How Dan Pink (Who literally wrote the book on Motivation)… would motivate your students

Daniel Pink,
David: Dan, your work has inspired me in many ways. I am a middle school Principal in DC, and I have implemented a lot of strategies and I currently have an Entrepreneur club where we are using exercises from To Sell… You have written a lot about persuasion and motivation. What do you think is the best strategies to use in school to motivate students? (Outside of Genius Hour)

Hi, David. Thanks for being a middle school principal. That is a tough, tough job.

On strategies for motivating students, I’d got back to the three animating principles in DRIVE: Autonomy, master, and purpose.


On autonomy, what can you do to foster greater self-direction? Maybe it’s something as simple as letting students choose what they read rather than have all the books chose for them. Maybe it’s giving students, even at the middle school level, a greater say (and therefore a greater stake) how the classroom is run.

(For another article inspired by Pink’s work click here)


On mastery, what can you do to give students a sense of progress and provide them meaningful feedback that helps them get better? In my view, that calls for a greater emphasis on formative assessment — so that teachers can refine and recast their efforts. I’m not necessarily in favor of eliminating grades altogether, but I’d like to see quicker, more personalized, more individualized feedback in the classroom. Likewise, I’d love for students to learn how to set their own goals (rather than the teacher’s goals or the school board or state legislature’s goals) and monitor their own progress.

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Finally, on purpose, I think it’s essential for teachers to explain why students are studying a particular topic or unit. If kids know why they need to solve quadratic equations, they be much better at solving those equations. If schools can tear down the wall between the classroom and the so-called “real world,” students will see the “why” more clearly.

Get The Grit Builder WorksheetHere

Now, one last word. I recognize that doing any of these things is really, really hard. Teachers and principals simply don’t have enough autonomy. They’re typically overworked and underpaid, yet are some of the most dedicated people I’ve ever seen. As a building leader, my best advice is to try to get a few small wins — and hope these small wins cascade to something larger.

Good luck! And thanks again for being an educator

 You can check his answers to other questions here.



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