Luckily, while studying and working fervently (checking Facebook), I stumbled upon this little gem: What motivates us at work by Dan Airely.

It ties in rather neatly to Daniel Pink’s cartoon-style depiction of what motivates people and more money doesn’t mean better work.

Unlike Daniel Pink’s rather gloom depiction of work and money, Airely takes a much more optimistic approach, looking at how to actually motivate people… not just being a Debbie downer and saying what we do doesn’t work. It’s a fascinating article- how can we apply this in a classroom?




During my earlier years when summer was still a time of flip-flops rather than lab coats, I worked at my church as a camp counselor. Through that job I had learned a lot, and the number one rule I kept  was known as the “sandwich rule”. When addressing a concern about a child’s unruly (or downright horrific) behavior to his or her respective parent(s) we were taught to employ this rule: nice thing about child then mention behavior issue then say another nice thing about child. It helps to lessen the blow to parents.. better than saying, “your child was a perfect little monster today. fix it”. I have to admit, for some children it was extremely challenging to come up with nice comments. “Your child didn’t kill anyone today. He screamed all during lunch, pitched a fit, punched another kid, threw his food and was in time out 99% of the day. At least he’s kinda cute?”

As always, I find a way to connect this to horseback riding. It’s a tricky little thing, in order to develop a good rider the student must possess two key traits among others: skill and confidence. One without the other is essentially worthless.

This is why, in horseback riding, it’s imperative that riders build each other up. Horses can see through the smoke and mirrors act that we so often rely on. It’s imperative that the rider have confidence in his or her actions and dictate what they want done, with NO hesitation.

I wasn’t a confident jumper. It took a lot of building up before I could trust her enough to try new jumps… much like unfamiliar material.

I’ve noticed this when riding with friends. You can see when a rider is approaching a fence, isn’t sure and the horse immediately switches modes “If she’s not sure… then I’m NOT jumping THAT”. It’s so crucial to be confident. I often find myself choosing to ride with friends that I know will give me feedback, but use the sandwich rule. She’d say something like “That was a great approach set-up, but you dropped your leg aids (leg pressure) two strides from the fence. It looked good though! Try it again!” I find myself both working on fixing the issue and yet my confidence isn’t compromised.

Students are the same. No, we’re not hurling them over fences on a 1000lb fuzzball and hoping for the best. However.. we are sending them into a classroom, forcing them to trust us as the instructor and sending them on they way (hopefully) more full of knowledge and curiosity than when they came.

Critical feedback is important. Positive feedback focusing on their strengths is more important. If students are confident about themselves they’ll be more likely to take the reins… and seek out information rather than hesitantly waiting for a spoon-feeding session.

Earth not-so Studies

Earth studies. My head aches at the sound of those two words together.

When I was in high school, I took a class called… hold your breath… earth studies. I hated this course. Deep, utter, complete loathing. Why?

It wasn’t the subject, it wasn’t specifically the teacher, it was the classroom format. The class was a problem-based learning course where the teacher, to remain nameless, sat behind his desk and administered group projects…. one after the other. I felt like he wasn’t doing his job. The projects were large, imagine being given the task to solve world hunger in two weeks with a team of tweenie-boppers. Ain’t. Gonna. Happen.

Retrospectively I realized he was attempting, poorly in my mind, to go with the anti-teaching approach. It sure did not seem to work for us. I was resistant, bitter, and annoyed at the lack of guidance as were the other students.

It left me wondering, as much as I admire the idea of anti-teaching, is there an age at which using this approach is too young?

Similarly, I was wondering.. when do we start adapting students to the stand and deliver, remember this for the test, brain dump method? How early does this start? How can we, as educators, change the system to make it less deliver and dump and more learn and apply?