Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rewards -v- Relationships

In my last post, I was writing about how both rewards and punishments can have a negative effect of intrinsic motivation.  Alfie Kohn has written about other negative effects of rewards and this post is about their impact on relationships.

Kohn writes that rewards are basically mechanisms of control, and that the experience of being controlled impedes working or learning effectively and has a negative impact on relationships.  Rewards and punishments only work in asymmetrical relationships and they serve to tip the balance even more.  Kohn observes the negative effects of rewards in peer to peer relationships as well as they work against team spirit.  We know that excellence comes from "well-functioning teams in which resources are shared, skills and knowledge are exchanged, and each participant is encouraged to do his or her best."  Awards and rewards interfere with collaboration and can lead to jealousies, feelings of unfair or unequal treatment and accusations of cronyism or favoritism.  Awards and rewards therefore don't develop or maintain the positive relationships that lead to optimal learning or performance.  In competitive cultures, everyone else is a rival and an obstacle to your own success.

Last school year we had a visit from John Littleford who gave a workshop about different methods of remunerating teachers.  He suggested models which included knowledge and skills based pay and when he was questioned about whether all teachers could receive this, or move up to the highest levels of the salary scale, he said that the system worked best when the highest salaries were limited to 15% of the teachers.  As I was reading through Chapter 4 of Punished by Rewards yesterday this statement came back to me in the light of what Kohn writes about rewards:
Of all the ways by which people are led to seek rewards, I believe the most destructive possible arrangement is to limit the number that are available.  To do so is to replace the possibility that people will try to assist each other with the near certainty that they will try to defeat each other.
Another way rewards can punish is what Kohn refers to as the "collective reward", given to groups or teams based on their performance as a whole - for example giving a treat to the whole class (or possibly a salary bonus to the whole staff).  He writes:
This gambit is one of the most transparently manipulative strategies used by people in power.  It calls forth a particularly noxious sort of peer pressure rather than encouraging genuine concern about true well-being of others.
The bottom line is that as teachers we are trying to build positive and trusting relationships with our students, so that they feel they can approach us for help.  Looking at the larger picture of a school as a whole, good working relationships are characterized by trust, open communication and the willingness to ask for assistance.  Team and  curriculum leaders should be seen as people who will help you, not judge you.  Kohn writes:
This is precisely what rewards and punishments kill.  If your parent or teacher or manager is sitting in judgment of what you do, and if that judgement will determine whether good things or bad things happen to you, this cannot help but warp your relationship with that person.  You will not be working collaboratively in order to learn or grow, you will be trying to get him or her to approve of what you are doing.
Research has shown that people are less likely to ask for help when they need it in a "carrot and stick" type of climate where the people in charge are seen as those who have to be pleased or those who have to be feared.  Because of this performance inevitably suffers as people are reluctant to take risks or be open to exploring different possibilities.  In such relationships flattery replaces trust and evaluation replaces support reducing achievement and creativity.

Photo Credit:  Starring Role by Pewari AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

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