ROWE, ROWE, ROWE Your Learning

Here’s a quick one.

I was passed this great video (very fun and worth 10 minutes), which prompted me to get Daniel Pink’s book, Drive (available at our library).

In both is a great discussion on new research and thinking by the author and those he writes about regarding how we are all motivated in different ways at different times under different circumstances.  I urge you to read it.  If you’re a fan of Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational, you’ll enjoy this, too.  Same vein of gold.

Pink’s work focuses on finding ways to build intrinsic reasons for employees to achieve their goals and produce results efficiently.  He argues that businesses (run by Type A, Theory X managers) offer too many extrinsic (Type X) rewards for things that employees would do better if the rewards were more intrinsic (Type I and encouraged by Type B, Theory Y leaders).   [Keeping up?  Too much management theory and coffee today, I guess.]

Research shows that extrinsic rewards work in circumstances where the tasks are well defined (or algorithmic or step-by-step), but those types of rewards can actually hurt performance when tasks require thought, creativity, or other non-linear paths toward a result (called heuristic tasks).  For these tasks, performance improvements are best gained by removing the reward and supporting internal motivations.  (For example, no one could pay me enough to write this blog.)

The point of this specific post is that Dan Pink writes about the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) and businesses that are trying out this radical shift in their work rules.  Very creative in its approach, a ROWE focuses employees on the results, not the incentives or compensation, as the motivation for performance.  Employees are paid sufficient to support their families and goals, but they are free to establish whatever work rules apply to the results they need to achieve.

I won’t spoil the rest of story, but I jumped immediately to the idea of a ROLE (L for Learning).  I’m familiar with New York City’s experiments in their “School of One” concept schools.  We’re all watching that one, but a ROLE would have many of the same characteristics as a ROWE (without the salaries, of course).  Namely, that students would be coached (maybe by teachers in a ROWE!) to focus on certain educational requirements, but allowed to pursue their own path to them under their own learning styles.  Pretty radical, too, and I would never claim to be an educator, but it is at least interesting. 

I know that certain skills have to be explicitly taught, but there are times, too, when students (and I’m still a student) just want to be left alone to explore their world using their new skills.  I find this to be true very often and I know personally that it serves to reinforce learning better than anything repetitive might be (a la homework).  Maybe that’s just me (but I don’t think so).

As usual, though, my “idea” of a ROLE was not new and I quickly found out that another teacher (a real one) had jumped to the same conclusion and was pursuing it further.  Though I’m mainly focused on the ROWE stuff, I wish him well on ROLE and will be watching, and learning.  Hopefully, he’ll share his results.  Watch and learn with me!  (And watch the video.  It’s good.)

Here’s a Key Input…Parents!

A coalition of civil rights organizations got together recently to blast the Federal administration on their education programs.  They called for addressing the following topics in the upcoming renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or ESEA (previously known as No Child Left Behind or NCLB).  Here are their topics:

  1. Equitable opportunities for all;
  2. Utilization of systematically proven and effective educational methods;
  3. Public and community engagement in education reforms;
  4. Safe and educationally sound learning environments;
  5. Diverse learning environments; and
  6. Comprehensive and substantive accountability systems to maintain equitable opportunities and high outcomes.

Good stuff and I can’t really quibble about the need for any of this, indeed, I am quite proud that I can point to specific things that Cheltenham does to provide for these goals.  Certainly, they are part of our everyday thinking on how to continue making progress for our students.

Another recent article in Time on the loss of learning over summer vacation and another in Newsweek lamenting the loss of creativity in schools only start to get at some of the other challenges we face.

One thing I can offer that virtually everyone reading this note should be aware of is that parents are at the core of many of these challenges.  Parents set the stage, establish the arc, build the foundation (pick your phrase) for much of what public schools will build on to educate children.  Sadly, there are children who enter school who have never held a book, had one read to them, and that don’t know their letters, numbers, or even basic colors, by name.  This happens in our own community, too.  Don’t think it doesn’t.

I only need to point you to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers to show evidence that there is no reason that all healthy, fully functioning children cannot learn these things at an early age. Humans are simply not that different at birth and we cannot accept that they can be so different at age 5 or 6, except to recognize that something in their early environment causes them to be.

I am pleased also to know that others I know share a deep concern that what we have isn’t a “crisis in creativity” as Newsweek says or a “case against summer vacation” as in Time, and we certainly don’t have a “state of emergency in the delivery of education” as posited by the coalition.  What we have, in large part, is a deep loss of basic parenting skill to establish an environment of learning, of support, of opportunity, and certainly a recognition that nothing, NOTHING, is as important as a good education.  [Yes, I know I’m probably speaking to the choir here.]

Parents who cannot provide these supports are dooming their children to a life of unbelievably harsh circumstances lacking the skills to prosper in an ever more complicated world.  Schools, in particular public schools, do their darnedest to bring these children back from, up from, out of these horrible beginnings and to overcome what is for many children a continuing daily nightmare of home life without basic supports.

Parents are a key input to the production engine of great students and a great society of learners, workers, and leaders.  Although the readers of this probably don’t need reminding, I hope we all can support and provide opportunities for our children, support programs that provide for early education, involve ourselves in our schools and their programs, and support school boards in funding programs that, in fact, do provide for all of the six topics above, that work hard to minimize summer learning loss, that add creativity to our curriculum, and that yet still struggle to overcome so much that they cannot control, even before our students arrive at our front door.