By Michael Stack June 8, 2020

When we discuss education and the most effective school designs, it’s always framed in what is best for today’s kids.  However, consider the job in which you (or your significant other) currently work.  What type of environment motivates you most?

What type of work environment motivates you most?

In Daniel Pink’s book Drive, he examined what motivates us most as adults in our careers. What is interesting is the same philosophies that work in a corporate/business environment also work in today’s educational environment.

Pink references an interesting study completed at MIT titled “Large Stakes and Big Mistakes.” The study tested the fundamental reward system that if you reward something, you will get more of the behavior you want, and if you punish something, you will get less of the behavior you want. What was found is this reward system is not always accurate.

 Research Study: MIT “Large Stakes & Big Mistakes” – Summary

Premise: A group of students was given a set of challenges:

  • Memorize digits
  • Word puzzles
  • Shooting a ball through a hoop

Rewards: The cash rewards for performance were broken into three categories.

  • Small
  • Medium
  • Large


  • “As long as the tasks involved only mechanical skill, the rewards system worked as designed, the higher the pay, the better the performance
  • Once the task required even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward lead to poorer performance”

The results of this study seem counterintuitive, that a larger reward would yield poorer results.  However, the same results have been replicated many times in different studies. One of the strongest forms of motivation for individuals is an internal drive to master a task.

Micromanaging Employees And Students Does Not Work

In a business environment, micromanaging and trying to fit people into a box or set of rules puts them in a position where they cannot be internally motivated. Employees are more inclined to become mechanical in their work, to show up, do a series of tasks, and collect a paycheck. This environment removes the deep-seated internal drive to do more and encourages completing only the minimum requirements of the job.

When employees are given as much autonomy as possible within the boundaries of their job descriptions, they are allowed to achieve more of a sense of accomplishment, or mastery. Without these practices, employee outcomes have a higher likelihood to merely meet the status quo, or worse.

Freedom To Succeed and Fail

At Acton Academy, we believe children need to be given this freedom to succeed and fail within the boundaries of their job as learners. To take ownership of their education and feel a sense of accomplishment when they master tasks and concepts. It’s something we all want as adults, and something our kids want as well…

This past weekend we asked our kids what they were most excited about for the upcoming school year at Acton.  Here was Kate’s response:


Click here to talk to us more about your child(ren)’s education and schedule a tour of our brand new space in Downtown Kennebunk.