Education shapes lives.

A well-taught class, an inspiring teacher, a subject that sparks energy and imagination can change the life of a student forever. So can a class taught poorly, a teacher who is unmotivated or underprepared or heavy handed in discipline, or a subject that is presented unimaginatively. Even a single negative educational experience, if it is sufficiently memorable, can diminish confidence and achievement and have long-term consequences for individuals, and consequently for the families and society of which they are a part.

The video below is of a presentation by writer Daniel Pink on drive and motivation in the workplace. It's a lively presentation in which Pink concludes that money and other external rewards are poor motivators. He cites studies that suggest that when tasks involve simple mechanical skills, monetary rewards could improve performance. But if tasks involve even simple cognitive, or thinking, processes and skills, monetary rewards actually lead to poorer performance.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that it takes around 10,000 hours of practice to become really great at something. Although others have disputed this idea, it certainly is true that great skill takes time and practice. One of my art professors, who was quite successful and well known as a practicing artist, claimed that when he missed a day of painting he could tell a difference in his work. If he didn't paint for a week, he said, his art dealers would notice. And if he went a month without painting, his buyers would notice. Whether or not his claim was completely accurate, it makes a similar point, adding that great work takes not only time and practice, but also consistency.

My third grade piano teacher used to say, "Perfect practice makes perfect." As a third grader I was puzzled by that statement. I wondered how I could hope to practice something perfectly if I didn't yet know how to play it, and why, if I could play something perfectly, I would need to practice. In retrospect I think what he meant by "perfect practice" involved a willingness to keep at it, correcting errors until I got it right.

So what is it that keeps us at a task?