Oh Alfie! You nailed it again in your New York Times opinion piece titled, "Science Confirms It: People Are Not Pets". It is worth the read and Alfie Kohn's writing is entertaining to boot. In short, he wonders aloud about rewards and why so many of us insist on using them to motivate students and employees. He presents a compelling amount of research that proves that rewards do not motivate students or employees and can actually have the opposite effect. In fact, offered rewards, students often become less interested in the task that they were being rewarded to complete.
I read another article recently in Education Week, titled "Why Doesn't Every Teacher Know The Research on Reading Instruction?" This article touted the importance of phonics-based reading instruction. The article spoke in favor of using commercially published reading curriculums versus teacher designed curriculums. While that is a subject for another time, there is a common theme here. There is a fair amount of research available to educators and ed. leaders yet we often ignore the research and forge ahead doing our own thing.
Teaching really is a personal affair. I remember being asked to write my educational philosophy in undergrad and again as I pursued my Master's degree. Given over two decades of experience now, I wonder about that practice. Depending on the district you are employed by, your own educational philosophy has little to do with your every day practice. What makes this even more challenging for educators, especially elementary educators, is that ed. leaders, who come and go, can influence major shifts in pedagogy and curriculum. While some leaders work at soliciting teacher buy in, others make unilateral changes with little regard for the teaching staff. I say, especially elementary educators, because, as generalists, it seems to be assumed that we are not content experts and need a tremendous amount of support in order to deliver our content effectively. Hence all the pre-packaged curriculums purchased with the intention of making teaching more uniformed and comprehensive at the elementary level. Given all the mandates to follow this curriculum or that one with fidelity, there really is little to do with our own educational philosophies. Well, yes, I still believe all children can learn and that piece of my philosophy still guides my practice but the rest has been made largely irrelevant as there is not a lot of choice left for me as an educator.
But let's return to the research. It is easier to embrace a rather dry reading curriculum that is well supported, at least in the primary grades, by research. It is really hard to embrace a social/emotional learning curriculum that is not in line with my philosophy and is not at all supported by research. It is even harder to embrace this when I've never had behavior or engagement problems in my classroom before. Maybe there is a boat load of research, in conflict with the research presented by Alfie Kohn, that supports the use of such rewards-based SEL curriculums. I'm just not aware of it.
In the meantime, I'll plod along with this new curriculum. My heart won't really be in it but I will comply (with a smile). That is, I have to comply until the next ed. leader changes my course.