17 Jun 2012

On Teaching and Motivation

Category: Alternative Education,LearningAdmin @ 5:11 pm

Long ago, I trained employees in data and word processing systems and efficient workflow practices. To better prepare me, management sent me off to a conference at the American Society for Training and Development. I was enthralled to discover a focus completely unlike anything I had encountered as a student in public schools and four years of private college.

Instead of centering on using or constructing a specific curriculum or how to teach it, the emphasis was on how to assess employee training needs and the training programs we were asking employees to attend. Instead of assessing employee understanding via prepackaged tests, the advice was to talk to managers, coworkers, and target employees themselves to find out what they needed to learn to do better at their work. Motivation would not usually be a problem because the employees would be learning something they already saw a need for, customized for their situation. Communication was key.

I believe that those in the field of education for children would do well to study the best practices in the business world.

Recently I encountered the excellent website of management consultant David Lee, "HumanNature@Work," website address: www.humannatureatwork.com. He has a number of articles about working with employees.

Below are some quotes from there that are relevant to children as well. Substitute "student" for "employee," "teacher" for "boss," and "school" for "work," "business" or "facility." Then consider possible implications for schools.

From "Are Your Workers Whiners or Winners?" www.humannatureatwork.com/articles/employee_morale/Workers_Whiners_Winners.html:

I bet when you look at the bosses you’ve had, you can see how – depending on what your boss was like – you demonstrated varying levels of confidence, initiative, interest, maturity, and even intelligence…

First, different people and different contexts bring out different versions of ourselves. If you’ve ever been in a bad or just plain unhappy relationship and then in a good one, you know how radically different you can be, depending on the relationship.

Second, an employee’s boss has a huge influence on their attitude, behavior, and performance. In fact, according to Gallup’s landmark research, an employee’s boss is THE most powerful factor influencing that employee’s performance, morale, and loyalty.

From "Motivating Employees The Fad-Free Way," www.humannatureatwork.com/articles/employee_morale/fad-free.htm:

Although… many… fads contain useful principles and practices, using them as the cornerstone of your initiative usually spells disaster because:

  • First, no prepackaged program is a one-size-fits-all solution…
  • Second, most of us are instantly repelled by someone trying to force their ideas on us, no matter how excited they might be.
  • Third, every action by management carries an implicit message about how management views employees. If programs are imposed upon employees, rather than created with employees, it sends a rather unflattering message about how management perceives employees.
  • Fourth, if HR and management implement morale building and motivational programs without addressing employees’ everyday work experience, they create the opposite of the intended effect. Instead of leading to a motivated, engaged workforce, such approaches lead to a more cynical, distrustful, disengaged workforce. When management and HR sees such programs as an alternative to honestly addressing organizational obstacles to a rewarding work experience, employees see such programs for what they are: a manipulation.

From "Are You Really Serious About Improving Morale?" www.humannatureatwork.com/articles/employee_morale/employee-morale-article-2.htm:

…most managers and HR professionals … doom their morale building efforts from the beginning by asking the wrong question. It usually goes something like this: ‘We need to improve morale. What program would you recommend…?’

…such a request reveals a … perspective error: trying to solve an experiential problem with a material solution. In the typical request, the person sees the solution in the form of a program, as if just the right event, award ceremony, or fun little program will make a lasting change in morale.

It won’t… In fact, when such events and programs contradict workers’ daily experience of not being respected, valued, or appreciated; these approaches have just the opposite effect. They lead to an even more cynical, distrustful, and disengaged workforce.

What does lead to high morale is an intrinsically rewarding work experience: a work experience where employees feel respected, valued, and appreciated; a work experience where employees get to be players and not just hired hands, a work experience where they get to make a difference. With such a work experience, employees don’t need to be bribed, they don’t have to be plied with goodies to make them want to come to work and do their best…

In the workplace, the need to matter, the need to be proud of your work and your employer, and the need for autonomy are a few of the experiential needs that impact morale and productivity. If these experiential needs aren’t met, no material ‘solution’ or event will make a difference…

Creating a ‘home grown’ customized solution for low morale, obviously requires finding out the causative factors. Rather than guess what they are, ask. Just as importantly, make sure you don’t ask unless you are truly willing to honestly address them. Most managers drop the ball at this step. They ask for input, employees give the input, and then nothing is ever done with the input. The result? Decreased morale and trust; increased resentment and cynicism.

If you are contributing to low morale, chances are good that no one has told you this. Bosses don’t hear these things, because most employees realize criticizing their boss isn’t exactly the fast track to success. Thus, most bosses never hear about the many things they inadvertently do that diminishes employee morale. Thus, they continue to do things that damage morale, and wonder why turnover is high or employee relations issues plague their company [or why we have so many school dropouts!].

If you want to improve employee morale, remember that goodies, gimmicks, and gala events are not the answer. They’re the icing on the cake, not the cake. The cake is an intrinsically rewarding work experience. To find out how you can create one, ask. Then work together with your employees to make it a reality.

Dare we ask our students to tell us how they feel about their schooling and what needs they have that could be better met? Dare we ask them to participate in the planning of their own education?

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