Buying the Why

Daniel Pink is someone whose philosophies and thinking I admire.  I read his book “Drive" a couple of years ago, and it seemed to encapsulate my evolving thinking to that point very well.

I loved Dennis Littky’s “The Big Picture”. I read it, re-read it and wrote notes in the margins and in the spare pages at the back. When I gave that copy to some of my leadership team, they said they understood me and what Drives me, much better.  

Daniel's work helped me critically reflect further upon my leadership practices.  I had been very focused on encouraging our students to be self-motivating, self-moderating, self-monitoring, reflective leaders of their own learning. I needed to ensure I expected the same of my staff. 

The difficulty is this can lead to a laissez-faire approach where motivated students and staff set high standards and strive for them, and others do not.

So what to do? 

Daniel’s work in Drive makes it clear that carrot and stick approaches are not the answer. This ties in with the writings and studies of Alfie Kohn. Kohn's book, “Punished by Rewards” should be compulsory reading for teachers, parents, business leaders, and especially politicians.

I often refer to what is almost becoming a mantra - High Trust, High Expectation. This works for most, in fact for most it works extremely well, providing it is built on a base of a strong and meaningful relationship between the trusters and the trustees, the expecters and the expectees (I doubt that is a word).

There is one key element that is also needed, and that is reflection (as mentioned above).

Reflection needs to be taught and it needs to be practised. Do something 20 days or more in a row and it becomes a habit. So, at the end of each lesson, at the end of each learning period, at the end of each practice, at the end of each day, take some time and teach your children to reflect and how to reflect effectively.

The Reflective Practitioner is objective, considered, honest, seeks improvement, and is semi dispassionate about their performance. By this I mean they are realistic - they understand that luck plays a part in any performance, that over congratulating yourself for success can be as dangerous as flagelating yourself for a failure.

Persuasion is a huge component of what we do in education. Much of our time is spent in helping (persuading) the reflective practitioner to make necessary change. Change to make progress, through to change to achieve a paradigm shift. 

This change process and its success, lies in our ability to persuade people to embrace new ideas, concepts, approaches, mindsets and strategies. As if this was not sufficient of a challenge, we are trying to achieve this in  a world dominated by rapidly changing technology.  Gone are the days where you could quote research figures off the top of your head. With google in our pockets, everything can be verified at once - checked or challenged. There is no longer a monopoly on information.  We are moving into a world where learning can happen anywhere, anytime and with anyone.  Google in your pocket makes the art of persuading and moving people in a better direction much more challenging.

So with these challenges how do we persuade change in our schools? 

Robert Cialdini’s research into influence and behavioral science can help us to encourage (persuade) others to embrace change.  

Three core qualities to move people towards change:

Attunement – Can you see through a different set of eyes? The old saying of ‘walk a week in my shoes and you will understand me.'

Buoyancy – How do we stay afloat facing the choppy seas of change, rejection, and set-backs?

Clarity – How do we make sense of information? We must move from information hunter-gatherers, to quality control, curators of information. We need to be able to sift and sort, to verify and validate.

I see similarities between these three and Guy Claxton’s Four R’s

Reciprocity - which we renamed Relationships.  ‘Being ready, willing and able to learn alone and with others'. 

Resilience - 'being ready, willing and able to lock on to learning'. Being able to stick with difficulty and cope with feelings such as fear and frustration.

Resourcefulness - 'being ready, willing and able to learn in different ways'. Having a variety of learning strategies and knowing when to use them.

Reflection - 'being ready, willing and able to become more strategic about learning'. Getting to know our own strengths and weaknesses.

To encourage (persuade) others to embrace change, Pink suggests that we should focus on small wins. As we continue to find success through these small wins they will eventually move people to where we need them to be. For this to happen we must move the locus of control. It is important for us to not let power overtake our core values, as it will make it hard for us to understand and value the perspectives of others.  

One of the reasons I have loved this opportunity to start anew at Western Heights is because it has allowed me to reinvent myself - to be the best me I can be. All the things I wished I’d done from the start at previous schools, I can do from the start here. All the mistakes I’ve made in the past can be learned from, and hopefully avoided.

We have to become a better version of ourselves in order to improve our ability to move people to where they need to be. 

To be that better version of ourselves again comes back to reflection and to interrogative self-talk. This is so important, but finding the time and the space (the quiet place) for it is always a challenge. This is where a PLG (Professional Learning Group) is so helpful. 

Last week I met with a PLG of principals from around New Zealand. We reflected, discussed, debated and challenged. The "crowded curriculum" was a topic that led to some tough questions and some internal questioning of what we believe, what we accept, what we know and what we think we know. 

Interrogative self-talk helps us stay afloat. Interrogative self-talk can motivate us and help us achieve our goals. Pink provides a great analogy in Bob the Builder, who asks the question can we fix this? Asking the question is the first step to achieving the fix.

Persuasion, motivation, encouragement, empowerment - are catalysts for change. The key as leaders is not to leave them hanging…

We need to ensure there are resources, infrastructure, support systems and the climate in place, for action to evolve and take shape.

One of the greatest frustrations is to see people full of hope and fervour losing that Drive because the environment and infrastructure didn’t support the change they were trying to make. Persuasion from that point becomes ten times harder.

Why Why Is So Vital - Buying the Why

It is so easy to focus on the how - how we will change this, how we will improve that. 

What we must focus on is the Why. If our colleagues and co-learners understand the why, and are fully persuaded by the why, they will persist, they will be resilient and they will be resourceful to ensure this necessary change happens.

Drive left Behind

A K QuoteDaniel Pink Drive


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