Like businesses & companies, there are downward cycles of motivation and productivity in education. Encouraging autonomy and participation has been found to be the best counter. Consider the following story found in Bolman & Deal’s (2008) Reframing Organizations.
A group of manual workers painted dolls in a toy factory. In a reengineered process, the worker took a toy from a tray, painted it, and put it on a passing hook. They received an hourly rate, a group bonus, and a learning bonus. Although management expected little difficulty, production was disappointing & morale was worse. Workers complained that the room was too hot and hooks moved too fast.
Reluctantly, the foreman gathered feedback from the workers. After hearing the complaints, fans were brought in. Although no benefit was expected by the foreman, morale improved. Discussions continued, and the workers proposed a radical idea: let them control the belt’s speed. This was met by opposition as the speed had been calculated for optimal performance. However, it was agreed to give it a try. The workers developed a complicated production schedule: start slow at the beginning of the day, increase speed once they warmed up, slow down before lunch, and so on.
Results were stunning: Morale skyrocketed; production increased far beyond the most optimistic calculations. Bonuses escalated to the point that the manual workers were earning more than skilled/experienced workers. And for that reason, it ended. The manual worker’s production and high pay became a problem as other higher-skilled workers protested. To restore harmony, management reverted to earlier practice: a fixed speed for the belt. Production plunged, morale plummeted, and most of the manual workers quit.
There are many things that can be taken from this story. Here are some of my take-aways: (I’d love to hear your take-aways).
*I’m wondering how we really do with asking staff about their ideas. They are closest to what works and what doesn't, and probably have a great many ideas that would work. Consider this example - McDonald’s best known combination is the Happy Meal. The Happy Meal was actually an idea from an front-line worker, not a manager/leader. I believe most of any organizations' great ideas potentially go untapped, because the frontline workers aren't in a position or welcomed to share their innovative thoughts. Do we open up our staff, team & grade level meetings to innovation and creativity? This would not only make teaching & learning more effective, but fun, engaging and participation-focused.
**We have a curriculum scope & sequence for content & standards, but the timing, intensity & delivery is part of the artisty of teaching. The master teacher uses effective feedback from the students, formal and informal, as evidences that learning has taken place.
****Finally, why do we feel vulnerable when others do well and surpass us in performance? While healthy competition should be encouraged and welcomed, it shouldn't be used as a measure to maintain the status-quo. Think of the implications for our under-resourced learners. Placing superficial standards of allowing them to learn up to a point where they only match learners at the higher-end of the performance spectrum certainly limits them. Why clip their wings? What if, in the right system, they could move beyond that? What if we all worked collaboratively to move beyond any reeenginered & predetermined benchmarks of success?
Studies lend themselves to show participation is a powerful tool, both to increase morale and productivity. Even with just a few weeks left in this school year, increased contribution by students and staff alike could impact the learning climate. Give it a try; we may be surprised by end product.