Thursday, July 10, 2008

Inspired Teaching Institute Day 4: Greater gratification

What’s your cardinal orientation? Yesterday, I learned that I’m a solid “South-East,” so I care that everyone in a group is involved (South) and I’m driven by my intuition (East). I enjoyed brainstorming the strengths and weaknesses of Souths with others who share the work-style type. Much more than usual, I wasn’t the only one taking special care to include all voices. And for the rest of that day, I paid even closer attention to the Institute group dynamic.

Enter today’s debate. Pro-rewards versus anti-rewards in an imaginary new school. The planning discussions moved quickly once the rules were outlined, and I was asserting myself and interjecting like I did before the seventh grade, when something switched. I paid more attention to getting the job done, as a “North” would, and finding out all of the details, the who/what/where/when/why, like a true “West.”

Extrinsic rewards—incentives that are outside of the individual, like money or pizza parties—can take many shapes, and in this situation, my desire to win was propelling me more than my interest in considering the potential effects of incentives. Would a decision from the debate jury in my team’s favor have been an extrinsic reward?

I’m glad the jury didn’t declare a winner, because I might have lost sight of this jewel of an epiphany: I chose to argue in favor of rewards, even though I generally don’t support them. Call it an intellectual exercise. But just before the jury posed questions to my team, we took time to explore our personal beliefs about extrinsic rewards, more than we were willing to earlier in the activity. We only had a few minutes left, and at least as a group, our focus wasn’t on winning or losing or demonstrating any more to the jury that we wanted to convince them, because our simmering ideas needed to be addressed. That is intrinsic motivation.

I only realized this because I seemed to be the one person a bit antsy to get back to preparing our next argument. My whole student history was reflected then. What faded in the seventh grade and only came back during college was an unslakable curiosity. In the end, I let that very strong desire and my South-inflected concern for group members’ experience win by not protesting, just listening.

I say, Dan Stinebring, Pam Brooks, Tom Reid--eat your hearts out. My college professors moved me with their own passion, and not just for astronomy, African American history, and bowling. They taught me to love learning, and I'm delighted that so many Institute educators share their goal.

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