Finding Motivation: Mastery in [Home] School and [House] Work

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This series was inspired by my reading of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink.

What is Mastery?

mastery, (mas-tuh-ree)
n.

  1. command or grasp, as of a subject: a mastery of Italian.
  2. superiority or victory: mastery over one’s enemies.
  3. the act of mastering.
  4. expert skill or knowledge.
  5. the state of being master; power of command or control.

In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Pink elaborates on mastery:

Mastery is a mindset: It requires the capacity to see your abilities not as finite, but as infinitely improvable. Mastery is a pain: It demands effort, grit, and deliberate practice. And mastery is an asymptote: It’s impossible to fully realize, which makes it simultaneously frustrating and alluring.

Mastery is not something that we can force on someone else. It requires the self-directed effort of the one to gain the skill. It also does not come automatically to those who do something a lot. It requires more of us than that.

Only engagement can produce mastery – becoming better at something that matters. And the pursuit of mastery, an important but often dormant part of our [intrinsic] drive, has become essential to making one’s way in the economy. Indeed, making progress in one’s work turns out to be the single most motivating aspect of many jobs.

### Mastery in the [Home] School

If we look at mastery with the elements Pink describes,

  1. Mastery is a mindset: It needs to be a mindset in the mind of the student, even more than in the mind of the teacher. Encouragement helps, but the engagement must be the student’s own. We can help our children see that improving oneself is the goal, while passing a test is merely an indicator of improvement and not the goal itself. What is your students’ perspective on the goal of their work?
  2. Mastery is a pain: Mastery does not come by mindless repetition, but through deliberate practice with effort and strain. This takes awareness and wisdom on our part to notice if our children are just going through the motions to get stuff checked off or if they are working to improve. Checking things off is an easy habit to slip into, but it will not get anyone anywhere worthwhile. It would be better to stop, change the scene or work or mentality, then approach it again perhaps even not until the next day, to secure engagement and determination rather than listless or mindless rule-keeping.
  3. Mastery is an asymptote: We’re never done with mastery. It’s not something that can be checked off, fully achieved, and set on the display shelf. There is always room for improvement; there is always room to continue practicing. We may not choose to pursue further mastery, but we never stop because we have achieved mastery. Watch how your students approach this; don’t puff them up. Encourage them in their effort, but also give the douse of cold water reality to cockiness and pride.
  4. Mastery requires engagement: To progress in mastery, there must be engagement, which means attention, attentive attention. Both John Milton Gregory and Charlotte Mason made this fact a central focus of their theory and practice, and I’ve already posted about it in the posts Attention: Attention: Its Nature and Importance and Attention: Types & Motivations.
  5. Mastery is satisfying: What we as teachers (and administrators, rolled into one) need to keep in mind is that making progress and growing in mastery is inherently satisfying. It needs no powdered sugar coating. It is the real deal. Children in particular enjoy development and growth and gaining skills and maturity and earning responsibility and praise for a job well done. Noticing and giving the feedback that they are developing mastery and gaining in their skill is often all the reward needed; sugar-coating it or lavishing praise or superficial reward dampens the genuine satisfaction that accomplishment naturally brings.

Mastery in [House] Work

  1. Mastery is a mindset: Mastery is something we should consciously strive for. We should not write off as fact that we are not good at x chore or hate x aspect of housekeeping, but see those as areas of weakness that we can overcome.
  2. Mastery is a pain: Mastery doesn’t come just by repetition, but by trying to improve and working on our skills.
  3. Mastery is an asymptote: We can always be improving; even in the home there is no ceiling that we reach where we have no place left to grow and develop.
  4. Mastery requires engagement: Sometimes being engaged and attentive and interested in mundane and daily housework is difficult, but when we shift our focus from simply checking tasks off to improving our abilities, then it becomes an avenue for growth and development and faithfulness.
  5. Mastery is satisfying: Noticing that growth and development provides us with natural encouragement in our daily routine tasks that otherwise offer little in the way of reward or satisfaction. It requires a perspective shift, but it is one that brings satisfaction and scope to our oft-maligned calling.

Discovering What Motivates

  1. Review: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
  2. How Not to Motivate: Extrinsic Rewards
  3. Motivating without Stickers: Intrinsic Motivation
  4. Finding Motivation: Autonomy in [Home] School and [House] Work
  5. Finding Motivation: Mastery in [Home] School and [House] Work
  6. Finding Motivation: Purpose in [Home] School and [House] Work