Carrots, Motivation and FedEx

By Jennifer Blackwell

Right now you’re in one of two camps – you’ve bought in and are on the bandwagon of changing how education is approached and are actively trying engagement strategies when they fit your lessons or you’re offering carrots. Carrots are one half of the reward-punishment idiom “carrots and sticks” and are seen as incentives, prizes, perhaps even flat out bribes.  We’ve seen carrots work in the past to get responses from our students, but do they still?

In truth, each of us has something that motivates us:  a person, a thing, a goal – that self-interest that gives us inspiration to power through. The science behind motivation can be useful in our classrooms. As author Daniel Pink points out in DRiVE, “human beings have an inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise their capacities, to explore, and to learn.” His book reminded me that if correctly motivated, even a previously unengaged student can be successful. [If you haven’t had a chance to read it and want to better understand how teams, organizations, systems, and classes can work together – I recommend you add DRiVE to your summer book list.]

Pink drills home that the factors of autonomy, mastery, and purpose scientifically lead to better performance and personal satisfaction. While his text may initially seem only applicable to business models, the techniques he shares are transferable to education.  If we can create an environment in which our students have the freedom to choose an outcome (autonomy), connect with the inherent urge to improve their skills (mastery), and demonstrate how a greater good can be impacted (purpose) – our students will perform at a higher level. They will engage.

We need to address their motivation.
How?
With FedEx.

At some point in our lives we’ve had to ship something. There are multiple options available, but if it has to be “deliver[ed] overnight”, you choose FedEx. Two years ago a colleague first introduced me to “FedEx Projects” – a class assignment which fosters creativity with a few simple guidelines:

  • Groups of 4 students arranged in a way that each group member contributes equally to the outcome;
  • With a goal of developing a project that demonstrates meaning;
  • Completed on the “delivery” schedule (overnight or within one class period); and
  • The work must start on the first day the project is discussed.

Companies like Atlassian and Google first embraced this project style with their employees. Reaping solutions to existing problems and ideas for new products that didn’t exist or weren’t shared until employees were presented with this opportunity. No carrot was involved. The employees didn’t get any more pay or recognition. It was intrinsic.

Our students need this opportunity.

Incorporating “FedEx Projects” into coursework takes some planning [and in fact may flop when implemented the first or second time, but that’s okay…fail forward.] For help in FedEx-ing, you can watch and share these videos – create the atmosphere:

Let your students brainstorm topics, what goal they want to accomplish. Encourage their motivation to shine. Watch what happens.

Because let’s face it, we’ve still got carrots.

Will you FedEx? If not now, when?

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