A recent blog by Dave Stuart led to my reflection on teachers’ goal setting as a component of teacher growth and instructional coaching. Stuart’s blog Does Goal Setting Help or Harm Teacher Motivation? triggered the re-examination of my thinking on student and teacher motivation for learning and growth. His 5 key beliefs for teachers to use in building student motivation have application for instructional coaches building teacher motivation. (Find a short video of Stuart explaining the 5 key beliefs here)
Thinking about a teacher’s view concerning coaching:
- Is my coach credible? Believable? Does the work of the coach assist me in achieving my goals?
- What are the costs/benefits of taking part in coaching activities? Will the costs of my time and the stress or discomfort of being coached, be outweighed by my growth and my students’ growth?
- Can I predict that an investment in effort will have a payoff of efficacy?
- Will engagement in a culture of coaching produce collective teacher efficacy?
Stuart’s blog also introduced me to Yerkes–Dodson Law, which explores the effect of task difficulty on individual performance and motivation. The more difficult the task is, the less appealing it would be. The easier it is, the easier for one to procrastinate on doing it. So, on both sides of the curve, you are not performing at your best. To perform at your optimum motivation, you need a certain level of task difficulty/arousal.
I have described that sweet spot of optimal performance with this continuum of fear, attention, comfort, and boredom.
Considering a classroom, students won’t learn at the fear or the bored spots. Fear has high anxiety and promotes fight, flight, or freeze. Similarly, our brains protect us from being bored and the mind wonders rather than focusing on the task at hand. Comfort and attention describe the spots halfway up the Yerkes–Dodson curve. The sweet spot matches the top of the curve where motivation is maximized for performance. It’s a high, leaned-in focused attention.
“Neuroscientists have found that mistakes are helpful for brain growth and connectivity and if we are not struggling, we are not learning. Not only is struggle good for our brains but people who know about the value of struggle improve their learning potential.”
And it is not surprising that the difficulty is something personal, ie different between person to person.
In the classroom a teacher works to maximize the amount of time students can be at the sweet spot. You can’t stay there too long, or the learner may drift to fear. Backing down to comfort at times is important but staying there too long can lead to boredom. The challenging task of teaching is that at any given moment I can have students all across the continuum. While students approaching the fear/anxiety spot need scaffolding and support to maintain focus, students at bored or comfort spots are needing challenge to raise their attention to focus.
School leaders and instructional coaches address the same challenge concerning staff. In a blog post How to Structure your tasks for Maximum Motivation?, Mohammed Al Shibl describes the role of goals and motivation.
“It is a well-established fact that to achieve success in life you need to set goals. Or at least to set clear intentions. Otherwise, your actions are doomed to become inefficient. And to motivate your employees you need to keep setting new goals for them. The challenge in this is it is very hard to maintain the same level of “difficulty” on every task/goal. And that means your/employees’ motivation will be fluctuating on different tasks and their results will be less than optimal.”
My coaching activities continually focus on a teacher describing “goals she wants to achieve” and then connecting my work to the teacher’s goal. My thinking is that professional goals should describe a desired student outcome and illustrate a backwards process for identifying teacher learning/development to achieve that desired outcome.