Why a random motivational speaker won’t help your staff remember their ‘why’

Why a random motivational speaker won’t help your staff remember their ‘why’

This post from a school administrator came across my feeds this weekend:

Looking for suggestions of a great speaker for the first week of PD– motivational– reconnecting with your “Why” for staff. Thank you in advance for your suggestions!

I posted it to Facebook with the comment, “Does anyone think this is going to have any long-term impact whatsoever?”

Some folks thought that I was criticizing the speaker side of this dynamic. Just to clarify, I don’t actually have an issue with that side of things. If you’re offering something as a speaker or facilitator that others find value in and are willing to pay for, more power to you. That doesn’t mean that everyone will, but that’s okay. Find your niche. Try to do good work. Ignore the critics (or use their feedback to improve what you do).

Instead, I am greatly challenged by the request. There’s nothing in this generic call for a random ‘great … motivational’ speaker that says:

  • We are working on school culture and I need a carefully-targeted outside person who can build our capacity to do the following things, or
  • My teachers are really struggling. Who might be able to help me and my leadership team build better systems of support?, or
  • Based on robust feedback from my staff, we really need assistance with these key structures.

Instead, the request just feels like “Hey, I’d like to find some random person who hopefully can help us feel good and ignore our disengaging workspace for an hour and I’m willing to pay big money for it.” Um, maybe a standup comedian can do that for you? The long-term impact for your staff and school feels like it will be about the same…

There are at least three large concerns here:

  1. The belief that teachers who are disconnected from their ‘why’ will somehow derive significant benefit from a one-off ‘motivational’ speaker,
  2. The utter lack of follow-up or overall strategy that is built into this request, and
  3. The apparent lack of awareness that what is in need of fixing is local systems (which are primarily the leaders’ responsibility), not teachers.

Brad Weinstein aptly saidAsking teachers to remember their ‘why’ can be viewed as blaming teachers for losing their passion for teaching instead of working on improving the conditions that actually burn them out. Similarly, Mandy Froehlich said in a comment to my Facebook post, Most teachers know their why. They don’t know how to do their why in their current situation or the state of education.

School culture is critically important for organizational success, and the best facilitators that I know on this topic work with schools long-term from a coaching stance to help build both better systems and individual capacity. That is a whole different ballgame than “The culture and systems that I am responsible for are broken and I am hoping that a high energy, one-hour talk will paper over it.” Teaching is really hard, and it’s particularly difficult right now. As school leaders who are supposed to serve those in our care and also have limited professional learning funds, we owe our educators better than this.

See also