Saturday, February 18, 2012


Some months ago I wrote a blog post about democracy.  At the time I tried to answer the question that was in my mind: what is the opposite of dictatorship if it isn't democracy.  Today, reading Chapter 10 of Alfie Kohn's Punished by Rewards, I think I've found the word I'm looking for:  self-determination.  Chapter 10 is all about motivation and midway through this chapter is a section about how important choice is in motivating people.  Alfie questions why so many people become burned out and bitter - he says it's not because of how much work they do, but because they feel controlled and powerless.  My mother used to talk about this too:  "hard work doesn't kill you, it's stress that does that" she used to say to us.

Apart from leading to stress, burn out and illness, being controlled or lacking the freedom to decide what to do and how to do it, or lacking a sense of control over one's own work and ideas, is likely to kill creativity.  Being stressed leads to absenteeism;  in contrast places where employees are able to participate in decision making about important issues (not just token ones) have lower rates of absenteeism.  Alfie Kohn writes that people only moan about change "not because it is a change, but because it is announced - that is, imposed on them".  He writes that "participation in decision making has a positive effect on both productivity and job satisfaction, regardless of the kind of work people did."

If this is the case, why are so many organizations characterized by micro-management?  First of all Kohn has found a correlation between the amount of control in middle management and that higher up.  He writes:
Which middle managers are most likely to act in an autocratic fashion towards those below them in the hierarchy?  Very likely those who are restricted and controlled themselves.
Later he elaborates on this:
Giving people responsibility for, and control of, their own work is tantamount to introducing democracy to the workplace, and democracy in any arena is profoundly threatening to those who exert undemocratic control.
The PYP believes in the idea of sustainable leadership and therefore encourages a devolved or distributed leadership model (with the aim of developing the talents of the teachers within the school).  This is also because implementing the PYP depends on a culture of collaboration - see previous blog post.   Despite this there are still too many people for whom shared decision making is simply taken to mean sharing the decisions that they have already made.  People sit on committees that have no clout at all while the important decision are made behind "closed doors", or even worse they spend time researching and giving input into a decision, only to find that this input counts for nothing.  In such situations they are not likely to be motivated to volunteer again for such committees, so the employer can easily claim that nobody much is interested in participating.

Are the factors that sap teacher motivation the same as those that sap student motivation?  Let's read on and find out what Alfie Kohn has to say about this.

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