As a school research lead you may often be called upon to give colleagues a ‘pep talk’ about the importance of research and evidence to your school. As such, it seems sensible to look at the research and evidence about motivating colleagues through the use of pep talks. So this post will look at the recent work of (McGinn, 2017) who draws upon (Mayfield, Mayfield, & Kopf, 1995, 1998) and their research into Motivating Language Theory.
Motivating Language Theory (MLT)
MLT suggests there are three elements of motivating language, which once fully understood can be used to give more ‘motivating’ pep talks. These elements are:
Uncertainty reducing language – where ‘leaders provide information about how precisely how to do the task at hand, giving easily understandable instructions, good definitions of tasks, and detail on how performance will be evaluated.’
Empathetic language by showing concern for audience as human-beings by including ‘praise, encouragements, gratitude, and acknowledgement of a task’s difficulty.’
Meaning making language ‘this explains why a task is important. This involves linking the organisation’s purposes or mission to listener’s goals. Often meaning making-language includes the use of stories …. of how the work has made a real difference in the lives of customers or the community.’ (McGinn, 2017) p. 134
As (McGinn, 2017) notes a good pep talk given to either a group or an individual will contain aspects of all three elements. However, getting the right mix will depend on the context and who is in your audience, and how well you know them.
What are the implications for the school research lead?
First, it is really important that you are in command of both terminology and processes– that you can explain the difference between research, practitioner inquiry and evidence-based practice. In other words, what is it that you are asking them to do? This all means when you talk about research engagement or research involvement that you can provide practical examples of the differences between the two. If colleagues want to be ‘research engaged’ they are given very clear guidance about how they can go about it – which probably involves some very small but clearly achievable task which is directly relevant to their teaching.
Second, understand that for many colleagues ‘research’ is scary stuff. They may not have read any educational research in years – they might not know what is meant by effect size and may be far more concerned about teaching Y11 Group C on a Friday afternoon. Acknowledge, that becoming research engaged will take time and effort and that to create the time and space for research, specific actions are being undertaken to reduce work-load. My own view – is that for every new initiative you start with colleagues – you should be looking to get rid of at least two if not three other tasks which colleagues are expected to complete. In other words, subtract tasks before you add tasks. Furthermore, if colleagues have done a great job in say developing a journal club – thank them.
Third, connect to why research and evidence is important and central to the work of the school. Research and evidence is essential if we are going to provide the best possible education for our pupils and so that they can have the best possible life-chances. Research and evidence is vital if we are going to make use of our most scare resource – colleagues time. Research and evidence is vital if we are going to make decisions to protect those activities that really matter, especially at a time of financial pressure. Research and evidence, needs to be part and parcel of our own professional development if we are to learn and progress throughout our careers in education. Research and evidence is a prerequisite if we are going to keep up with the latest developments both in our subjects and in teaching, especially given how quickly knowledge can depreciate and become out of date. Research and evidence, to help us challenge our own biases and prejudices – and to make us just stop and think and reflect, that you know what, I might just be wrong.
Mayfield, J., Mayfield, M., & Kopf, J. (1995). Motivating Language: Exploring Theory with Scale Development. The Journal of Business Communication (1973), 32(4), 329-344. doi:doi:10.1177/002194369503200402
Mayfield, J., Mayfield, M., & Kopf, J. (1998). The effects of leader motivating language on subordinate performance and satisfaction. Human resource management, 37(3), 235-248.
McGinn, D. (2017). The science of pep talks. Harvard business review, 95(4), 133-137.