Drive: Bringing the Spark Back Into the Classroom

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be ignited”


Motivation is known as a multifaceted concept. Some motivations change as humans develop psychologically while some motivations remain the same throughout an entire lifespan. In the beginning of the book, Drive, Daniel Pink states that humans have three specific “drives”:

  1. Biological drives that involve satisfying hunger, thirst, and other desires..
  2. Drives that respond to the presence of rewards or avoiding punishments
  3. The drive to perform well on a task based on one’s intrinsic motivation

Can anybody tell me what these three concepts remind you of? Well I can give you a hint as to what it reminded me of.

Drive #1 is similar to what you would see on the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with the 3rd drive finding parallels to the top part of the pyramid.

But Why Does This Matter?

Because classrooms today still struggle with keeping their students happy and motivated! The majority of our schools still try to educate their students around rewards and punishments with grades, detentions, pizza parties, suspensions, and the list goes on.. Not to say that rewards and punishments are not necessary or helpful, but its harmful to your students to primarily maneuver their lessons through a system of “carrots and sticks”. In page 59 of Drive, the author describes why that is:

  1. They can extinguish intrinsic motivation
  2. They can diminish performance
  3. They can crush creativity
  4. They can crowd out good behavior
  5. They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior
  6. They can become addictive
  7. They can foster short-term thinking

So How Do We Solve This Problem?

In chapters 4, 5, and 6 of Daniel Pink’s Drive, he outlines three distinct elements that make up intrinsic motivation. A combination of these three are key to transforming students’ motivations from extrinsic to intrinsic.

Autonomy: The gateway to intrinsic motivation. “People need autonomy over task (what they do), time (when they do it), team (who they do it with), and technique (how they do it)” (Pink, 2009, p. 207). Students are more intrinsically motivated if they are allowed the ability to choose how they want to learn and how they want to perform on projects, assignments, or discussions.

Mastery: The second step towards intrinsic motivation. “Only engagement can produce mastery – becoming better at something that matters to them” (Pink, 2009, p. 207). When students are allowed autonomy, they are more motivated to perform well on tasks they chose. As illustrated above, autonomy + mastery = dedication.

Purpose: The final step that ties it all together. “Humans, by their nature, seek purpose – a cause greater and more enduring than themselves” (Pink, 2009, p. 208). Students need to establish a purpose to all these lessons. Linking a strong and convincing reason to perform and succeed to a student’s autonomy creates an innate desire for them to learn without promise of rewards or fear of punishments.

This video provides a great summary of the three elements to intrinsic motivation, based from Daniel Pink’s Drive
Leave the promise of rewards to more menial tasks. Creating an environment that nurtures purpose, mastery, and autonomy will always be valued.


  1. Jay,
    I liked how you brought in Maslow’s Hierarchy. I think it works especially well when thinking about how on page 35 (and throughout the book) Pink mentions that people need a “baseline rewards” enough to earn a living, salary, benefits, etc. and those are the basic needs on Maslow’s. How will you ensure that your students have these baseline rewards before you start pushing them to do even better?

    • Evan,

      Thank you for the kind words and a really good question too. In regards to helping with basic needs, I will do my best to build an environment where students feel safe in the classroom and promote taking care of themselves. I have thought about having packs of ramen noodles, bowls, and a microwave in the classroom to give to students if they are unable to afford school lunches or do not have food at home. As for psychological needs, I feel it is one of our most important jobs as teachers to promote the esteem needs of our students regarding feelings of accomplishment and self-efficacy so I will be building my classroom environment on building up the confidence of my students through acts of congratulations, consistent positive feedback, and putting less pressure on failure and more on learning.

  2. Jay,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post! I really appreciated the fact that you pointed out reasons why the extrinsic, carrot and stick rewards & punishments can have such a negative impact in so many ways on not just students but all humans! I think one that we need to worry about as teachers is their addictive nature, like you mentioned. Many students will come to our classroom expecting these sorts of reward systems. Out of the 7 items in your list you mentioned, what is one of your biggest concerns as a future teacher?

    • Riley,

      Thank you so much for the kind words. I agree that many students could potentially come to expect the same reward systems in my class since most of today’s classrooms rely on that sort of system. Out of the 7 items in the list that I mentioned, I think my biggest concern would probably be extinguishing intrinsic motivation. As teachers, our effectiveness is based around how motivated our students are. Now, we could do everything in our power to try to restore that motivation, but if a student ultimately just loses their intrinsic motivation on even their passions whether it is in the classroom or outside of the school, then I believe that is more dangerous than any of the other 7 items in the list.

  3. Hi Jay!
    Thanks for sharing your post with us. I think it is so powerful that you were able to incorporate Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs back to the idea of fostering intrinsic motivation in the classroom. I think you are totally on to something! The bottom layers of the triangle do feel more like the old “motivation 1.0 and 2.0”. It’s when we get ourselves and our students up to the top layers of the triangle that we will be able to employ the ideas of “motivation 3.0”. This reminds me of something our professors have been telling us, “students need to Maslow before they can Bloom”. Students are going to have to have all of their basic and being needs covered before they can begin to think in higher levels described in Bloom’s taxonomy. Do you have any ideas for how this might look in your classroom?

    • Hi Emilia,

      I appreciate the kind words! I really like the quote you shared regarding Maslow and Bloom; I think it’s really clever. As a teacher, I think the best way to fulfill my students’ basic and being needs is to create an environment where students feel safe and secure in the classroom all while consistently building their self-esteem and self-efficacy through positive encouragement and focusing more on growth than results. As for securing the most basic needs, there is only so much us teachers can do but I have thought about having ramen noodle packs, bowls, and a microwave in the classroom so that if students are unable to afford school lunches or do not have much food at home, they can take them without any worry. I’m not sure if that breaches any rules the school may have, but I’ll come to that bridge when I cross it haha.

  4. Hi Jay!
    I really enjoyed reading your post. I especially appreciated the connections you made between Daniel Pink’s books and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. That was a really interesting connection that I did not initially make myself, but, now that you have pointed it out, I cannot “unsee” it. How do you plan on keeping your students intrinsically motivated so they are “happy and motivated?” What is one activity or lesson that you plan on doing with your students to try to achieve this goal?

    • Hi Colleen,

      I’m glad my post was enjoyable to read! By providing more assignments that give students autonomy to pursue and research, I hope this sparks an innate motivation to do it their way and how they feel is right. I also believe that creating an environment where students feel safe, comfortable, and encouraged to grow instead of focus on grades and results will further help students stay “happy and motivated”. One small activity that I plan on doing with my students to try to achieve this goal is to create a debate where one half of the students will debate that light is a wave and the other half will debate that a light is a particle. Students will be prompted to research and do their best to debate either side, even though the research will show that light has both properties. I think students would be more passionate about creating their own arguments and participating in discussion rather than me talking about the properties of light through a powerpoint presentation.

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