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Sidebar                                                  Pages 38-39

 

Our Readers Take Drive

to the Streets 

 

BY BETSY SAMSON

Sidebar Pink
Students at Beaufort County, S.C., School District's summer robotics camp

Daniel Pink acknowledges that some of the ideas he discusses in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us lend themselves to our public education system better than others. The selective relevancy doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm of his superintendent readers, though. In fact, quite the opposite. Perhaps it’s because Pink’s synthesis of psychological research, innovative business models and real-world observations tap into something that transcends profession.

Several superintendents have written about Drive in professional publications and selected the 2009 book as one of their favorite recent reads.

Sue Zurvalec, superintendent in Farmington, Mich., acknowledged Pink’s latest book was one of her “books at bedside” when she was profiled in this magazine last December. “As an undergraduate, my major was sociology, and I also have a master’s degree in human resources, so [the book] resonated with what I knew about human behavior. It was what I already knew, but it hasn’t really been talked about much,” Zurvalec says.

Similarly, Jeff Smith, superintendent of the Balsz School District in Phoenix, Ariz., found Pink’s message about human motivation reaffirming, saying Drive “reinforced what I once thought and then got away from over the years.”

Other fans of Drive say they have consciously applied some of the book’s tenets in the school districts they lead.

Beaufort County, S.C.,’s nearly 20,000 students are given opportunities to work autonomously beginning in elementary school, according to Superintendent Valerie Truesdale. “We use a lot of robotics programs to help kids apply the science and math that we’re insisting that they know,” she says. “In their robotics teams, they are free to create whatever their brains imagine.”

She says that since she read Drive, Beaufort County has been trying to bring more of these autonomy initiatives to the classroom by, for instance, encouraging students to animate the material they’re learning. This, explains Truesdale, affords kids “the autonomy to define the material as they choose” and then present it to others.

Zurvalec, whose district in a Detroit suburb enrolls 12,000 students, particularly finds value in Pink’s “autonomy audit” as a tool for determining exactly how much freedom a work environment offers. The audit asks employees to rank how much control they have over their time at work, who they work with, their main responsibilities and how they execute them. Then the organization’s leaders use the tabulated results to gauge which of these four areas needs work. (Pink includes the full list of questions and suggestions for analyzing the responses in his book.)

In Smith’s case, Drive offered insight compelling enough to change his entire approach to leadership. He says he has stopped “thinking of incentives and rewards as a way to change behavior” and instead now reinforces the importance of the process rather than the product, both in the classroom and at the administrative level. Smith seeks ways to “give people autonomy over their work and work environment whenever possible,” a mindset he tries to instill throughout his district of 2,900 students.

Smith also embraces Pink’s argument that a major part of human motivation is purpose — the desire to be a part of something greater than oneself. He plans to put the theory to use as he recruits candidates for teaching positions in his schools.

“Teachers are motivated by more than money,” Smith says. “I have a very poor population of kids, and teacher salaries are limited. I need to stress that working here, you’re going to make a difference. We’re going to emphasize that you are going to help kids here — this is why you became a teacher.”
 

 

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