Just a School Librarian

Thoughts of a Middle School Librarian

Successful Professional Development: Try a Little Autonomy

Posted by CGibson on August 3, 2010

 This summer I’ve been reading about (and around) the topic of reading motivation, and how I can support classroom teachers in motivating their middle school students to read more independently.       

Like the weeds in my garden, my reading list keeps growing.        

A couple weeks ago I finally read Daniel H. Pink’s Drive. This is one of those books  that makes you want to slap on tons of sticky notes. This is also one of those books I wish more school administrators would read. I’m not going to review this book. Just take my word and read it. You can thank me later.    Today I’m going to share  some thoughts about Professional Development, within the context of what Pink describes as intrinsically motivated behavior.      

Professional Development (PD) is an important (and at times deadly) part of being a teacher. As long as you are a teacher, you’re going to participate in, or facilitate, PD.  There’s no avoiding it.  This means that in any given PD  session, there will be veteran teachers sitting alongside the newest teachers.  This means you can’t force a One-Size-Fits-All PD session on a group of teachers with different needs and different experiences.     

To make PD a more meaningful experience, one that teachers will hopefully embrace and internalize, the element of AUTONOMY needs to be factored in. Autonomy of what? According to Pink, people benefit with increased autonomy over the elements of time, task, technique, and team. When there is autonomy over the four T’s, there is the likelihood that intrinsically motivated behaviors will emerge. This means more job satisfaction. Better performance.    

Now I am  going to apply this to my own situation: I want to develop and implement a PD module that will support my middle school teachers as they motivate their students to read more.   

Here is a scenario that I see (over and over in my head), where teachers can enjoy some autonomy in PD sessions about reading motivation:         

Time. Teachers are busy people. During the school day we’re teaching. After school we either go to college or go home and take care of our families. Or both. We have very little time. As I plan PD sessions for my (busy) teachers, I hope to give them options on when they can participate: Lunch and Learn Sessions, Common Planning Sessions, during actual class time, a few minutes before or after school, or even online.          

Task/Technique. For the purpose of my reading motivation PD, I’m going to overlap the terms task with technique.  Just for now.     Here are some successful reading motivation TECHNIQUES that teachers can( autonomously) pick and choose, depending on their teaching experience, and comfort level:          

  •  Take weekly trips to the school library and/or the public library and let students choose their own books.   The more books they get to select, the more likely our students will read;    
  • Encourage students to read their library books whenever they’ve finished an assignment early;
  • Better yet, set aside free reading time in class;
  • Read books out loud to your class. When you choose good books and read with enthusiasm, students will look forward to this routine. Reading an excerpt from a captivating story for 10-15 minutes after lunch or recess will model reading fluency as well as foster a positive association with books  (It’s also a good way to settle the class down!). Read aloud a wide variety of text. Include informational books, newspapers, and magazines in your read-alouds;
  • Encourage interaction during the teacher read-aloud by inviting student discussion. This two-way conversation around a shared text engages students in higher-order thinking skills such as predicting, inferring, evaluating, and reasoning;
  • Invite students to choose the teacher read-aloud title from time to time. Student choice can be managed by book-talking several possible teacher read-aloud titles and allowing students to vote on the book they would most like to hear;
  • Allow students to read-aloud. Student read-aloud is often used synonymously with teacher read-aloud. Although teachers should read-aloud daily, inviting students to occasionally read-aloud a self-selected text or portion of a text (e.g., book or magazine article) can be motivating for all. Allowing students to participate in the read-aloud will require some planning. Students should rehearse their read-aloud for several days at home or with a friend before reading aloud to the class;
  • “Honor” books! Whenever teachers do anything to make a book special — even something as simple as displaying a book upright on a table — students  are more likely to choose that book than any other. When honoring a book, here are a couple of ideas that work: Highlight individual books as “special” just by choosing them for displays. Place a sticky note on the cover with a note by you; Provide a quick introduction to the books being “honored.” Show students a book and then introduce — and endorse— it by reading a few pages or asking students questions to pique their interest. Go ahead and use the blurb on the back cover. 

I have many more reading motivation strategies somewhere up my sleeve. But I hope you’ll see how giving teachers some autonomy of task/technique will motivate them to try these strategies.     

Team. This is a no-brainer. To participate in my Reading Motivation PD sessions, I suggest teachers can pair up with any colleague they want. They can also choose to not pair up with anyone.           

In the long run, I aim to learn more ways to incorporate AUTONOMY into PD sessions. With autonomy over  time, task, technique, and team, perhaps teachers would really want to embrace and share new ways to motivate their students to read more.  Isn’t that what Professional Development is supposed to do?


Simple Practices to Nurture the Motivation to Read By: Linda Gambrell and Barbara Marinak (2009)   http://www.adlit.org/article/29625


One Response to “Successful Professional Development: Try a Little Autonomy”

  1. Hi Chris,

    Thank you for an interesting post on motivation. I also read Pink’s ‘Drive’ a while back and agree that it certainly worth reading. Having said that, he does regurgitate some of the content and key messages and I wished he could have cut the book by 40-odd pages. Another book which is superb on motivation, as well as other interesting topics , is Dan Ariely’s The Upside of Irrationality. This is my ‘must read’ book of the summer http://amzn.to/a1numn . I have also written a post inspires by the book here http://bit.ly/9HTw8t .

    Best wishes,


    Thank you for visiting my blog. On Twitter you suggested I read Pink’s other book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future …When I read an excerpt I got a bit worried because I am a Left-Brainer to a fault…But I will give it a try. I will also follow your lead on the Dan Ariely book, and look it up.
    Cheers! CG

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