LIVING AND WORKING IN AN INTERNALLY
written by John
County Community College
all had those students who we would like to find a way to
motivate. Perhaps we feel that the student is missing out
on an opportunity that they don't seem to see, or that they're
not reaching their full potential.
Having recently met Dr.
Edward Deci and having begun reading his work, I've come
to appreciate his Self
Determination Theory (SDT) and how it relates to motivation.
SDT is based on the premise that human beings have three basic
needs: relatedness, competence, and autonomy¹.
In short, it states that, "To be self-determined
is to endorse one's actions at the highest level of reflection.
When self-determined, people experience a sense of freedom
to do what is interesting, personally important, and vitalizing."
Edward Deci & Richard Ryan. Doesn't that sound
like an optimal learning environment? An environment where
a student is compelled internally, rather than constantly
by the teacher's external urgings, to strive for greater and
greater heights of achievement in their educational and athletic
I would personally relish such a setting, and try very hard
to create one in my physical education setting at Niagara
County Community College. This article is not about creating
that environment however. If you're interested in how to utilize
SDT in that pursuit I suggest you begin your research at http://www.selfdeterminationtheory.org/
to familiarize yourself, and then find your way to competence
autonomously from there. No, this article is about teachers
themselves, and how to live and work in an internally motivated
setting rather than an externally motivated setting.
As I wrote earlier, internally motivated acts are ones that
are driven by a sense of relatedness,
or autonomy and as such are empirically fulfilling. It is
my hope to convince educators who read this article that there
are avenues available to them in their vocation that can still
fall under this definition - that the ability to create your
'dream job' is close at hand and you need only consider some
of the following ideas to reclaim it.
The suggestions I will put forth are rooted in part in the
NASPE Initial Physical Education Teacher Education Standards.
While I'm aware that there are some out there that believe,
at least in part, that we as educators are constrained by
standards - let me say I understand but do not agree. Externally
motivated actions that manifest in the form of 'teaching to
the test' can feel limiting and disagreeable because they
seem to belittle both the student and the teacher. Teaching
with the standards, not so much 'to them',
Standards are a guide constructed by highly educated, well-intentioned
peers that are put in place as sign posts to designate good
professional practice. Ultimately, if you would like to do
right by your students you're going to want to put forth practices
that have been tested and proven to work. Right? It's like
preferring to enter a building that's been constructed by
a group of experts rather than one that's been designed and
built by a group of novices. I don't know about you, but I'd
sleep better under the roof of an expert, and that's where
I'd feel more comfortable resting my children's heads for
To stay with the building simile, I'm going to suggest some
'decoration suggestions' in this article. Because while you
may have to give way to the educational framework, the question
of educational freedom remains yours to color as you see fit.
And so I'll offer this 'Fab Five' to get
you started and perhaps you could come up with some of your
own ideas in the aftermath to help refresh your curriculum.
The result should be a feeling of connectedness, competence,
and yes, autonomy.
Standing on the Sidelines - In many physical
education curricula there are multiple opportunities for competition
in the classroom; small-sided games, Beat the Clock style
initiatives, and a whole listing of others. In these situations
many teachers take the opportunity to facilitate the activity
safely and efficiently, but not all teachers take the time
to seek out the teachable moment.
Standing on the sidelines denotes the idea that
we are not in close proximity to our students, which of course
ought to be the case. I don't mean that we have to be the
star of the game, or even in the game at all (although never
underestimate how much fun students of every age have trying
to beat their teacher at something!). It simply means that
we don't disconnect from the experience. We should intentionally
work to integrate ourselves into the active mix of the class
in order to be in the right spot at the right time to take
advantage of the teachable moment. A missed shot, a poor defensive
decision, a taunt in place of a kind word, can all give rise
to this moment. When you are detached from the action you're
usually too far away to notice these moments let alone have
your students learn from them.
Theory and closed practice only go so far; demonstrating
higher ordered thinking (applying previously learned skills
to a novel situation) should be reinforced in the class setting
by the instructor when it is demonstrated. In short, catch
them doing something right, or correct them when they get
off track, but above all be present so that you can discern
between the two.
Create a Memory -
A couple of months ago I wrote about bringing in community
representatives to enhance your curriculum. Whether it's a
Sport Night, Father-Daughter Dance, or a Scavenger Hunt, the
idea is to go outside of what your contract asks of you and
"create a memory" for your students and their parents.
Doing so will distinguish you and your program as something
special in the school community. The connectedness that you
may yearn to feel in your school may only be a Winter Olympics
Night away. Get together with the PTO/PTA in your school and
brainstorm about how you can bring in a big-ticket item that
students will recall fondly 20 years from now. Over-the-top
water elements, exotic animal trainers, outrageous obstacle
course components; your imagination is the only limit!
Getting to Know You - It's been said that
care how much you know until they know how much you care."
But the question of how to show that caring appropriately
in today's hyper-sensitive society can be a difficult one.
Get back to simple things. Ask students about their classes,
their hobbies outside of class. Ask about siblings that you
may have taught in the past. Ask how they liked the last unit.
But most importantly, listen to them intently.
Don't just pass the time waiting for their teacher to come
pick them up, or until the discomfort of a chance meeting
in the hallway, office, or even somewhere outside of school
has ended so that you can go on your way to what's really
important. The student IS what's really important, and your
opportunity to forge a bond with any one of them is just that
- an opportunity. Take it as an opportunity, and you will
be on your way to a more connected school environment.
Same Lesson Different Year - The Simpsons
kicked off their 23rd season this past September. Homer still
works at the nuclear plant, Marge is at home with Maggie who
still doesn't talk, and Bart and Lisa are still in elementary
school. It's a formula, and many Americans still enjoy it
every Sunday and any other day they show re-runs.
If your class has been going on for the better part of two
decades or more, perhaps you are familiar with this idea of
formulaic consistency. What I'd like to suggest is that perhaps
'your Simpsons should leave Springfield.' The supports of
proficient modeling, well constructed progressions, deliberate
practice, honest execution and effort should stay in place
in your class setting. However, perhaps you could consider
some new 'guest stars.' New lead-up activities to practice
different aspects of similar skills, new rule and/or scoring
structures to compel transfer of learning to unfamiliar scenarios;
or how about new activities altogether? Have you ever tried
These are games with similar skill sets to many common North
American games, but posses an interesting twist that may even
appeal to some of your students from other countries. Perhaps
the games will be novel enough that students who have long
been at the bottom of contesting situations can start off
on a more even footing and in doing so find renewed interest
in physical education as a whole.
Professional Development is Personal Development
- your new curriculum will have an even better chance to thrive
if it's backed by solid professional research. You don't have
to come up with every idea on your own. Professional development
opportunities are set up by enthusiastic peers who want you
to succeed! Change is growth and growth is living, so professional
development can also facilitate personal development. Whether
it's a new way to get off the sidelines and into the game,
create a memory that lasts students a lifetime, create an
opportunity to get to know your students better, or spice
up your curriculum with something new, professional development
should be part of a steady diet of growth for any professional
who wants to enjoy a long and healthy career.
In closing, many of us want so much for our students, but
sometimes neglect to cast the same wistful gaze on ourselves.
We hope they'll strive for excellence, and at the same time
believe that our chance to excel may have come and gone. We
expect students to work hard to become great contributors
to our society just by telling them, when we could perhaps
get farther by showing them. Drive yourself as you
would your own students. Ask more of yourself and step outside
of your comfort zone. The gifts you receive shall not be extrinsically
pleasing, which may have dulled your drive up until now²;
but rather intrinsically satisfying, which is limitless in
¹Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic
motivation and self-determination in human behavior.
New York: Plenum.
²Deci, E. L. (1971). Effects of externally mediated
rewards on intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 18, 105–115.
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