Driving Down New Roads: A Motivational Roadmap

Our First Stop? Daniel H. Pink’s Drive

It is imperative to note that although this blog post draws heavily from Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink, this is in no way a review nor simple summary. Instead, I aim to expand upon ideas put forth by Pink while focusing more heavily on the implications in the scope of education.

Based on the three core “Elements” behind which Pink constructs his argument for a shift to intrinsic motivation, we are able to deduce three guiding questions. I find it easiest to remember these questions as a motivational MAP.

  • Am I being engaged enough to seek out opportunities for further MASTERY of the subject at hand?
  • Am I providing myself with enough AUTONOMY to foster genuine interest in my work or hobbies?
  • Does a lack of PURPOSE lead me to feel the need to ask: “Why do I bother doing this?

What this means in the classroom…

A simple rewording of these questions leads us to a much more relevant query for the classroom. However, do not forget to ask yourself the aforementioned questions in order to assess your own levels of intrinsic motivation. We should want the best for our students, but that also involves wanting the best for ourselves.

Our classroom-oriented questions can be remembered as:

  • Are my students being engaged enough to seek out opportunities for further MASTERY of the topic?
  • Am I providing students with enough AUTONOMY to foster genuine interest in their topic?
  • Does a lack of PURPOSE lead my students to feel the need to ask: “Why am I learning this?”


The topic of mastery may seem to be already at the heart of the educational experience. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Often students are simply subject to soulless assessments forgotten by the time the next chunk of subject matter needs to be tested. I feel as though “mastery” should not be seen as the accomplishment of mastering a topic, but instead the desire to seek that level of understanding.

“People can have two different mindsets, she says. Those with a “fixed mindset” believe that their talents and abilities are carved in stone. Those with a “growth mindset” believe that their talents and abilities can be developed. Fixed mindsets see every encounter as a test of their worthiness. Growth mindsets see the same encounters as opportunities to improve.”

Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

As students learn and progress through a curriculum, the driving force should not be centered around scoring well on the tests at the end of each unit. As educators, we must instead work to cultivate a mindset where the improvement of the student is revered, rather than just their performance on an assessment. That desire to be the best that they can be should be something that we aim to encourage in each of our students.


Providing students with autonomy is often misconstrued as giving the students complete free reign, but we can give students varying levels of autonomy based on the lesson we have planned. If you ever worry that your lesson plan is too rigid or has too many hard lines, ask yourself this: Is this something that my student has sought out or expressed overt interest in? If not, how can I allow them to bring their own twist to the topic or process in order to boost their motivation? It is hard to avoid slipping into the maw of extrinsic motivators if each of your lessons does not include some level of student autonomy.

The OWL Model is one such example of a way to increase student autonomy. Kate Baird and Stephanie Coy discuss their experience implementing an “Observe – Wonder – Learn” Model here in a February 2020 edition of NSTA’s Science and Children publication. Despite the aforementioned journal being catered towards elementary educators, I feel as though the benefits of student autonomy fostered through the OWL model could be applied to any classroom.


This video featuring the late Chadwick Boseman is an incredibly potent piece about finding purpose in life.

“Purpose” is another key element that seems to often be misconstrued. Despite likely having good intentions, I feel as though the opinions of family members, educational staff, and even the general public can sometimes interfere with a student’s definition of purpose. A student’s sense of individual purpose is far more important than a societal demand for a certain profession. Additionally: if a student does not feel individual purpose within the classroom, they may feel the need to ask the dreaded question…

“Why are we learning this?”

A Student You’ll Probably Encounter

The UC Berkley Greater Good Science Center has a wonderful article about the development of a student’s sense of purpose and the benefits of such development. They touch on both the benefits of purposefulness within the realms of mental health and academic performance.

TLDR: Too Long Didn’t Read

Intrinsic motivation is centered around three key elements: Mastery Autonomy and Purpose. In order to encourage the development healthy intrinsic motivation within both ourselves and students, we must constantly seek to include these three elements within our life and our lessons.

Special thanks to Daniel Pink and his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Michael Mischler

Miami University || Class of 2023
College of Education Health and Society || Integrated Science Education Major
College of Arts and Sciences || Environmental Science Co-Major
Secretary || NSTA, Miami University Chapter


  1. Hi Michael!
    I really really enjoy the layout of your post. The way you have incorporated your pictures/graphics/video with the blocks of color make the blog post visually pleasing. I liked that you dove into mastery, purpose, and autonomy. Do you have any specific ways to increase mastery among students that might be driven by grades or external factors? That shift in motivation to getting better at a skill rather than just passing an assignment is a big one!

  2. Hey Michael,
    Awesome job on your blog post! It definitely shows that you know what you’re talking about when it comes to motivation. I think you did a solid job of incorporating personal reflection in the post and this let us think about the concept deeper. Which of the three concepts do you feel is the best motivator for yourself? Do you think each of the three have different relationships on motivation within our students? Or do you think that they have an equal relationship among motivation?

  3. Hey Luke!

    Thanks for the comments on my blog. I specifically appreciate the support for my acronym “MAP”! Your question poses a scenario that I’m not sure I’m fully prepared for to be honest. However, I do feel as though providing students with various levels of autonomy may increase their interest. I feel as though communication with other teachers who may have valuable insight into what students are interested in is extremely important.

  4. Hi Ellie!

    I appreciate your comments on my blog as they always help me think more in-depth about education. As for some ideas for lesson plans that highlight the “MAP,” I think science lessons (especially those involving elements of research or lab) can be very easily applied to the three questions above. Specifically, I feel as though a good lesson could be one revolving around allowing students to explore local ecology!

  5. Hi Michael,
    I thought your blog was great! I really appreciated how you condensed Pink’s main points into a succinct acronym that is easy to remember. I also love that you included a Chadwick Boseman video about purpose! I appreciated how you brought up some common questions that students might ask, which might be a good indicator that a teacher’s lessons might not be fostering autonomy, mastery, or purpose in students. What are some ways you could increase autonomy in students even if they are shy or seem uninterested in the subject?

  6. Hi Michael!

    I appreciated how you put the ideas behind intrinsic motivation into questions to ask ourselves; it’s almost worth putting it on a poster by your work space to remind you ask you lesson plan/teach. Do you have any lesson plan ideas that put your “road map” to work?

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