February

Four years ago, I reported on a study that showed that Emotion Overrules Reason. Joe Keohane (Boston Globe) writes about similar research in How Facts Backfire. A few excerpts:

Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

misinformed people often have some of the strongest political opinions.

the ones who were the most confident they were right were by and large the ones who knew the least about the topic.

politically sophisticated thinkers were even less open to new information than less sophisticated types. These people may be factually right about 90 percent of things, but their confidence makes it nearly impossible to correct the 10 percent on which they’re totally wrong.



Grant, Adam M. (2008). Employees without a cause: The motivational effects of prosocial impact in public service. International Public Management Journal, 11, 48-66.

Abstract (from article):

Public service employees often lack opportunities to see the prosocial impact of their jobs—how their efforts make a difference in other people’s lives. Drawing on recent job design theory and research, I tested the hypothesis that the motivation of public service employees can be enhanced by connecting them to their prosocial impact. In a longitudinal quasi-experiment, a group of fundraising callers serving a public university met a fellowship student who benefited from the funds raised by the organization. A full month later, these callers increased significantly in the number of pledges and the amount of donation money that they obtained, whereas callers in a control group did not change on these measures. I discuss the implications of these results for theory, research, and practice related to work motivation in public service.

In other words, having personal contact with one's beneficiaries, even briefly, increases prosocial motivation, and, in turn, productivity.

With respect to teaching, of course, one has daily contact with one's beneficiaries, the students. Yet, 50% of all new teachers stop teaching within 5 years. Obviously, the environment must be countering prosocial motivation. Contact with students is not always positive, administrative support may not be adequate, and so on.

I did a quick search on zookeepers to see if they have a high rate of dropout, but couldn't find anything. Zookeepers' sense of calling, however, gives them a strong sense of moral duty that causes considerable personal sacrifice. They're not paid well, and their work is "physically demanding, dangerous, and uncomfortable" (Bunderson & Thompson, p. 42). Plus, they're on call. Yet, apparently, they don't quit at the same rate as teachers. Why?

A simple explanation would be that the percentage of zookeepers seeing their work as a calling is considerably greater than that of teachers.

Another possibility is this: Bunderson & Thompson state, "Our analysis of calling among zookeepers therefore points to a fundamental tension inherent in deeply meaningful work: deep meaning does not come without real responsibility" (p. 52). Are teachers given "real responsibility" nowadays?



Wrzesniewski, A., McCauley, C., Rozin, P., & Schwartz, B. (1997). Jobs, careers, and callings: People's relations to their work. Journal of Research in Personality, 31, 21-33.

Abstract (from article):

We present evidence suggesting that most people see their work as either a Job (focus on financial rewards and necessity rather than pleasure or fulfillment; not a major positive part of life), a Career (focus on advancement), or a Calling (focus on enjoyment of fulfilling, socially useful work). Employees at two work sites (n = 196) with a wide range of occupations from clerical to professional were unambiguous in seeing their work primarily in terms of a Job, Career, or Calling. Differences in respondents’ relations to their work could not be reduced to demographic or occupational differences; an homogenous subset of 24 college administrative assistants were, like the total sample of respondents, distributed evenly across Job, Career, and Calling.

It's easy to imagine that people might see their work as a job or a career, but it's interesting that any occupation can be seen as a calling although some occupations may more readily seem to fit the role of a calling.

Doing a quick Google search for "teaching calling" pulls up quite a few sites that consider teaching a calling, a career, or a job.

For myself, it's difficult to see any occupation as a calling. People's background and experience make them better at some occupations and worse at others.

At the same time, there seems to be a need for schools to have a particular attitude, a culture of caring and respect for their students (see also What Works in Teaching). Such a culture should result in better job satisfaction for the teachers (and perhaps prevent the high drop out rate of new teachers) and better success for the students. And it seems likely that how one perceives teaching—job, career, or calling—might have an effect on a school's culture.



Bunderson, J. S., & Thompson, J. A. (2009). The call of the wild: Zookeepers, callings, and the double-edged sword of deeply meaningful work. Administrative Science Quarterly, 54, 32-57.

Abstract (from article):

A qualitative examination of work meaning in the zoo- keeping profession pointed to the centrality of the notion of work as a personal calling.The view of calling expressed by zookeepers, however, was closer in basic structure to the classical conceptualization of the Protestant reformers than it was to more recent formulations. We used qualitative data from interviews with U.S. zookeepers to develop hypotheses about the implications of this neoclassical conceptualization of calling for the relationship between individuals and their work. We found that a neoclassical calling is both binding and ennobling. On one hand, zookeepers with a sense of calling strongly identified with and found broader meaning and significance in their work and occupation. On the other hand, they were more likely to see their work as a moral duty, to sacrifice pay, personal time, and comfort for their work, and to hold their zoo to a higher standard. Results of a survey of zookeepers from 157 different zoos in the U.S. and Canada supported the hypotheses from our emergent theory.These results reveal the ways in which deeply meaningful work can become a double-edged sword.

Unless I were looking at it from a religious or spiritual perspective, I wouldn't have immediately thought of zookeeping as a "calling," but as the article notes, any career or job can be seen as a calling as long as the individual's primary purpose in work is oriented toward a cause or ideology, as opposed to working simply to pay the bills. In this regard, looking at zookeepers is a nice test case as much of the work of taking care of animals involves cleaning up after them, a not particularly appealing job.

As Bunderson and Thompson note, having a sense of calling can give life meaning and purpose as well as leading to personal sacrifice. Here are some quotations from zookeepers:

It’s a calling for me just because my whole life I’ve just been interested in animals. So looking back I should have known at some time I would be working with animals.

It’s a part of who I am and I don’t know if I can explain that. When you use that expression “it’s in your blood,” like football coaches and players can never retire because it’s in their blood. Whatever my genetic makeup is, I’m geared towards animals.

I was always interested in animals ever since I was a kid. I drove my mom nuts catching bugs and worms and frogs and salamanders, bringing home anything I could find . . . butterflies, stuff like that.

I slept and ate and read reptiles when I was a little boy. I thought that’s all there was. . . . Most boys my age, all they thought about was girls. Well, I thought about girls and reptiles.

I just always had every pet you could imagine—dogs, cats, ham- sters, gerbils, birds, reptiles of different sorts. I’ve always had an interest in animals and I said the zoo would be a good place to work.

A sense of calling is often associated with teaching, that teaching is more than just punching the clock: in at 8 and out at 5 (or earlier). Teaching involves working with others, helping students learn and prepare for their careers. It involves relationships of trust and respect (see What Works in Teaching).

I wonder how many people, teachers or others, have a sense of calling as strong as the zookeepers.



Grant, Adam M. (2008). Does intrinsic motivation fuel the prosocial fire? Motivational synergy in predicting persistence, performance, and productivity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 48-58.

Abstract (from article):

Researchers have obtained conflicting results about the role of prosocial motivation in persistence, performance, and productivity. To resolve this discrepancy, I draw on self-determination theory, proposing that prosocial motivation is most likely to predict these outcomes when it is accompanied by intrinsic motivation. Two field studies support the hypothesis that intrinsic motivation moderates the association between prosocial motivation and persistence, performance, and productivity. In Study 1, intrinsic motivation strengthened the relationship between prosocial motivation and the overtime hour persistence of 58 firefighters. In Study 2, intrinsic motivation strengthened the relationship between prosocial motivation and the performance and productivity of 140 fundraising callers. Callers who reported high levels of both prosocial and intrinsic motivations raised more money 1 month later, and this moderated association was mediated by a larger number of calls made. I discuss implications for theory and research on work motivation.

In short, intrinsic motivation can strengthen prosocial motivation and thus increase task persistence, productivity, and performance.

Intrinsic motivation is the desire to do an activity for the sake of the activity itself. That is, it is pleasurable to do a particular activity. Prosocial motivation is the desire to do an activity because it benefits others. Thus, intrinsic motivation and prosocial motivation differ in three areas:

self-regulation (autonomous vs. introjected/identified), goal directedness (process vs. outcome), and temporal focus (present vs. future).

Grant gives the example of someone who teaches both because they enjoy lecturing and also because they want to see their students learn. The former is intrinsic motivation derived from the pleasure of the process of lecturing in the present while the latter derives from identifying with a goal-directed outcome in the future.

In this example, the intrinsic motivation of lecturing leads teachers to identify with institutional outcomes and thus increases the level of prosocial motivation. If a teacher did not enjoy lecturing, then instrinsic motivation is low and prosocial motivation is driven primarily by the pressure to help others. In such a case task persistence, productivity, and performance are at lower levels. For myself, I enjoy preparing for class, trying to think of new and better ways to help students learn how to write. However, I don't enjoy grading and giving written feedback on essays. On the former, I can easily persist, spending a solid hour or two revising lesson plans. On the latter, I slow down quite a bit and take frequent breaks, lowering my productivity.

Grant began his article with this question, "Why do employees go above and beyond the call of duty to persist in performing their work effectively and productively?" In helping teachers and students to go above and beyond in their teaching and learning, it's important to "design work [and learning] contexts to cultivate both prosocial and intrinsic motivations."



Grant, Adam M., et al. (2007). Impact and the art of motivation maintenance: The effects of contact with beneficiaries on persistence behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 103 , 53-67.

Abstract (from article):

We tested the hypothesis that employees are willing to maintain their motivation when their work is relationally designed to provide opportunities for respectful contact with the beneficiaries of their efforts. In Experiment 1, a longitudinal field experiment in a fundraising organization, callers in an intervention group briefly interacted with a beneficiary; callers in two control groups read a letter from the beneficiary and discussed it amongst themselves or had no exposure to him. One month later, the intervention group displayed significantly greater persistence and job performance than the control groups. The intervention group increased significantly in persistence (142% more phone time) and job performance (171% more money raised); the control groups did not. Experiments 2 and 3 used a laboratory editing task to examine mediating mechanisms and boundary conditions. In Experiment 2, respectful contact with beneficiaries increased persistence, mediated by perceived impact. In Experiment 3, mere contact with beneficiaries and task significance interacted to increase persistence, mediated by affective commitment to beneficiaries. Implications for job design and work motivation are discussed.

Basically, when people have respectful interactions, even brief ones, with the beneficiaries of their work, their motivation, and their productivity, is increased and maintained.

Of course, the opposite is also true. Negative interactions can be demotivating.

And emotions and social relationships are not the only factors in motivation. Autonomy and competence play major roles, too. In fact, autonomy is arguably the major player in motivation. Yet although this research was not conducted in a classroom, it does indicate the importance of affect in the classroom with respecti to both teacher and student motivation and, consequently, performance.



The Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing is a collaborative work of the WCPA, NCTE, and NWP. From the Executive Summary:

The concept of “college readiness” is increasingly important in discussions about students’ preparation for postsecondary education.

This Framework describes the rhetorical and twenty-first-century skills as well as habits of mind and experiences that are critical for college success. Based in current research in writing and writing pedagogy, the Framework was written and reviewed by two- and four-year college and high school writing faculty nationwide and is endorsed by the Council of Writing Program Administrators, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Writing Project.

Habits of mind refers to ways of approaching learning that are both intellectual and practical and that will support students’ success in a variety of fields and disciplines. The Framework identifies eight habits of mind essential for success in college writing:

  • Curiosity – the desire to know more about the world.
  • Openness – the willingness to consider new ways of being and thinking in the world.
  • Engagement – a sense of investment and involvement in learning.
  • Creativity – the ability to use novel approaches for generating, investigating, and representing ideas.
  • Persistence – the ability to sustain interest in and attention to short- and long-term projects.
  • Responsibility – the ability to take ownership of one’s actions and understand the consequences of those actions for oneself and others.
  • Flexibility – the ability to adapt to situations, expectations, or demands.
  • Metacognition – the ability to reflect on one’s own thinking as well as on the individual and cultural processes used to structure knowledge.

The Framework then explains how teachers can foster these habits of mind through writing, reading, and critical analysis experiences. These experiences aim to develop students’

  • Rhetorical knowledge – the ability to analyze and act on understandings of audiences, purposes, and contexts in creating and comprehending texts;
  • Critical thinking – the ability to analyze a situation or text and make thoughtful decisions based on that analysis, through writing, reading, and research;
  • Writing processes – multiple strategies to approach and undertake writing and research;
  • Knowledge of conventions – the formal and informal guidelines that define what is considered to be correct and appropriate, or incorrect and inappropriate, in a piece of writing; and
  • Abilities to compose in multiple environments – from using traditional pen and paper to electronic technologies.