Transformative Professional Learning: A System to Enhance Teacher and Student Motivation


Margery B. Ginsberg

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    This book proposes that high standards for student learning require support for student motivation. Further, to support student motivation, it is necessary to have awareness of and respect for cultural diversity. Culture and motivation are inseparable influences on learning. The same learning experience can lead to different emotions and reactions because cultural meanings vary among people. A motivational approach to teaching takes this phenomenon into account.

    Instruction from a motivational perspective respects and responds to diversity. It does not narrowly bracket human beings according to prescribed characteristics. Rather, it emphasizes energy, attention, effort, and emotions as foundational to learning among all people (Ginsberg & Wlodkowski, 2000). Although we may not be personally motivated to learn what someone else believes is important, motivation and learning naturally occur in all human beings (Lambert & McCombs, 1998). Human beings bring their innate curiosity to all learning experiences. We direct energy toward goals and learning that we value (Boekaerts, 2002). Such human action occurs when people feel safe and know they are engaged in effectively learning something important. In fact, under such circumstances, motivation is like a cork rising in water. It is extremely difficult to suppress (Ginsberg & Wlodkowski, 2000).

    This book also proposes that for teachers to support student motivation to learn, they need professional learning experiences that create the same motivational conditions for learning that they can use to inspire their students. Motivated teachers tend to have motivated students. To accomplish this, we provide a set of professional learning practices to help educators develop a continuous and collaborative focus on instruction. These strategies have been developed in concert with practicing educators. Therefore, although the actual author of this text is Margery Ginsberg, it is written in the first person plural, we. The collaborating educators are mentioned in the acknowledgments and are referenced throughout the book.

    The professional learning practices in this book focus attention on knowing students well, designing lessons with students in mind, and using data to improve instruction. The practices can be used with most instructional frameworks. Motivation, inspiration, and engagement are words that draw forth images both compelling and attractive. Most frameworks contain the words motivation and engagement because these terms speak to student energy, concentration, and effort as sources and mediators of learning.

    Yet, to sustain student and adult motivation and engagement in learning is elusive and vulnerable to distraction and boredom. In recent years, this dilemma has become more complex and challenging, compounded by demographic shifts, the call for higher standards of learning, and high-stakes testing. There is enormous pressure on public education and the families it serves. Often, this pressure constrains rather than liberates motivation for teaching and learning. When people are experiencing undue pressure, they will often take the most cursory approach to accomplishing a goal—even if it means that learning becomes more superficial and less enduring.

    Recognizing that a high school diploma and a college degree are more essential to economic well-being than ever before has led us to delve deeper into understanding instruction and professional learning from a motivational perspective. School systems have used the motivational framework in this book as a means of increasing the effectiveness of professional development and to raise the academic achievement of their students. These schools have a shared instructional language that focuses on motivation for teaching and learning, multiple forms of instructional collaboration, continuous use of data, family and community partnerships, and an identity as an inspired professional learning community.

    In this book the shared language is known as the Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching. Throughout this book we show how to use this framework to anchor adult learning in iterative cycles of action and inquiry. This dynamic creates the opportunity for transformative professional development, a series of learning experiences that can change the beliefs and perspectives of educators, enabling them to create more effective instruction for their students.

    Organization of the Book

    This book focuses on what motivationally anchored instruction is and how it is practiced in classrooms and as a structure for professional learning. Our examples primarily draw upon work that has been done in recent years in high-poverty schools located in the Northwestern United States. Successful schools have always been those that courageously question themselves. The work that is being done in many high-poverty communities throughout the country can inspire innovation in schools everywhere.

    The book begins by proposing an orientation to student and adult learning rooted in ideas about intrinsic motivation. Its primary theory of action is that coherently connected and motivationally effective professional learning positively influences student learning. The text responds to educators' need for practical and useful cycles of learning that are grounded in research and that are respectful of local contexts.

    Chapter 1 provides the theoretical foundation for subsequent chapters. It speaks to why, in an era of accountability, it is especially important to ground learning in principles of intrinsic motivation. It illuminates the connection between intrinsic motivation and culture. It calls for an end to formulaic approaches to adult learning, emphasizing the importance of transformative learning through cycles of action and inquiry.

    Chapter 2 introduces the Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching. It describes how this instructional framework can be used for classroom teaching and professional learning. It also includes professional development strategies to teach about intrinsic motivation and the motivational framework within one's own context.

    Chapters 3 shows how to more fully understand students' experiences in school by shadowing four different learners. It addresses questions such as “What supports exist or don't exist to support the learning of students who struggle?” and “When are a range of students most engaged in learning?” As with the three chapters that follow Chapter 3, it begins with a scenario to help readers imagine the process of shadowing, and it provides a step-by-step action cycle that engages teachers in experiencing student motivation through the eyes of a learner.

    Chapter 4 introduces how visiting with students and families in their homes can lead to a more nuanced perspective of students' lives and interests at school. It provides concrete ways to structure and prepare for visits that families have welcomed. In the home visits for which we advocate, teachers are learners rather than the bearers of information. Further, insights from home visits provide information about families' funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992) and contribute to the ongoing improvement of instruction.

    Chapter 5 makes a case for and offers examples of transformative professional learning through collaborative lesson design. In addition to specific ways to strengthen collaboration among teams of teachers, it illustrates how to implement a lesson study project that has two cycles per year. Through lesson study, teachers collaborate to design a lesson, watch a colleague teach the lesson, and collectively examine the lesson—sometimes reteaching it in another context. This chapter also contains a set of protocols that schools throughout the United States have used to facilitate instructional collaboration for brief periods of time. Protocols focus teachers' attention on examining text material, posing problems, providing feedback, and examining student work.

    Chapter 6, the concluding chapter, explores how educators can use data systems to improve student learning. The primary goal in this chapter is to share data routines and tools that build teacher capacity to meet student learning needs in ways that help dismantle barriers to educational progress among a range of learners. In addition to ways of collaborating with data, this chapter provides educators with methods to involve families and community members as partners in collecting and analyzing data related to instruction. For example, you will learn about an approach that involves community members in taking a snapshot of teaching and learning throughout a school in a single day. Known as Data-in-a-Day, this is one approach that can help improve student learning throughout a school.

    Chapter 6 also includes a way to develop teacher portfolios for continuous reflection on personal work. It provides detailed descriptions of how to organize and learn from a focus on following four students. The example we provide shows how teachers can create portfolios that thread together professional learning, instructional practice, and its influence on student learning. The connective tissue is ongoing reflection, goal setting, action, and data collection rooted in the need to connect professional learning to academic achievement. In addition to providing a sequential approach to ongoing reflection on teaching and learning, it is an approach to portfolio development that stimulates creativity and critical thinking. It reflects our experience that the improvement of instruction requires novelty and nuance.

    Though educational change is complicated, what we do as educators through instructional practice influences human beings, communities, and global structures. As essential as it is for all of society to imagine alternatives to the local and global conditions that inhibit educational justice, teaching is a political act. In classrooms, agency and consciousness are center stage, whether by intention or default.

    To think that academic achievement alone is preparation for college or workforce learning falls far short of what is necessary and possible. All students, including culturally diverse, low-income, and first-generation college students, deserve to think deeply, passionately, and creatively about their lives and about important global issues. This is true for teachers as well. These chapters provide the content and process for this opportunity.


    Instructional leaders at every level of a school system, including professional developers and teachers, are the primary audience for this book. However, the ideas we present can be adapted to higher education. In recent years, important pipeline partnerships between high school and college faculty have emerged to create seamless academic mobility for diverse groups of students. This book supports this crucial work so that educators at all levels of a system can align and advance instructional knowledge based on principles of intrinsic motivation.

    This book will also be useful to induction specialists. The motivational framework is easily adapted to the unique contexts and interactions within which new teachers work. Teacher mentors from school districts and universities can apply the motivational framework and professional learning strategies to help beginning K–12 educators feel positive and engaged in professional learning that helps them succeed.


    The enterprise of teacher learning as a primary influence on student learning operates within the shifting contexts of local, state, national, and global politics. Furthermore, we know firsthand the demands on faculty time. While teachers have an enormous influence on student learning, they work within a larger policy environment and continuously negotiate competing commitments. Nonetheless, we believe that the instructional approaches in this book are pragmatic and offer concrete alternatives to static forms of professional development.


    It is always a challenge to determine how to use language in ways that are accessible and meaningful to others. We therefore briefly explain our choices. When referring to issues related to race, ethnicity, or culture, we frequently use the term cultural diversity. We realize that this term is sometimes criticized for subsuming and homogenizing racial, ethnic, economic, sexual, linguistic, and physical identities, among others. Our work has been primarily in schools where there are many different student groups—each of which has as much variation within the group as between groups. With a focus on practical, macrocultural applications of cultural theory, using language that accommodates a broad range of students has been useful in connecting with faculty regarding the need for change. We know, however, that language choice not only represents how we think, it influences how we think, and we struggle with the imperfections of our choices.

    We use culturally responsive teaching to mean understanding and constructing culturally respectful and motivationally aligned instructional practices. We use the terms instruction and pedagogy interchangeably, as we do students and learners. Instruction to some implies an approach to teaching that undermines the emancipatory potential of education and encourages passivity. We tend to prefer it, however, because it is widely used in local communities and schools. It is accessible to the audiences we engage.


    This book is the result of conversations and actions with friends, colleagues, and students who have shared resources and perspectives. In this regard, I am particularly grateful to those with whom I worked closely to conceptualize this book. These inspired friends and professionals are Cathy Thompson, Paul Robb, and Laurie Morrison. In recent years, much of my learning has been elaborated upon and sharpened by colleagues at Cleveland High School in Seattle, and I am grateful to the entire school community—students, staff, administrators, and families. Learning within this urban high school has been pivotal in understanding how to provide support as a university faculty member without having a colonizing effect.

    Two teachers at Cleveland High School with whom I have most closely worked are Catherine Brown and Amy Baeder. Their fundamental respect for students, families, and colleagues intersects with their orientation to creative and courageous professional learning. In addition, three different Cleveland principals—amid significant changes—have taken the motivational framework and the professional learning practices in this book seriously. Most recently, Princess Shareef has been a partner in this work. The questions she has asked me, and her concern for racial and educational justice, illuminate important tensions regarding race and privilege that need to be an honest part of any school change discourse. For their valuable contribution to the AIM Center, I would like to thank Carol Coe, Shaun Martin, Jocelyn Co, Mickey Blackburn, and Julia Zigarelli. I would also like to thank the core faculty team of the executive-level educational leadership preparation program at the University of Washington College of Education, known as Leadership for Learning. I work with university faculty who promote, through their own practice, what they ask of the consummate educators who are our students. My UW faculty colleagues are Kathy Kimball, Mike Knapp, Meredith Honig, Mike Copland, Marge Plecki, and Camille Farrington. Brieanne Hull, our program manager, and Emily Lee, our office assistant, have helped make it possible for me to write this book because they maintain such a high level of responsiveness to student and faculty needs.

    I also want to thank Dan Alpert, senior acquisitions editor, at Corwin. Dan has a clear, trustworthy lens on how to make books friendly to K–12 educators. His patience and support have been invaluable. Sarah Bartlett provided expert editorial assistance for moving important details forward. I also want to thank Corwin's production editor, Cassandra Seibel. In addition to everything else, she led us to copy editor Sarah Duffy. Sarah's comments were accurate and nuanced. Jane Haenel guided the manuscript through its final stages with outstanding care, precision, and professionalism.

    Matthew Aaron Ginsberg-Jaeckle and Daniel Mark Ginsberg-Jaeckle are my adult children. Their convictions and deeply rooted connections across generations and communities keep my motivation to learn alive in fundamental ways.

    Over the years, Raymond Wlodkowski has been my partner in this work. I am deeply grateful for his support, affection, and understanding of adult motivation and learning.

    About the Author

    With a background as a teacher on two Indian reservations and as a Texas Title I technical assistance contact for the U.S. Department of Education, Margery B. Ginsberg is an associate professor at the University of Washington-Seattle, where she works with graduate students who are aspiring principals and systems leaders. As co-director of the Seattle Schools–University of Washington Center for Action, Inquiry, and Motivation (AIM Center), which is located in an urban high school, she works in school and classroom settings to unite theory and action for the ongoing transformation of public education.

    Dr. Ginsberg has written extensively on the connection between intrinsic motivation and learning, and on ways to create schools and colleges where educators and students are highly motivated to learn. Her authored and coauthored books include Teaching Intensive and Accelerated Courses (2010), Diversity and Motivation: Culturally Responsive Teaching in College (2009, recipient of the Cyril O. Houle Award for Outstanding Literature in Adult Education), Creating Highly Motivating Classrooms: A Schoolwide Approach to Powerful Teaching With Diverse Learners (2000), and Motivation Matters: A Workbook for School Change (2004). She has a PhD from the University of Colorado–Boulder in bilingual/multicultural/social foundations of education and can be reached at

  • Resources

    Resource A.

    • Handout 1: Often-Seen Characteristics of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
    • Handout 2: The Planning Guide for Applying the Motivational Framework to Lesson Design
    • Handout 3: Overview of the Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching
    • Handout 4: Motivational Framework for Identifying How the Teacher Creates Each Motivational Condition
    • Handout 5: Graphic for Summarizing One of the Four Conditions of the Motivational Framework

    Resource B. A Sample of Household Funds of Knowledge

    Resource C. Looking for Wows and Wonders

    Resource D. Example of a Chart for Five-Minute Classroom Visits

    Resource E. Professional Development Schedule in School Context


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    CORWIN: A SAGE Company

    The Corwin logo—a raven striding across an open book—represents the union of courage and learning. Corwin is committed to improving education for all learners by publishing books and other professional development resources for those serving the field of PreK–12 education. By providing practical, hands-on materials, Corwin continues to carry out the promise of its motto: “Helping Educators Do Their Work Better.”

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