group had to identify teachable spelling words from their assigned stories. Finally, they had to come up with an extension activity to complete after finishing the story.

I was really impressed with our tutors. Without specific instruction, each of the groups chose spelling words closely related to the book’s theme. For example, the group reading about Curious George chose some relevant words: banana, chocolate, factory, monkey, and machine.  Some of the extension activities were equally exciting. After reading about the adventures of Corduroy, a stuffed bear, one of the groups suggested having students design their own stuffed bear – like a paper version of the build a bear workshop. Separately, the group that read about a class’ visit to a Firehouse suggested writing the story’s events on note cards, then asking students to put the cards in the correct order.

I was really impressed. We provided our tutors with an explicit structure, but they were given creative control within that structure. These tutors are learning, and they are starting to truly understand the effort involved in effective teaching. With more training sessions like yesterday, our tutors will become even more motivated to be great. They’re already getting good. Yesterday, I was extremely proud.

Thanks, as always, for reading.


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