When we think of an organization’s success, we tend to think of how well it meets its goals. In the business world, this is often done through profit targets; in schools, through large-scale testing initiatives like, in Ontario, the EQAO. As I’ve written before, I’m in favour of these large-scale data exercises because I think they point us in the areas that need improvement. But one thing they don’t do is show us how to improve – at least, not exactly.
“Not exactly” because school improvement might take a variety of efforts – it might mean more skilled teachers, smaller classes, better conditions for teachers, more books in schools, more computers in schools, even a fairer distribution of wealth within society. Yet when we share stories about important teachers in our lives, ones who seem, looking back, to have made a difference, it is rarely ever some technical element like those in the list above. Usually, people talk about great teachers using words like ‘passion,’ ‘commitment,’ and ‘dedication’ – decidedly emotional words. Words that evoke, above all other concerns, a sense of motivation on the part of the teacher.
“The assumption that people are naturally unmotivated has created a large market for books, videos and training workshops for leaders. They end up working harder at trying to keep their people motivated than their employees do. In the long run they end up fostering dependence and a sense of entitlement in those employees, who come to rely on their leaders to tell them what to do and how they should feel about their work…. How employees feel about themselves at work is critical to their capacity to direct their energy toward achieving the goals of the company. When leaders fail to understand this they can inadvertently, unconsciously or unwittingly end up demotivating their employees.”
It echoes what Douglas McGregor, professor at MIT, wrote 51 years ago in his influential book The Human Side of Enterprise: “Authority, as a means of influence, is certainly not useless, but for many purposes it is less appropriate than persuasion or professional help. Exclusive reliance upon authority encourages countermeasures, minimal performance, even open rebellion. The dependence – as in the case of the adolescent in the family – is simply not great enough to guarantee compliance.”
McGregor argues that we are currently using what he calls Theory X to manage people. The assumptions of Theory X:
1. The average human being has an inherent dislike of work and will avoid it if he can.
2. Because of this human characteristic of dislike of work, most people must be coerced, controlled, directed, threatened with punishment to get them to put forth adequate effort toward the achievement of organizational objectives.
3. The average human being prefers to be directed, wishes to avoid responsibility, has relatively little ambition, wants security above all.
And what we should be doing is ‘integrating’ people’s human side into their work, something he calls Theory Y. This theory’s assumptions:
1. The expenditure of physical or mental effort in work is as natural as play or rest.
2. External control and the threat of punishment are not the only means for bringing about effort toward organizational objectives. Man will exercise self-direction and self-control in the service to objectives to which he is committed.
3. Commitment to objectives is a function or the rewards associated with their achievement. The most significant of such rewards, e.g., the satisfaction of ego and self-actualization needs, can be direct products of effort directed toward organizational objectives.
4. The average human being learns, under proper conditions, not only to accept but to seek responsibility.
5. The capacity to exercise a relatively high degree of imagination, ingenuity, and creativity in the solution of organizational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population.
6. Under the conditions of modern industrial life, the intellectual potentialities of the average human being are only partially utilized.
These same concerns apply equally well to the student. A motivated student will achieve far more than one who isn’t (in fact, what, if anything, can we achieve with a student who is so alienated he or she refuses to learn?). And, merely exhorting them to be motivated probably has the opposite effect to the one intended. We can apply Theory Y ideas to our students, as well – by appealing to their desire to contribute. The oldest trick in the book – take the student in your class who likes to act out and give him or her a responsibility. Recall Bart Simpson as the hall monitor…