I was fortunate enough this morning to stop into an American literature class where students were putting the finishing touches on their own “TED talks” to present as a semester project. TED, briefly, is a nonprofit group that began as a Technology, Entertainment, and Design conference in 1984 and evolved into a well-known mechanism for spreading ideas through short, powerful talks. 


Students at IHS have picked topics that are important or interesting to them, found good books to read on those topics, and then created their own TED-style talks to share with their peers. I love the challenge, creativity, and personal responsibility associated with this project. 


Two young men that I spoke with selected great topics at the forefront of productivity and workforce engagement. I highly recommend the books they selected, and I am happy that IHS students are thinking about and internalizing the ideas of these authors. The books are Drive by Daniel Pink and The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.


In Drive, Daniel Pink delves into what motivates us. He emphasizes the limitations of extrinsic motivation and explores how intrinsic motivation works. HIs motivational theory emphasizes autonomy, mastery, and purpose. There are many other thinkers and writers who have expressed similar ideas. People want to feel like they have some control over their work and lives, they want to feel like they can do a good job; and working for a purpose, or understanding the “Why,” as Simon Sinek writes, is motivating. Thinking about what motivates us, having that self-awareness, can help improve performance and boost satisfaction.


The Gallup Organization, America’s respected polling source, has done a lot of work around employee engagement. Their studies show that roughly 70%of American workers are not positively engaged in their work. Shawn Achor explains how people can reprogram their brains to become more positive and successful at work. At the heart of The Happiness Advantage is the belief that happiness fuels success. Our positivity causes physical and attitudinal changes that make us more successful. This differs from the traditional narrative of, “Work hard, have success, and then you will be happy.” There is a, “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” scenario here.


I really appreciate that high school students are wrestling with topics like human motivation and the impact of attitude on performance. As adults, many of us have learned the lessons Pink and Achor share through our experiences. We have been more motivated at work, for example, when we felt some control and knew our work made a difference. As our values became clear and we understood that happiness is an internal state rather than something to be chased after, successes have naturally followed.


It is easy to get caught on the hamster wheel of life. We get busy, stressed, and overwhelmed sometimes. Regardless of the challenges, it doesn’t have to be that way, though. If we have self-awareness, understanding why we are feeling the way we are, maybe we can do something about it. If we are feeling burned out or unmotivated, maybe we can find some ways to inject the elements of human motivation that Pink emphasizes into our work and life: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If we feel stress mounting and happiness seems elusive, maybe we can learn to focus on what we can control and create some positive habits. Achor discusses specific things that can be done to retrain our brains and adjust our mindsets. For example, he suggests dealing with chaos by focusing on small, manageable goals until we get stronger.


I heard a high school math teacher working with students on mindset today, leading up to semester tests. She was helping them get their attitudes right so that they wouldn’t get overwhelmed by the massive amounts of content they had studied. She reminded them of all of the hard work they had done to this point; this work has built up their stamina. She emphasized how the review would further prepare them. If the students were listening, the semester test itself should have become less scary. It will just confirm the acquisition of general knowledge that has happened.


I appreciate so much that district teachers are teaching students life lessons and not only content every day, and I am very proud of what Indianola CSD students know and are able to do. Today I owe a debt of gratitude to our teachers and students for helping me focus again on why we are here and what we are striving to do together.