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Using Internal Motivation as the Driver: Reflections from JEIC

I am often asked if I think artificial intelligence will replace teachers.

And, this will surprise no one who knows me well, I don’t have an easy answer for that because I have to clarify what we mean by “replace” and “teachers.”

Do I think that there are certain types of teaching (and teachers who use that style) that can (and should) be replaced by AI? Absolutely. 

Frontal lectures, textbooks, worksheets, fill-in-the-blank drills, memorization of facts and any teacher who relies on these as a core part of instruction will be replaced.

Running a classroom as if the teacher is the keeper and giver of information will be replaced. 

Standardized, one-size-fits-all teaching will be replaced.

Because AI can do all of that better and cheaper.

And it’s not best for students, anyway, so it should have all been gone a long time ago. 

So what teachers won’t be replaced?

Teachers who see themselves as the facilitators of learning and empower students through internal motivation principles won’t be replaced.

Teachers who focus on relationships with their students and foster social emotional intelligence and dispositions won’t be replaced. 

Teachers who partner with AI towards co-intelligence in order to provide personalized, differentiated, student-centered, authentic learning opportunities for their students won’t be replaced. 

I spent time earlier this week at Jewish Education Innovation Challenge’s Innovator’s Retreat considering some of these ideas with leaders in Jewish education.

The theme of last year was intrinsic motivation and the six pillars of autonomy, relatedness, mastery, purpose, significance, and self-preservation. The major takeaway was that by considering and providing these different pieces, students will be internally motivated to learn and grow in a way that is far more powerful than external motivators like grades can provide. 

This year’s theme built upon the concept, considering what’s next and how to actually bring those pillars into the classroom. Dr. Catlin Tucker facilitated a series of workshops, modeling different techniques and reflecting on the ways in which these pillars are integrated to motivate student learning. 

As a progressive educator, I have never run a classroom that isn’t student-centered, and I felt right at home. I appreciated learning from Dr. Tucker’s facilitation skills and the way she presented the content (even though none of the content was new to me).

I was also fascinated to share the experience with others for whom student-centered learning is a paradigm shift, and I tried to empathize with the educators who shared their fears (their own and those that they anticipated with their faculty) regarding adopting a new approach. 

Thinking back to those six pillars, self-preservation was definitely in play. 

For most teachers, teaching isn’t just a job, it’s a passion and a calling and directly connects to their sense of worth and identity. The idea of adding “more” to anything they are doing is overwhelming. The idea that they should change anything about what they are doing may seem like a personal attack. The idea that AI could replace them is scary and real. 

And then when we consider Judaic studies teachers, we have a whole new level. For most Judaic studies teachers, teaching Tanach or Mishnah or Halacha isn’t just a different subject matter. It’s not just about the learning in the brain. It’s about passing on a tradition of thousands of years. It’s about building the students’ sense of identity. It’s about continuing the Jewish people. 

And the idea that AI could replace them isn’t just scary; it’s end-of-the-world scary. 

Talk about self-preservation. 

And, yet, here we are. 

So, what do we do?

We take a step back and consider our ultimate why. Why education? Why Jewish education? Why any of this?

Yes, the specifics may different from teacher to teacher, school to school, community to community, and I would venture we have more in common than we think. 

Ultimately, we want our students to be lifelong learners. We want them to have the skills, dispositions, and content knowledge to be successful in their worlds. We want them to love being Jewish and be knowledgeable about what that means. We want them to be good people who make positive contributions to their world. 

And we want them to want these things for themselves. 

And that starts with internal motivation as the driver. 

And student-centered learning and partnering with AI as vehicles to make that happen, guided by our specific values (acting as the gas, if we’re continuing this metaphor). 

We aren’t changing the destination here. But the map has changed, so we need to adjust how we get there. It may be a new route with different landmarks along the way.

But I have full confidence in the driver, so I know we’ll get there.

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